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Introducing holidays to Sao Vicente

Head to Madeira if you like the idea of a laid-back Mediterranean lifestyle with European facilities and the added bonus of a climate at African latitudes. Throw in the Portuguese island’s extraordinary natural attractions and Sao Vicente on the north coast becomes a must-see trip for curious sun-seekers.

Set in beautiful forest scenery but with great access to surfing beaches and the rugged coves of Madeira’s north coast, Sao Vicente is a best-of-both-worlds location.

The town’s own top attraction, the underground lava channels, are several hundred thousand years old, though man came along to build a more modern – and very picturesque – chapel in the stunning volcanic caves that run under the village.

Elsewhere, enjoy the freedom of disappearing into the forest with its unique wildlife. If civilisation is calling, check out local wineries or enjoy a round of golf at the excellent Santo da Serra course.

Life’s a beach

Winter sun is the added bonus for Madeira’s visitors. But if you’re looking for long, sandy beaches, the island might not be the best place for you. The coast is stunning though, and the north coast in particular specialises in rugged cliffs and coves with strong currents and winds that surfers love but that make some beaches unsafe for swimmers – look out for lifeguards or protected seawater pools to be sure of safety.

Praia da Lagoa beach on Porto da Cruz is one of the best sandy beaches on the island – the famous volcanic black sand – with lifeguards in season and good surfing. Natural pools at Piscinas do Porto are popular with families, and the beach has good facilities. At Praia de Laje beach, the black sands come with decent facilities and a very good chance of finding some solitude.

Top attractions

The Caves of Sao Vicente are the sort of thing you might consider for a rainy day back in the UK. As the weather in Madeira provides so few of these, perhaps you’ll consider this interesting trip a chance to grab some shady shelter. The caves have a visitor centre and visits come with a bilingual tour that explains how ancient volcanic forces have shaped the island’s dramatic landscapes.

If that whets your appetite for volcanic discovery then check out the Levada Faja do Rodrigues, a mountain walk that includes a spectacular mountain tunnel. It’s not for the faint-hearted, and you’ll do well to wear sturdy walking boats and decent water proofs whatever the weather as you explore a site and views that are genuinely world class.

Even more spectacular are the views from Pico Ruivo, which is also something you want to check your footwear and fitness for. The peak is the island’s best view point with amazing panoramas out to sea and over the mountains and valleys around. Try to pick a sunny day for your trip, as fog can leave you struggling to see beyond the end of your arm.

After looking down on it from the mountain tops, you might be encouraged to take a trip to the Laurel Forest, one of Madeira’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Ancient trees are cut through with snaking paths, and keep your eyes peeled for the unique island wildlife that keeps world-renowned biologists coming back to Madeira to study.