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Because its shores are washed by the same Gulf Stream that eventually makes its way up to the British Isles, Madeira enjoys a wonderful sub-tropical climate that makes it an ideal outdoor destination all year round.

The island may lack sandy beaches, but it makes up for it with spectacular scenery and there are all kinds of outdoor pursuits on offer, from mountain biking, paragliding and big-game fishing to the hundreds of miles of scenic hiking trails based on ancient irrigation channels that criss-cross the mountain slopes.

One activity you won't find anywhere else in the world is the carro de cesto. This involves a hair-raising descent from the small town of Monte (reached by cable-car) in a sort of wicker toboggan. Controlled by two 'drivers' who run alongside, this three-mile joyride through the steep streets lasts about 20 minutes. Another fun activity for families is a trip on a replica of Christopher Columbus' ship, the Santa Maria (Columbus once lived on the neighbouring island of Porto Santo).

Other activities include a boat trip to see the 600-metre tall sea cliffs of Cabo Girào, the second highest in the world (the highest are in Hawaii) and whale and dolphin-watching trips. Sperm whales (like Moby Dick), fin whales (the second largest species after the blue whale) and pilot whales can all be seen in the waters around Madeira.

The attractions of Funchal, Madeira's attractive and largely pedestrianised capital, include colourful markets selling everything from fresh fish to local crafts, and tours of the wine lodges where Madeira's most famous export is made. On New Year's Eve, the city also hosts the largest fireworks display in the world.

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Harriet, Victoria and Molly are our 'Family Madeira ' experts and as seasoned travellers they have the inside track on the most memorable adventures.

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