“We used to say Madeira was for the nearly dead or newlywed,” laughs John Fernandes of Freeride Madeira as we pause for lunch somewhere in the middle of the island. God knows I need the break.
I had heard a lot about the Portuguese haven, which is actually closer to the African continent than Europe, before touching down on the coastal landing strip; about how the sun shone year-round and pensioners flocked there for the comfortable, predictable climate. Leaving Madeira a few days later though, there didn’t seem to be any two words less fitting to describe the place.
Madeira may be renowned for a clientele of old-timers and sun-seekers, but leave the illusion of the seaside resorts and you’ll find an adventure paradise; a replica of New Zealand crammed into 800km2, boasting big waves, vast canyons and some of the most spectacular mountain biking in the world. And you’ll be lucky if you make it out without a few bruises.
I had come to Madeira to see this other side to the island and sample the secret mayhem. Though, thanks to the work of John and the Freeride Madeira crew, the testing yet breathtaking terrain of the island is quickly becoming one of the worst kept secrets in mountain biking.
Professional riders from across the world are now heading to Madeira to get a taste of the action; Joe Barnes, Sam Flanagan, Mark Scott, Josh Bryceland and Brendan Fairclough just for starters, the latter of whom has declared Madeira one of the best mountain biking destinations on the globe.