Travel Guide To Madeira - The Hidden Paradise Island of Europe
Hi Fellow travel lovers!
Welcome to my ultimate travel guide of Madeira - the hidden paradise Island in Europe! Very few places have left me in awe the way Madeira did and I think it deserves so much more coverage than it already has. I could write a novel only about how the nature changes around the Island: from tropical Hawaii-like landscapes to warm Faroe Island-like sceneries (and everything in between). Another thing is the perfect climate which I will get a lot more into in the travel guide below. But First, here are some tips before you go!
Before you go to Madeira
So, before you go to Madeira there are a few things you need to prepare. Like any other holiday... But these are the most important ones.
- Rent a car - You NEED a car to explore the island. Especially if you are into nature and want to go off the beaten path. Renting a car I highly advice you to get full insurance as the roads a narrow and hilly so a lot of things can go wrong. Also, rent a diesel with some horsepowers as is it is an island with a lot of mountains and you don't want to be in a position where the car won't go up the hill. We rented a Renault Clio via Driving Madeira and I have only positive things to say about them.
- Book hotels - The Island is small and it is tourist season all year long. So to be sure to get the best, cheapest or whatever preference you have, I will advice to book hotels in advance. I will guide you to my favourites below.
- Pack for all seasons - Yup! This one is important because never have I ever experienced so many seasons within a day. It can be sunny on one side of the Island, foggy and cold in the middle and rainy on the other side (and everything in between). If you are into hiking in the mountains remember to pack a warm sweater as it gets cold up there. However, it never gets really cold on Madeira. Don't worry... But still. The weather can change a lot during 1 day.
What To see on Madeira
I'm thinking about making a dedicated travel itinerary later on so here you'll just get everything we saw (that I will recommend) in one big mix! Remember, Madeira and it's Islands like Porto Santo, has everything you can possibly want weather you are into relaxing, sports, food, wine etc. these are just some of my highlights! To see current events or more activities on Madeira I recommend checking out visit Madeira or my friend Julie's Madeira guide (in danish but you can change the language).
Seixal & Porto Moniz - Drive to Seixal and Porto Moniz (neighbouring town) and experience the wonders of the nature on Madeira. The drive in itself is worth mentioning as it is so damn gorgeous but in Seixal I will recommend you to check out the black beach and the natural pool right next to it. It is free to use.
Ponta Do Rosto - On the most eastern point of the Island is a hiking trail with some of the most beautiful nature I have ever seen! the route is 4,4 km each way (takes around 4 hours if you like us like to take photos) and it will take you through rural nature sights like I have never seen before (reminds me of Faroe Islands, just warm). Word of advice: Come early and don't go back until you reach the summit as it will reward you with one of the most beautiful views on all of Maderia.
Funchal - Of course the capital on Madeira, Funchal, is worth mentioning! With it's narrow koppel stone streets and old colorful houses walking around is a like walking in a fairytale. In Funchal I recommend you to take the cable car to the town, Monte, which is just further up the mountain. It's a beautiful trip! Up there is the Tropical Garden AND the botanical garden of Madeira. Either or are beautiful and worth a visit. You can either get a return ticket with the cable car or take a sleigh down (yes, a sleigh!!). It drops you off half way down the mountain and you can either take a taxa or walk all the way down. We did the latter as taxis are quite expensive there (they know people don't want to walk;)). Other things to do are go for walk on the pier and try one of the food stands, visit the food market or do some shopping.
Levada Walks - Madeira are known for their Lavadas which are man made irrigation channels made back in the days to transport the water from the lush north to the dry south. nowadays the trails along the levadas are popular hiking trails among locals and tourists. There are plenty of levadas and some are longer than others. We went on the easiest one: Vereda Dos Balcoes (mainly because we didn't have time for the longer ones) which is approx 3km. long. At the summit you'll be met with the most beautiful view over a valley. Se all the levada walks here.
Porto Santo - Porto Santo is a group os Islands 50km. from Madeira. It takes approx 2 hours to get there by ferry (8min. by plane) and you can go there for a day trip like we did or stay a night or two on the Island. There lives 5.000 people on the Island (in August that number reaches 25.000 because of tourists) and it is very different from Madeira. It's more flat, more dry and it has yellow sandy beaches. We took the ferry from Madeira at 8 in the morning (bring seasickness pills as it can get a get wavy) and went on a Jeep trip with Lazermar around the Island where we heard the story behind the Island, saw some beautiful scenery, the smallest botanical garden made by a local and ended up eating the best seafood lunch I have had in a long time (more on that further down). Porto Santo is also good if you are into active holidays as like running (as the island is more flat), diving, golfing, biking and so on. We spend the rest of the days Chilling on the 9km. of beach before we headed back to Madeira and ate, probably the best, dinner I have ever had on the ferry (I might be biased as I usually get cafeteria food on whenever I take the ferry to Sweden lol).
