Madeira is a sun-soaked destination that captures the ease and proximity of a European break and the colours and culture of a tropical paradise.
Madeira is an exceptional destination that offers visitors an island escape but it comes without the tediousness of long-haul travelling. Once popular with retired holidaymakers, Madeira has reinvented itself, as the Hawaii of Europe.
Melan Magazine recently visited this idyllic island. Read on for why we think it deserves that title…
Fantastic florals and fruits
Located between mainland Portugal and Morocco, Madeira shares the climate and beauty of both so as well as glorious weather all year round, the land is very rich in tropical fruits and flowers that it feels like you could be in Polynesia. The vibrant orange Bird of Paradise is the national flower here and you can see them in their natural environment at Santa Carina Park in central Funchal, the botanical gardens, or at Monte Palace Gardens which is a haven of exotic plants, accessible by cable car.
You can’t come to Madeira without eating passion fruit, either fresh or in its many culinary forms and not just sweet ones. Passion fruit sauces are often served with fish, but you’ll also find them in ice-cream and liquors. The picture-perfect Mercado dos Lavradores is where every visitor should head to try local produce. You’ll find various varieties of passion fruit; other vibrant fruits piled high, rows of dried chilis and handmade chocolates.
Old Town antics in Funchal
Evenings are buzzing in the old town with alfresco eateries spilling out onto cobbled paths. Many of them offer set menus and it’s a good place to sample the local fish ‘black scabbard’. A seafood lover’s paradise, fresh catch like limpets, squid and oysters are plentiful throughout the island. After your meal, it’s customary to visit a tavern for poncho, Madeira’s local drink made from distilled sugar cane and fruit juice.
Lovers of art will enjoy wandering through the old town to see the iconic ‘coloured doors of Madeira.’ There are over 200 handpainted doors brightening up Santa Maria Street, some of them are inspired by what’s behind them. Spotting them is a fun activity for children and adults.
Dolphins and whales are as local as the people here and if you head out on a trip, there’s a high probability that you’ll see them.
There are two types of trips, either go by catamaran where you’ll head out in a large group with space to wander and relax, or for a more intimate experience opt for a rib boat. These are lower down with fixed seats, but it means you’ll get up close and personal with these incredible creatures. Book with Rota dos Cetáceos to be led on an adventure with marine biologists.
Pools from paradise
There are several natural pools by the ocean in Madeira which offer safer, secluded swimming areas away from the crashing waves of the sea. Porto Moniz is the most popular, located in the East of the island an hour from Funchal. There are several pool areas, the first ones you’ll see gets busiest but if you walk out a little further away you’ll find a quieter spot where you can lay back, float and relax.
Madeira is a volcanic island and the black sandy beaches are part of the charm. Though you can swim in the sea by the old town, for a more beautiful spot head to Seixal Beach. The views here are stunning and there’s a good balance between feeling like you’re on a secluded island but still having bars to indulge in refreshments.
Much of Madeira is on hilly terrain which means you’ll never be short of views. It’s a popular destination for fitness fans that come here for hill-running while walkers adore the hiking trails.
If you prefer the less physically demanding option, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the views without working up a sweat. Funchal has two cable cars. The first starts by the old town and you can choose to do a single trip or swap onto a second car half-way which takes you right into the clouds.
As for the way down, swap your cable car ride for a toboggan. Up to two people can fit inside a toboggan which is a mode of transport that is part of the local heritage. You’ll be accompanied by two traditionally dressed toboggan operators who will run you back down. It has to be experienced to be believed.
You can also head to Cabo Girao skywalk. This is the highest cape in Europe (580m above sea level) and it comprises a glass platform that you can walk across, it’s almost like walking on air, though best avoided if you have a fear of heights.
Sun chasers should head up to Juncal Viewpoint to watch one of the most spectacular sunrises of your life. Waking up at 4am will be worth it!
You’ll need a good week here to be able to enjoy the best of what Madeira has to offer. Here are a few more ideas to help you plan your itinerary:
5 must-stops in Madeira
Get creative at Bordal embroidery:
Do a sewing workshop at this Madeira institution, learn about the local handicrafts and take home your creation.
Seek adventure on a jeep tour:
See the island interiors the best way to traverse the mountains and jungles is to go on an organised jeep tour.
Enjoy afternoon tea:
Visit the island’s most picturesque hotel, Reid’s Palace. A pink paradise that’s surrounded by leafy gardens and serves the best tea on the island.
Sip cocktails at Ronaldo’s hotel:
Madeira is so proud of local footballer Cristiano Ronaldo that the airport is named after him. He also has a swanky oceanside hotel which has a chic vibe that’s a great place to visit for a meal or sundowners.
Sail to Porto Santo:
Visiting Madeira is a good opportunity to also pop to the island of Porto Santo. There are daily sailings to this tropical paradise island that has soft white sand beaches and little else, so after an action-packed few days in Madeira, a trip here makes the ideal end to your vacation.
Fancy booking your next holiday here? You can fly to Madeira directly, or change in Lisbon, Portugal.
Words: Momtaz Begum-Hossain