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THE ISLAND of Madeira is an autonomous region of Portugal, 323 miles off the African coast, due west of the Straits of Gibraltar. It’s also a great place for driving an open sports car, especially in the month of November.
And so it was back in 1996, when I attended the introduction of BMW’s 2.8-liter Z3 in Madeira. Little did I know that my adventure would include a poetry recital to BMW’s charming PR lady at a local wine cellar.
But this is getting ahead of the story.
Madeira is a dramatically mountainous island of volcanic origin, its southern coastline reminding me of California’s Big Sur. By contrast, its northwest portion is wet and lush, while other bits resemble the surface of the moon. The island’s high point is Pico Ruivo, just a tad over 6000 ft. in elevation.
All this in a place one-fourth the area of Rhode Island, ten times the area of Manhattan.
The Z3 drive included south coast, north coast and mountain-spine twisties. The roads were uniformly well paved, if on the narrow side with the occasional bovine residents keeping us honest.
The base was Reid’s Palace Hotel in Madeira’s capital, Funchal. Reid’s, established in 1891, is now part of the Orient-Express Hotel Group. It continues to be one of the world’s most luxurious.
As corroboration of this, I note that Reid’s is listed in my Brown’s Madeira, Canary Islands and Azores. “Fine gardens,” the 1922 guidebook notes, “in a commanding position on the cliff to the west side of town; rates from 22s a day.”
We celebrated the island’s rich wine-making tradition with a visit to Cellier de S. Francisco, where we sampled several fine Madeiras. These are fortified reds, their characters enhanced by two oddities of production—exposure to heat and to movement. (It’s said this was discovered by accident when ships returned wine cargo.)
It was at the wine cellar that I recited poetry to BMW’s Claudia Hoepner-Korinth. I much enjoy the musical satire of Michael Flanders and Donald Swann, a favorite being the song, “Have Some Madeira, M’Dear.” In part:
“Have some Madeira, m’dear. You’ve really got nothing to fear. I won’t try to tempt you; that wouldn’t be right. You shouldn’t drink spirits at this time of night.”
“She lowered her standards by raising her glass, her courage, her eyes—and his hopes.”
And later still,
“Have some Madeira, m’dear. I’ve got a small cask of it here. And once it’s been opened, you know it won’t keep. Do finish it up; it’ll help you to sleep….”
To learn the outcome of Flanders and Swann’s adventure—not mine, I hasten to add—listen to “The Complete Flanders & Swann” CD. It’s listed at Amazon.com. ds