Madeira was the icing on the travel year cake for us in 2017. When we arrived on the stunning mid-Atlantic island, the only thing we knew was that Madeira was the perfect place to select for a week of RnR. The tears from cancelling our India trip because the government/tourist board had hidden zika (growl) were long forgotten. In fact cancelling that was a blessing in disguise.
Madeira is stunning. Whether it is the mountains, the houses or the sea views.
It is so chilled out and dripping with loveliness that is so easily accessible. In fact the least chilled part is the airport approach which I’m told is on most pilot bucket lists. The approach brings you in past the airport giving aircraft passengers plenty of time to study the runway. It is on stilts and at either end there is sea! Once you have studied that carefully, the pilot does a neat 180 degree turn to bring you steeply and sharply into landing! Quite the landing, I was impressed!
It is everything that is beautiful about a rugged coastline and small island in the middle of the ocean. Even better it is everything that we didn’t like about the bustling Canaries. ‘Those’ resorts don’t exist here! The age and demographic of the plane passengers confirms it!! It is also a true piece of Portugal – the same friendly people, incredible food and (for us sterling users since that wretched Brexit vote) favourable pricing we enjoyed in Lisbon!
Whilst we were only there for a few days we did get out and explore, it’s a beautiful place so a hire car is essential! All cars are manual, it is hilly! Our host made us laugh – there are so many tunnels he referred to it as a lump of Swiss cheese! Just driving 15 minutes will take you somewhere spectacular! The interior of the island made us think we’d accidentally landed back in the Caribbean!
A short drive from Funchal you stand on a glass platform 500 odd metres above the sea and enjoy the most spectacular vista. Warning folks, it’s touristy. My recommendation – hit the road early before the masses! It’s a great introduction to the craggy and mountainous scenery of the island and well worth a visit.
Ponta do Sol
The cutest little village, nestled in a gap in the cliffs. There’s a black sand beach, beachfront café dining as well as picture postcard houses and a church. It really is quintessential Madeira.
There are many levada walks and we had intended to do one, but we really wanted to get above the cloud inversion layer. One can drive to 300metres below the top of the island’s highest peak and the simple stroll the rest.
I don’t have enough adjectives to describe quite how beautiful it is to sit above the clouds and enjoy the view! On a return trip we will take walking boots, the scenery and terrain is perfect and those levada routes are calling!
The festive season
Funchal reportedly has the world’s biggest New Year’s Eve firework display which they rave about. I would say they have some of the best Christmas decorations too. Take a dreamy evening walk around the city enjoying the lights and Christmas markets, and all in relative warmth too!
The decorations aren’t limited to Funchal. You will see reindeer on most roundabouts and the little village of Ponta do Sol had embraced the festivities too. It really is charming, and not in the slightest bit tacky either!
Go local and enjoy meat off a long metal skewer that is hung up in front of you. This is the local speciality. I would recommend finding a locals only venue and eating like a local. The meat is divine – it’s the main event so it has to be!
It is accompanied with handmade bolo de caco garlic bread, cornbread, chips and salad. And red wine. A true feast and excellent cuts of meat! The only bit I didn’t like was the arrival punch. It’s called poncha and is a heady acquired taste of brandy, honey, sugar and lemon juice!! On the way home we drove through Camara do Lobos – we’re told it is as beautiful as Portofino, I’d love to return!
Funchal old town
Great for a morning wander! There’s been a recent project to paint many of the wooden doors in the cute alleyways and it was a real highlight! Far too many to count and it’s a bit of fun seeing what you can find.
Monte is where the gentry and aristocracy would spend their summers. Whilst only a few kilometres out of town, its height means it doesn’t have the same summer humidity. High above the city it commands spectacular views. It also has a choice of tropical gardens to enjoy.
The cable car
We actually parked at Monte and after a wander took the Teleferico do Funchal cable car down into the city. I really would recommend this, it’s about a 15 minute trip and you are higher than dreamt possible above houses, roads, and the devastating remains of last years forest fire. The views are fascinating. And it’s very peaceful too!
The north coast
It is well worth a drive along the sleepy north coast. Whether you stop at the Seixal rock pools, Santana or just admire the views over Madeira wine vineyards to the sea? It’s up to you! Far more sedate and not a hotel in sight. We loved the view over to Porto Santo, somewhere I would love to visit!
Where to stay?
I have two recommendations for accommodation, widely thought to be the best on the island. They are privately owned and managed by one family who deliver the ideal quinta experience.
Quinta da Casa Branca is a sublime oasis in the city. There’s a choice between a modern design hotel and a small number of historic suites, all housed in gorgeous grounds.
We only scratched the surface on this first, short visit. But it really was the perfect place for a relaxing break, with stunning scenery and pretty seaside towns. The island is warm and sunny all year, perfect for cooler winter sun or if you prefer to travel in the shoulder season an hot early summer break in Europe.