One of the latest Portuguese outposts in the Atlantic Ocean, the Madeira Island welcomes travelers all year long. Thanks to a lush vegetation, art, history as well as to a temperate weather, it is not hard to understand why this island was one of the favorite destinations of Winston Churchill and Ernest Hemingway.
This year I decided to spend five days on this island in order to enjoy a healthy break from the cold and grey London. If you think that Madeira is a boring island for retired people, well I hope that my tips will help you change your mind!
Madeira has the largest Laurissilva forest of the world; it is indeed a Unesco World Heritage Center since 1999. More than 15,000 hectares of forest cover the mountains and the hills of the island.
Flowers and exotic plants like coffee, avocado, and pineapple grow spontaneously across the island; however, in order to experience a real taste of the local vegetation it is suggested to check one of the ‘levada’ walking paths. These paths were originally built to ease the maintenance of old irrigation systems and now they call the attention of hundreds of tourists. There are various paths with different levels of difficulty; one can choose between a number of tour operators that offer guided excursions (e.g. naturemeetings.com). The Ribeiro Frio walk is highly suggested for its beauty and its relative easy level; however it takes approximately four hours.
If you prefer something more relaxing, you will be pleased to know that Madeira is an island full of gardens. In order to admire its local flowers, one needs to visit the botanic garden (telefericojardimbotanico.com); you can get there by taking a bus from Funchal or by funicular railway. Quinta Do Palherio Ferreiro (palheriogardens.com), is another interesting natural attraction. This property used to be an villa owned by Blandy – a wine trader family – while now it is open to the public. One can also visit Monte Palace Tropical Gardens (montepalace.com), located in the suburbs of Funchal. These extravagant gardens used to be part of a private property; nowadays this garden hosts a Japanese section. One you purchase your ticket you will be pleased to find out that a Madeira wine tasting is included in the price.
If you compare the island with its surrounding arcipelagos you will realize that Madeira doesn’t offer many beaches – besides Santo Stefano which is 9 km in length. Porto Moniz, however, offers a number of appealing natural swimming pools. Once in Porto Moniz, visiting its small aquarium can be an interesting adventure.
The capital city Funchal represents the culture center of Madeira. It is a small Lisbon featuring more than 30 museums and many churches. The cathedral, located in the heart of Funchal, represents a must-seen attraction along with a visit to the Sacred Art museum. You can also go all the way up to the Santa Clara monastery; a endlessly interesting hidden gem which -thanks to its cloister, its altars and tiles – will definitely catch your attention. If you are looking for a breathtaking landscape then you should go up to Monte Funchal and enjoy the view of the Atlantic Ocean. Once up here, you can decide to have a wicker slide ride (oh yes); it is pulled by locals that will take you all the way down; Hemingway described this experience as one of the craziest adventures of his whole life.
Thanks to its numerous starred Micheline restaurants located in Funchal, you won’t run the risk of having bad food. Mercearia Da Mécia is the perfect place to enjoy some rest after a long day; besides offering a number of local handcrafts, this place hosts a lovely cafe. If the weather is too hot you may want to enjoy a fresh smoothie at Gigi Sumos (Rua Dom Carlos I), or a afternoon tea at Alfazema e Chocolate (Rua Dom Carlos I); here you can also find some special handcrafts from local artists. Around the Cidade Velha area there is an art center that exhibits the works of local painters – prices here are very affordable. If you are ready for dinner try the fixed menu at Restaurante Do Forte; with only 39 € per person you can enjoy 3 dishes and a bottle of wine. If you fancy having a glamorous drink before dinner then check The Ritz which located a few steps away from Blandy’s – a wine bar where you can taste some Madeira wine.
Madeira is the perfect European destination for adventurous people. From jeep tours to paragliding, Madeira offers to its visitors a number of different attractions. Canoeing, diving, swimming with dolphins, and horse riding; mountain biking, surfing and fishing. You will not get bored.
Ventura Do Mar, for instance, offers a day aboard an old vessel that will take you across the surround island in order to experience some whales and dolphin watching; you can also visit the natural reserve and swim in the crystalline water of the Atlantic Ocean.
If you prefer surfing then you will be pleased to know that here finding the right wave is not a problem. The best surfing spot is Paul Do Mar.
Located more than 1,8oo meters above the sea level, Pico Do Arieiro is the highest mountain of the island; once you have reached its top you can walk through the steep path that joins the 4 tops of the mountain, and you can enjoy the clouds and the spectacular view that reminds of the tales of Middle Earth by JRR Tolkien.
Madeira is discovering its new soul, alternating traditional tourism for elders to a number of adventuring offers for young explorers. It is by far one of the coolest destinations for 2015.
Credits: Google Images