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Madeira Island Guide: Why You Should Go

Monday, July 16, 2018
Madeira Island Guide: Why You Should GoLike0


A 7 Day Guide

Europe's Next Adventure Capital?

I’ve seen Madeira Island 11 years ago in Nat Geo magazine when I was riding the train in London. I tore the single page out and pinned it to my office wall. I made a promise to myself that one day, I will make it to Madeira Island.

Time passed so fast, and despite me going to Portugal in the past, I was never able to make enough time to Visit Madeira. Until this year and I stayed at Belmond Reid’s Palace amongst a few other places.

Madeira Island, closer to North Africa by geography (it’s 540 miles from Lisbon, but only 360 from Morocco) this volcano-born fragment of the eastern Atlantic is merely the biggest segment of a broader archipelago and an award winning destination for 4 years in a row. The landscape attracts nature lovers, hikers, divers and not to mention one of the greatest wines in the world, although, the famous drink is a sugar-cane juice and fruit called Poncha. The island is filled with music festivals and is said to be the greatest place to watch fireworks.

Because it was formed by a volcano, the landscape is rugged, tropical and dramatic which is set to be one of the most beautiful and photogenic islands in the world with forests, mountains and sea. It is said to be sunshine 350 days a year Madeira is often referred to as the ‘island of the eternal spring’ due to its climate, but there are six micro-climates which means that you could be battling chilly drizzle one minute and sunbathing on the beach the next.

Most hotels are found in Funchal, but to get the authentic experience, I suggest you also stay out in different villages.

Getting to Madeira from Lisbon was easy on Easy Jet although we had the option with TAP, however, EasyJet was the best way to cut our costs. Madeira is very welcoming towards children and almost everywhere was children friendly. Most speak French and Portuguese and everyone speaks fluently english.

I fell in love with Madeira, I spent a week there and was only able to do 30% of what the island has to offer. 

Things to do In Madeira Island

Take The Cable Car to Monte

To get a great perspective of Funchal, make sure you take the 20 minutes cable car ride to Monty and watch the beautiful orange roof tops from above with the Atlantic Ocean on the horizon! Round trip on the cable car is 16 euros and 11 Euros one way.

Take The Monte Toboggan ride

A fun fun fun activity for all ages!! Originated in the 19th century and part of the culture in Monte, a time when the baskets were used by the inhabitants as a mean of rapid transportation between Monte and the city of Funchal. The “Carreiros” are the men who lead the most picturesque mean of transportation on Madeira Island. At first, I was a little skeptical about doing this but I was proven SO wrong! Definitely something not to miss when in Madeira! Costs for 1 person is 25 Euros and for 2 people is 30 Euros from 9am to 6pm.

Walk Through Old Town

In the heart of the Old Town lies Corpo Santo Chapel, one of the few 15th-century buildings that has survived until today. One of the city’s oldest streets, Rua de Santa Maria, is also located in this area. It is the site of various local businesses, including the picturesque Fábrica de Chapéus [Hat Factory], which has been operating in the same location for over 60 years, and the Vilão Boot Factory. Old town is photogenic and feels like a place where time stood still. You will find here a lot of souvenirs shops and local restaurants. At night time, the street comes alive with music and some dancing.

Take a Jeep Tour safari

I can safely say that this is one of the only greatest ways to see parts of Madeira Island if you are rushed throughout your trip. Pick up was at 10am and it was a 9 hour trip with off-roading west with our guide Pedro.

We departed from Funchal towards Ribeira Brava village. After a small stop for sightseeing, we’ll start climbing towards Paúl da Serra, a plateu in the centre of the island with spectacular views. We passed through Ponta do Sol and Canhas, two pictouresque villages and drive off-road. There was a chance to take a small levada walk (approximately 20 minutes). 

In Paúl da Serra, at 1500 meters, we went through Fanal, an area with Laurel Forest classified World Heritage by Unesco, until we arrived a viewpoint in Ribeira da Janela with breathtaking views.

Finally, a dream coming true, Porto Moniz!

Natural swimming pools. These pools created by volcanic lava, have crystal clear waters thanks to the sea and manages to enter and bring fresh sea water. We stopped for lunch.

We carried on near the coast towards Seixal and São Vicentevillages. We ended our day at 1007 meters high, in Encumeada viewpoint, next to a mountain range that allows for magnificent views over the deep valleys of Ribeira Brava (south coast) and São Vicente (north Coast). We worked with and I highly recommend them and ask for Pedro and tell him I said hello! The tour can be taken East, South, North and West so makes sense to extend your holiday so you can enjoy every day a part of the island!

Sail on a Private Yacht

If you have been following my adventures, you would know my passion for sailing and being in the open seas. I met pedro not too long ago, he runs Rota Dos Cetaceos

An eco-friendly tour company that takes you on a private charter with groups or solo trips on a full day tour or 3 day tour trips depending on your requirements. They also take you swimming with wild dolphins, whale watching and diving. Pedro’s dedication to the ocean, his experience in sailing since a very young age and his love for Madeira created a special friendship with my family and his very fast. The trips were educative, fun and most of all, took us to beautiful places in the Atlantic Sea. 

Hike the Levada Walks

“Levada” is a Portuguese word derived from the word “levar” – which means to carry and is roughly translated as “carriageway”, but more correctly defined as mini-canal. Levada walks are exactly that, beautiful nature walks, hiking, trekking, some difficult paths and some easy but both with rewarding views and peace. Here you can find many Levada walks to chose from.

Make sure you plan ahead, wear comfortable shoes and always expect the weather to shift suddenly. I also recommend to carry a jacket with you!

Hike up to Pico do Arieiro

Pico do Arieiro, with an altitude of 1818 metres, is the third highest peak on the island (and the second highest with pedestrian access) and can also be reached by car. Sunrise here is incredible and on really good weather, you can see the neighboring island, Porto Santo. During this walk, you will pass by Pico das Torres, the second highest of the island with 1851 m of altitude, which has no pedestrian access and is great for climbing.

Spend the day in Porto Moniz

I have been wanting to visit the natural pools the North West cost of Madeira,  Porto Moniz, for a ver long time. The dramatic backdrop blew my mind away! It was almost as if I was in a twilight series of LOST with the green mountain in the background and the crashing waves into the volcanic made rocks. The natural swimming pools at Porto Moniz are formed by volcanic lava, naturally filled with crystal-clear sea water.  Could it be possible that another volcano would erupt forming another secret island?

You can have lunch at the restaurant facing the pools and it costs 1.50 euros to enter the pools. 

Reach the top at Ponta De Sao Lourenco

In the heart of the Old Town lies Corpo Santo Chapel, one of the few 15th-century buildings that has survived until today. One of the city’s oldest streets, Rua de Santa Maria, is also located in this area. It is the site of various local businesses, including the picturesque Fábrica de Chapéus [Hat Factory], which has been operating in the same location for over 60 years, and the Vilão Boot Factory. Old town is photogenic and feels like a place where time stood still. You will find here a lot of souvenirs shops and local restaurants. At night time, the street comes alive with music and some dancing.

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Where To Stay in Madeira Island

Travel Junkie Diary

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I do usually spend a lot of time on research for my trips, months in advance and, for this specific trip, it was a little challenging finding a place to stay that matched what I was exactly looking for. 
The search engine that worked well for me was @wegoarabia - as for flights, I didn’t have too many options from Barcelona but it worked out well. I mixed it between hotel stay and private villa stay for my 10 nights. Booked a car and took it really easy at the end!
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Photo by @dennisstever