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Is Madeira just a quiet place to relax? Definitely not, when you can take to the skies and see it from a birds eye view!

In the first of a series of articles…inspired by an 18 day stream of visitors (family and friends)….I discovered the lost sense of what Madeira is all about. As someone who lives here, we take it for granted. When family and friends come over to visit, the car gets a much needed run and I become a tourist again, along with my companions.

At first, the decision of what is on the (long) list of the MUST see……to someone who has never been here before it is simply EVERYTHING…..in my case with family, it is what did you enjoy last time and want to do again?

My last batch of visitors were my parents and youngest sister who came over from the States….my daughter and future son in law who came over from Scotland. So the first ports of call, were the trips down memory lane, when the kids were all younger. Trips to bars and eateries took up the first few days, then my daughter and sister wanted to get extreme and relive their Paragliding experiences.

So, in this first batch of articles on what to do in Madeira, I will take you down the path of what is considered an ‘extreme sport’ and a very popular thrill for all ages…who wants to whiz down a mountain in a wicker basket when you can fly with the birds and see the island and all its glory from above, with a sheet of nylon and the wind to experience some spectacular scenery!

Not content in letting my tribe have all the fun, I indulged in it myself this week. My second flight and definately not my last!

Paragliding is a sport that has become very popular in the last few years. Hartmut Peters operates ‘Madeira Paragliding’ from Arco da Calheta and is one of a few liscenced pilots who can take passengers (tandem flights). He arrived on the island around the same time as me and his business has grown over the years, as more ‘younger’ visitors seek out new ways to see the island! Madeira has become a favourite destination for proffessional and competition pilots, due to its mini micro climates and fantastic scenery. Flying in Madeira is a challenge, as well as fun and because our weather is good all year round, those guys in the biz get a lot of flying time when they visit!

My daughter was the first out of us to go. She did this 2 years ago with her fiance and pleaded with me to arrange it for their visit last week. The weather was over cast on land and blue clear skies out to sea. A few days before there had been a back wind, so we had to wait for that cloudy day…perfect for good thermals.

This year promised a top landing, which meant touch down on take off. Hartmut’s takeoff site is situated not far from the Miradouro and restaurant Costa Verde on the highest point of Arco…..standing on the takeoff offers spectacular views of the plateau of Paul de Serra from the rear and Calheta and the Marina over the edge.

Most people who do not know anything of the sport and cringe at the thought of doing it, have the idea that one has to jump off a cliff, and although the take off looks pretty edgy, with a cliff drop to turn any person’s stomach with a fear of heights….it simply isn’t like that. Safety is always top priority and Hartmut simply won’t fly if the weather is not right……taking off is a very gently experience. A little bit of running to start with until your feet are running without ground to run on…..one is already up in the air before the edge of the cliff takes your feet from you!

Once in the air, the scenery from a birds eye view immediately takes away any fears or worries about flying. Personally – I did a small reality check in my head when I flew on Monday, as I sat in the harness with my legs dangling over the landscape, attached to Hartmut by two sturdy clips and a network of pretty colourfull but skimpy strings that attached us to the wing that held only air to keep us up in the sky. To feel the vibrations as we hit a thermal whilst we circled in it to gain height and my eyes feasting on the spectacular landscape below. The vibrations along with the wind noises is quite comforting, although not peaceful….. hanging there, above the rest of the world, most certainly is!

Hartmut, forever the joker, is definately not to be taken seriously when he calls you a victim before take off, or says ‘shall we land here’ when he glides towards to a steep cliff edge or ‘shall I drop you off here?’ When you are gliding over the restaurant……usually a landing is at Madelena do Mar…where he can guide the wing/canopy/glider onto a small stretch of beach, with wind socks and flat ground. Top landing is great too as it is grass and in my case was a fast BUTT skid through a few young trees which just added to th thrill of the flight. Last year he landed on Calheta beach with my daughter onto the sand, with an audience of bathers …which is all good for business.

This year she had a top landing and as you can see by the picture, a very happy lass! Hartmut on the other hand looked quite tired as he had been flying passengers before we had descended on him. I wanted to wait for my flight till after the weekend and coincide it with my sisters second flight of the trip at sunset….something special, and it was. That day was very cloudy and the mist descended over arco in an eery version of ‘The Fog’. We feared that she wouldn’t fly after me, but being the daredevil they both are…took off and lived for the moment. The plus side was that the landing was going to be at the drinking hole we all favour this year…a small private area of beach at Anjos and a cool bar called The Zion Project. After they took off, we raced down the hill to meet them at the other end with a round or two of beers and a few caiperinhas to celebrate at the end!

If you are interested in taking a flight and having the experience of a life time, message me here and I can arrange it for you. it costs 75 euros for a tandem flight with Hartmut. For more info email me at sammy@themadeiratimes.com