The little rental car whined up Rua das Dificuldades in first gear. We were discovering just how steeply Madeira’s mountains rise from the sea to the 1818m summit of Pico do Arieiro. I had arrived in Funchal expecting to pedal up to the trails, and one look at the hairpins convinced me it was a foolhardy pursuit.
Luckily there are other ways to get yourself to the trail network at Poiso. The number 56 bus will do the honours for less than €3, with your bike precariously stashed upside-down in the luggage hold. You’ll be dropped at the entrance of Mushroom trail, which flows into Cabouco. It’s also well worth pedalling around the corner to try the short but entertaining Las Vegas.
With 1400m of descent to play with, I was keen to find a singletrack descent back to town, but the search wasn’t fruitful. The promising black squiggles of Santo Antonio/São Roque on Trailforks didn’t deliver, and the Pico Alto trail followed by the road from Monte was the best combination I discovered.
Once you’ve done a few steep climbs from the base of the Poiso trails, you’ll be likely ready for some uplift. A day’s whizzing around the island in a Freeride Madeira van will set you back €70, but they know the island well, and where to take you for the most promising weather. Both of my days with them were based around Poiso, Porto da Cruz and Machico. Finishing on the rocky coastal corners of the Natal trail was spectacular. There’s chance for a quick poncha – the local sugar cane, orange and honey rocket fuel – before being delivered back to Funchal.
Like Finale Ligure, Madeira delivers off the bike too. There are no beaches on the Funchal coastline but you can leap into the sea at one of the lidos (try Doca do Cavacas). If you find yourself a car, the black sand beach of Seixal and Ponta do Pargo lighthouse are worth pausing at. There are some stunning hikes criss-crossing the island. You’ll also be treated to sublime seafood and spring-like weather year round, perfect for cheating the northern European winter.
Trail snack: a gooey, flaky pastel de nata.
Trail nose: Trailforks is handy for the Poiso area, but you’re likely better off with a guide elsewhere. Excited reports from other riders about the north and west of the island made me keen to explore them, but the stars didn’t align. Next time.