Valleys, rivers, mountains, forests, lakes, waterfalls – Madeira’s magical landscape looks like the set of a fantasy film. Known as ‘The Floating Garden’, the subtropical island is famous for its enchanting flora and fauna.
The best way to explore the island is undoubtedly by foot. Spend a morning walking along the levadas, the extensive network of irrigation canals which lead you to the most stunning viewpoints across Madeira’s mountains. For the most unspoiled scenery, head to the east of the island to the Larissilva laurel forest hiding countless tiny colourful birds.
Fancy yourself as a bit of a gardener? Try and time your visit to coincide with Madeira Flower Festival on 4-14 May 2017. This amazing event takes place every spring in the capital of Funchal and sees the streets filled with hundreds of floats each laden with lavish blooms.
After you’ve explored the island’s natural wonders by land, it’s time to do it by sea. Take a trip off the coast of Calheta on a traditional Turkish gullet boat and spend the afternoon spotting turtles, whales and dolphins skimming the waves. Madeira also has some great breakers, so grab a surfboard and try your hand at conquering the Atlantic swell.
Finish off your day with a taste of the island’s famous tipple – Madeira wine – because it’s only a digital detox, after all.
Experience it: At the Quinta da Bela Vista, a luxurious 19th century colonial mansion hotel nestled in the mountains and surrounded by gorgeous subtropical gardens. Book here if you want bags of character – this award-winning hotel is filled with open fires, elegant antiques, delicate chandeliers and cool marble floors.
Tropical beaches, jungle, Mayan ruins, eco adventures – Mexico has everything you could possibly need to unplug and get back to nature. A stay on the Yucatán Peninsula will leave you perfectly positioned to explore all these things so that you can journey through the jungle in the mornings and then spend a lazy afternoon on the beach overlooking the Caribbean sea.
An ecological haven, Mexico lets you get up close to nature both on land and in the sea. Snorkel with whale sharks – the largest fish in the sea at up to 12m long. Don’t be scared to take a dip as these whales only feast on plankton so you can swim safe in the knowledge that they really are gentle giants.
Don’t miss a day trip to Contoy Island either, a secret hideaway off the coast where only 200 people are allowed each day to protect the abundant wildlife. The place feels like a real haven thanks to its beautiful coral reefs, colourful tropical fish and 150 species of bird, making it perfect for forgetting your digital dependence.
Back on dry land, head into the lush jungle to uncover some of the many Mayan ruins, such as the overgrown lost city of Coba. Don’t miss a visit to Chichén Itzá, an important Mayan stronghold dating back to 600AD and now one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Here you can admire Kukulkan, the enormous 365-stepped pyramid, and Tzompantli bench, the sinister place where the heads of sacrificial victims were displayed.
Experience it: At the luxurious Sensatori Resort Mexico, which sits up against the white sands and turquoise sea of the Riviera Maya. It’s also perfectly located for exploring the antiquities of the Yucatán Peninsula, such as Tulum and Chichén Itzá.
There’s a reason why Iceland is known as the land of fire and ice. Home to volcanoes, lava fields, glaciers and geysers, Iceland does natural wonders on an epic scale. A day spent exploring them is guaranteed to get you switching to aeroplane mode (literally) and gawping at the amazing sights in front of you.
Start by heading to the Golden Circle in Thingvellir National Park to see the Gulfoss, the spectacular glacial waterfall and Strokkur, an active geyser which sprays bursts of steam every few minutes. To get further afield, take a trip in one of Iceland’s super jeeps, which are modified to make them even bigger and better at coping with the rugged landscape. Mammoth in size, they’ll let you reach parts of the country most cars can’t, and see the best of Iceland in person rather than on screen.
Finish the day with a visit to the serene Blue Lagoon, a huge geothermal hot tub where you can soak in the 37 degree Celsius waters as you admire the surrounding lava field. Or head down to the southern coast and walk along the black sanded beach and marvel at the mystical Reynisdrangar rock formations.
Spend your evenings either searching for the ethereal Aurora Borealis (aka the Northern Lights) or soaking up the atmosphere in the achingly-cool capital of Reykjavik, where Nordic style blends with a trendy food and drink scene.
Best of all, each Thomson trip to Iceland includes a Northern Lights trip and a tour of the Golden Circle. See a preview in our video here.
Experience it: At the Alda Hotel in trendy Reykjavik. Situated on one of the city’s main streets, this high-design hotel in the centre of town has its own cocktail bar and is just seconds away from some of Reykjavik’s best restaurants and bars.
Why not have a look at our Madeira, Mexico, Iceland and Sri Lanka holidays, as well as many more destinations, here.
Author: Georgie Lane-Godfrey
Hotel Del Almirante is a charming 18th century mansion that was once home to a seafaring aristocrat. Today, this historic hotel is still perfectly positioned for exploring the quietest of the Balearics - Menorca.
If you're looking to switch off, try Kantary Beach Khao Lak which sits on its own private stretch of sand. There’s also a swim-up bar and al-fresco showers all designed with relaxation in mind.
On the quiet, lesser-known island of Thassos, Socrates Plaza Hotel has views over the sea-view pool and surrounding green gardens leading down to the ocean. Brilliant if you’re looking to stay somewhere small and friendly for an authentic Greek experience.
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