Madeira is “misunderstood”

A tranquil autumn escape


The Telegraph travel section recently carried the report below:

In many senses, Delicias da Bia is not the best of adverts for the idea of ­social distancing. There is a queue of sorts in this café-bakery, but it sprawls and spills, shuffles and shifts; conversations bouncing back and forth around the room while people “wait” to be served. 

It takes me 20 minutes to inch all the way to the counter. It is not that the ­service is slow, nor that there is any overt favouritism towards locals over random strangers – more than half of ­Madeira seems to be here on this ­Sunday morning. Children scurry, groups of young men loiter over coffee, matriarchs stand still and unsmiling, eyeing the loaves of bread on rear shelves that are disappearing with every satisfied customer. At a corner table, a priest is forking at a slab of cake, still in uniform, even though his duties at the church up the lane have long been completed. 

My own order – pasteis de nata with a bica of hot dark caffeine, is – when it arrives – worth the “delay”. In other ways, though, Delicias da Bia is a definition of keeping oneself to oneself. It sits in one of Europe’s most remote locations – high on the north-east shoulder of Madeira in a hamlet, Santana, that is more than 20 miles from the island’s only real centre of population, the capital Funchal. As I step out of the café, a chill gust barges in off the Atlantic, grey-blue and sullen, down on my right. In terms of getting away from it all, this is a fine start.

Nonetheless, if ever a place were worth two weeks’ short-notice self-isolation, it might be Madeira. For here we are (in September at the time of the report), and the island remains an option for rescuing what is left of the season – or an autumn escape.

It seems strange – amusing, even – for the island to be deemed a trouble-spot. Some might say it has the world’s least problematic image problem. It has often been damned with faint praise – soft-soaped as a hub for genteel weekends in pleasingly pretty Funchal; for afternoon tea at Reid’s Palace hotel; for the aroma of orchids at the Quinta da Boa Vista estate. 

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