Madeira is an autonomous region of Portugal that’s nearer to Africa than its mainland and is one of the most underrated archipelagos in the world. It’s bursting with life, lush and ripe with both farmland and culture. I moved around the island aboard a rented motorbike with my camera in hand; here’s just a slice of my journey around this lesser-known part of Europe.

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My partner and I begin the trip in the capital city, Funchal (seen here), but immediately got a motorbike and hit the road. Rental bikes go for about 18 EUR a day, but I would strongly suggest spending more to get a powerful bike that can handle the climb -- you’ll see why. Not yet following any particular route, we stumbled upon Pontinha.

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The Principality of Pontinha is a micronation within Madeira and Portugal, purchased in 2000 by a strange legal fluke and proclaimed autonomous by Renato Barros. The Principality of Pontinha is open to the public and free to enter, though Renato does appreciate a small donation.

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Renato, a Madeiran artist, bought the area as a tongue-and-cheek joke, and declared himself Prince Renato. He is, in fact, the only one in the world with an official Pontinha passport. The area is a tiny islet, and its official currency is Bitcoin.

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We left the micronation and continued along the coastline. The February clouds broke for a minute and we walked along the rocky cliffs. Between Pontinha and the craggy shore, we already knew we were in for one heck of a trip.

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This is how the middle part of our journey looked: climbing through the clouds. It was cool, a bit damp, and slightly precarious as we made the turns with low visibility. We broke out our map and while it got us there, it hardly mentioned the amount of altitude gain.

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The uphill climb was cold and cloudy but it was entirely worth it when we burst through the cover and arrived to a clear sky at the second highest cliff in Europe: Cabo Girao.

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We happily entered a little tourist hub at Cabo Girao, which was free and offered washrooms, a cafe, and a Skywalk where we - very hesitantly - looked straight down the cliff. It’s quite unnerving. However, it was an excellent pit stop and view.

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We departed Cabo Girao to continue climbing the hills. The weather switched quickly as we moved slowly: from tropical and warm to cloudy and cool on a dime, with the clouds sweeping by quickly. We puttered through eerie, foggy cloud forests - which always sounded like a lofty dream sequence to me, when in reality, it means stopping to wipe the condensation from your helmet and windshield every few minutes - and emerged above the cloud line, finally.

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The final ascent was to Pico do Arieiro. We were not sure if our little 125cc bike would make it but somehow - perhaps by the magic that most definitely haunts this special island - we did, and found ourselves wondering if we had landed in heaven. We were among and above the mountains draped in wispy, white fog, which stirred in the wind. The sky was the cleanest, dreamiest blue, and the clouds were dense and looming below.

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We raised a glass of local vino and toasted our little bike-that-could from the patio of what I can’t help but refer to as the Sky Cafe - because we literally felt on top of the world.

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Pico do Arieiro is the 3rd-highest peak on the island, at 1818 m (nearly 6000 feet). Hiking trails spread across the sky via mountaintops that lead hikers to unbelievable paths - into clouds, out of them again, to the top of the peak, to a view of the weather of the island (cloudy with a 100% chance of clouds).

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One last, long look at the top of the world before beginning a swift descent. It was - for obvious reasons - much faster for us to go back down the hill on our little bike. We could feel the temperatures rising every few minutes as we descended.

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We arrived back to Funchal by sunset. We peered out over the city before our final descent into the town for some of the best food of our journey: fish freshly fried, with local wine and cocktails made with aguardiente, honey and lemon. We dined at O Avo, treated by the host Ricardo. If you go, and we recommend you do, bring Ricardo a football scarf from your home country - he collects them.

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