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First impressions are often so telling. Minutes from the airport I sensed the scale of the mountainous peaks and craggy cliffs. I saw houses surrounded by blazing bougainvillea and banana leaves leaving me little clues as to what to expect. The high-rise buildings are mercifully few and every perch is roosted upon right up into the hills where I spotted villages with terracotta roofs dotted amongst the patchwork of the terraced cultivation carved out of the mountainside.

I never knew that Madeira, the Azores, the Canary Islands, and Cape Verde are known collectively as Macaronesia. Madeira herself is sub-tropical and neither Mediterranean nor on the equator and actually twice as close to Africa as Europe. It’s been a port of call for fleets heading towards the South Atlantic, acting as a gateway from Europe to the New World. In the 15th century, it became a cosmopolitan center for foreigners comprising German, Flemish, and Italian communities as they chased the sugar trade.
More… “Peaks and Gardens”

Adam Jacot de Boinod worked on the first series of the television panel game QI. After leaving he began to investigate other languages, examining 280 dictionaries and 140 websites. This led to the creation of his first book of three in 2005, The Meaning of Tingo, featuring words that have no equivalent in the English language.

He is now a regular international travel writer and luxury hotel reviewer, having written for the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday, The Daily Telegraph, and numerous travel print and website publications.

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The innkeeper at the Tradita Hotel set down his tea regretfully. “You want to see castle or bridge?” A mutual friend had asked him to take good care of me, but clearly he didn’t relish the role.

 

A few minutes later, four of us climbed into a dark sedan and lurched into the crowded streets of Shkodra, a city in Albania’s northwest. Heat and noise poured in the windows as Mr. Gila and his wife and brother continued what seemed to be a fractious debate in Albanian, punctuated briefly by Mr. Gila waving at various sights and shouting their identification into the back seat for me.

“There is cathedral, which Communists make into gymnasium years ago! Now crowded with Catholics again.”

“There is university!”

“Tobacco factory! Busy once, now closed.”

As the buildings became smaller and the streets… More…