Situated in the North Atlantic, 300 miles from the west coast of Africa, the Madeira Islands have everything the holiday golfer could want: a sub-tropical climate, breathtaking scenery, a wide choice of accommodation, exceptional food and drink and, of course, some great courses.
Comprising Madeira, Porto Santo, the Desertas Islands, and the Savage Islands, the Madeira Islands were claimed by Prince Henry the Navigator’s Portuguese sailors in the 15th century, marking the first territorial discovery of the exploratory period of the Portuguese Age of Discovery.
Fast forward around 600 years and, today, the islands are visited by around a million tourists each year, a significant proportion of whom go there to enjoy some warm-weather golf.
The islands are home to three exceptional golf clubs, of which Santo da Serra is the pick of the bunch. It was there in the 1930s that golf was introduced to the Madeira Islands and, for the most part of the last 20 years, it has played host to an annual event on the European Tour, the Madeira Islands Open, which counts Scotland’s Alastair Forsyth, as well as the likes of Peter Uihlein, Jean van de Velde and Niclas Fasth among its impressive list of past champions.
A 27-hole complex, Santo da Serra comprises three nine-hole loops: Machico, Desertas and Serras. They sit some 1,000 feet above sea level and, on a clear day, the dramatic views across the bay of Machico are spectacular, particularly from the signature fourth hole. With a ravine at the front and a sheer drop down the mountain to the sea at the back of a very narrow green, it is a sight to behold, as well as a difficult hole to score on.
Elsewhere, Palheiro Golfe is a Cabell Robinson design that sits within a 200-year-old property just to the east of the islands’ capital, Funchal. Weaving through a pine forest and around botanical gardens, it offers some superb ocean views, although with four of the five par-5s on the back nine, be sure to keep something in reserve for the homeward stretch.
Meanwhile, over on Porto Santo - just a two-hour ferry crossing from Madeira - you will find a Seve Ballesteros-designed course of the very highest quality. It opened for play in 2004 and has two contrasting nines that are equally fun to play. The front sweeps past lakes and bunkers, whilst the back is set high on cliff-tops. The 13th, 14th and 15th holes are widely considered to be amongst the best ocean holes in Europe.
Off the course, there is much to see, do and enjoy in Madeira. Taking a cable car through the city of Funchal comes highly recommended, whilst the Cabo Girao Skywalk is the highest cliff skywalk in Europe and the second highest in the world after the Grand Canyon. Its glass-floored platform, opened in 2012, now allows you stare directly down to the sea, some 600 metres below you.
In terms of dining, black scabberfish is one of the most popular local delicacies, the same of which can be said of espetada, a popular BBQ. Wash your food down with a bottle of Coral - a local beer which has been in production since 1872 - or Madeira wine for an authentic island experience.
With low-cost flights operating between Glasgow and Funchal, it is easy to get there, too. There’s never been a better time to check it out.