My Mum had some strange foresight around booking this trip. She booked it last year as my Christmas present because over the years, we haven't ever really gone away together and as she was leaving her job at Christmas and going full time with her business, she thought a January trip for some sun was making sense.
We didn't know what was coming. Not long after, my Grandad was diagnosed with terminal Leukemia. What followed was several months of balancing running a business and helping my family to care for him in Devon, 200 miles away from where I lived in London.
I don't think anyone can ever prepare you watching a loved one suffer, it's painful and heartbreaking. That being said, my Grandad had nothing but dignity and humour and it was a privilege to help care for him. He left us in the early hours of New Years Day, he wanted to have one last Christmas and see in the New Year and that's what he did.
His funeral was the 18th January and me and my Mum left for Madeira on the 21st broken and exhausted.
Madeira is an island in the Atlantic off the west of Africa and belongs to Portugal. The island is so green. I don't think I have ever seen so many greens. No beaches, just the mountains that rise from the water created by a volcano long ago. In fact, the volcano is still an active one but there isn't a historical record of the last time it erupted.
Funchal, the capital, flows down from the mountains like a cascade of white and orange. When you go on the cable car up to Monte, you can see all the beautiful plantations and roof gardens.
The people in Madeira, as well as being just downright lovely, are also innovative. One of the things that triggered my Mum was our fascinating exploration of the island and learning about how they farmed ; my Grandad was a farmer and it was one of the first moments she realised she wouldn't be able to tell him about something he would find interesting. That first intense feeling of truly missing someone.
The Atlantic ocean is a bit of a tempest this time of year so a trip out on a catamaran left me a little worse for wear but it was amazing to see the Island from the water. We also did a tour of one of the Levadas, another incredible piece of innovation introduced to Madeira in the 16th century as a way to get water down from the mountains to the farms. There are 1350 miles of these Levadas and many of them can be walked.
Due to the narrow paths and steep drops, it's well worth doing your first Levada walk with a guide so that's what we did. We chose the Ribeiro Frio to Portela route and it did not disappoint: the views were outstanding and with water running through the Levada and the light dappling through the Laurel trees, I finally felt that distance from 'normal' life I needed and that connection back to nature.
Madeira was the perfect escape. It triggered the healing process and acted as a bridge from the totally surreal few months we have had to return back to normality. It really is a special place and I would encourage anyone to visit.