Dolphin and Whale Watching - Madeira act as a pitstop on the motorway called the ocean for animals in the ocean. You will therefore be amazed by how many different species you can spot here! It can be seasonal but it is not uncommon to see dolphins (almost a guarantee), whales and turtles. We went with a company called Ontales where we went on a private boat (such a romantic and personal experience) and shoutout to our amazing captian who managed to find a huge group dolphins even though we had all odds against us due to bad weather!
- Sunset wathcing on top of Pico de Arieiro - The three highest peaks in Madeira are located right next to each other, however, Pico de Arieiro (the second highest peak) is the easiest one to get to and have a parking lot right next to the peak. The difference between Pico de Arieiro and Pico de Ruivo (the highest peak) is only 20m. so we got a bit lazy and went for the easy option as we otherwise would have to hike for an hour - not ideal when you are there for a sunset and therefor have to walk back in the dark. When you come outside of tourist hours you can end up having this beautiful sunset all to yourself and the one you love... It was such an incredible experience!
Where to Stay on Madeira
You can find hotels in all price ranges on Madeira and all over the Island, which you need to remember, is quite small. So it doesn't matter that much where you stay. However, we decided to have our base in Funchal all week and then drive to our destination every time we had something planned around the Island. Looking back I think it was a wise decision as the other towns around the Island are very small. Although, if you are into the quiet lifestyle it doesn't really matter where you stay. We stayed at:
Quinta Das Vistas - We stayed 4 nights at Quinta Das Vistas, a beautiful 5 star hotel with a gorgeous view overlooking the city. The look and feel reminds me of an old, romantic hotel on the Amalfi coast or something. It has a spa, indoor/outdoor pool as well as a very nice restaurant!
- Qastanheiro Boutique Hotel - A gorgeous boutique hotel right in the center of Funchal. Let me just name drop some of the reasons why this place was incredible: Rooftop pool, great breakfast, 2 floor room (don't think every room has that though) and a great masseuse who helped us get rid of our feet pain from all the hiking.
Where to eat on Madeira
Madeira seemed to have a tradition for the simple cuisine: Good meat and fish, fresh vegetables and bread. You really need anything else when the island is one big producer of these things. However, a few restaurants really stood out in quality and service so they deserve a little mentioning:
Chalet Vicente Restaurant - Chalet Vicente is a nice old school restaurant with a beautiful garden area where you can sit and enjoy your meal. We got 4 dishes: fresh squid, Espada with banana, Espetada with matured beef and fresh fruit for desert. We had the most attentive waiter and strong Madeira punch!
Nini Design Restaurant - A modern fine dining resturant on the harbour with a beautiful view overlooking Funchal and the ocean. Visiting Nini Design center, eating some of the best and beautiful food I have had in my life and watching the sun set over Funchal, I had to pinch my arm to know it was real! Nini design restaurant has a 3 course dinner for 55€ with small extra dishes included for some extra money (don't remember how much exactly) we had the food paired with tasty local wines from their sommerliér. If you ever go to Madeira you HAVE to give yourself this experience!
- Calhetas Restaurant (Porto Santo) - If you go to Porto santo (which you must), go to Calhetas and eat at this local little restaurant overlooking the beach. It doesn't look like much but I promise their fish dishes (especially their seafood spaghetti) is so good! The waiters are, furthermore, really good and helpful if you can't decide which of their tasty dishes to choose.
- Algas e Corais (Porto Santo Ferry) - So, have you ever eaten a tasty meal on a ferry? Neither have I until I took the ferry back from Porto Santo. Mark and I were hungry and bored and the ferry trip took a good 2 hours. So we decided to eat. We went to the restaurant and it turned out to be a fine dining sit down dinner with three courses and tasty wine. We enjoyed our meal while watching the sun turn the ocean and sky orange before we reached Funchal. Full in our stomachs and with so many good memories!
Food and Wine to try on Madeira
There are a few very traditional dishes from Madeira (and Portugal you have to try on Madeira!). Those are:
- Espada (type of fish) with banana and passionfruit sauce - I know it sounds weird but you will grow fond of it! Each restaurant has their own way of making it but the most delicate and tasty one I had, was at Chalet Vicente.
- Garlic bread - This is a classic you get at almost every restaurant. The waiter always ask if you want the bread and I always said YES! It's that good....
- Grilled Lapas -A special type of limpets from Madeira, grilled with lemon (and sometimes garlic). Really good for a starter.
- Espetada - Espetada is kinda like Kebab, meat on a stick. However, the stick is huge and therefore, so is the portion! We had the best espetada as Chalet Vicente with matured beef seasoned with garlic butter.
- pastéis de nata - This is a Portuguese custard tart and you can get them at bakeries, coffee shops - even our hotel served them for breakfast! They are so tasty and worth every calorie ;)
- Madeira Wine - Madeira is known for their sweet and tasty desert wine. It kicks like a horse and taste like an alcohol infused lemonade - a strong cocktail! Try a glass with your dessert and I can almost guarantee you will love it!
Also, See my first Madeira Vlog here: