Admittedly, Madeira has never been on my radar – purely because it’s often overshadowed by more popular tourist destinations such as Italy or Spain. However, since visiting recently with family, my eyes have definitely been opened to the beauty of this welcoming island!
We stayed in Madeira’s capital, Funchal, which is known for its pretty harbour and mountainous views. While it doesn’t have white sandy beaches, there’s so much more it has to offer – so I’ve put together 5 reasons why you should visit and see for yourself!
Madeira’s rich culture is present at every turn, from the quaint churches that are scattered up the mountains, to the unique art that adorns doors in Funchal’s old town. Wander aimlessly through the streets and immerse yourself in the history of the place – with an ice cream or two along the way!
You can read more about the Madeira Art of Open Doors Project here.
Through our hotel, we took half a day trip which took us to three very scenic points of interest for around €20. I would definitely recommend doing something like this. Starting early meant it didn’t eat into the afternoon -which for me is optimum ‘slathering on the lotion and burning’ time. GOD I am cultured.
Our first stop, Pico Dos Barcelos, allowed us to take in beautiful views at over 300m up. Our tour guide also pointed out the house that Ronaldo was born in. I’m not into football but he really is worshipped here, every single taxi driver or waiter we had a conversation with brought him up somehow!
We arrived at our second stop, Eira Do Sorrado, after a hair raising ride in the coach which involved plenty of sheer drops!
At 1,095m up, we were actually level with the clouds. From here we could look down into Nun’s Valley. Surrounded by mountains and scenic views, it really was in a world of its own.
Finally, we explored Nun’s Valley itself, a small community of only 2,000 people who all attend the same church on Sunday! It’s hidden in the mountain valley and is truly a magical place to visit.
We sampled some local beverages here too. Chestnut liqueur anyone? (No, me neither!)
Another excellent way to see the sights is to take the cable car up to Monte. You can hop on at Funchal old town. We got a single ticket up which was quite reasonable at €11 for a 20-25 minute journey.
THE FLORA AND FAUNA
A landscape glowing with life and punctuated with dozens of flowers and foliage – we’d have been ruddy idiots not to explore the tropical gardens! There’s actually two in the area we stayed, but we hopped off at the cable car and went to Monte Palace Tropical Garden. Explore at your own pace, but I would allow 2-3 hours minimum as there really is so much to be seen here.
We combed the whole place, taking in every flower, water feature and brightly coloured carp (of which there are a plenty!). It’s also crawling with lizards too – I spotted this little fellow chilling in the sunshine.
The traditional Madeira bread, Bolo do caco, is lightly toasted and drizzled in garlic. Need I go on?
Both Funchal harbour and old town are peppered with delicious restaurants and it was hard to pick. We hadn’t booked anywhere on a Saturday night (risky) but decided to chance it. As we made our way down the skinny streets, a waiter from Santa Maria restaurant hailed us down. After a brief look over the menu (pasta, prawns – tick) he promised he had one table for us ‘out the back.’ My boyfriend and I glanced at each other dubiously, but decided to take the chance. If it was that bad we could always drink Madeira wine. By the bottle.
We were pleasantly surprised.
Anywhere that does good prawns is a winner in my eyes. If you hadn’t guessed, I’m a sucker for seafood; I ate plenty of it during my trip to Looe!
We also tried out Marina Terrace, which offered lovely views of the harbour and an even lovelier mushroom risotto!
THE BASKET RIDE….
What goes up in a cable car… must come down in a death-defying basket ride! In my eyes, you can’t visit Madeira without trying out this tradition that’s been in the country since 1850. After wandering around the top of the mountain for a while, we hopped on the basket (or toboggan) and began our speedy descent down the mountain with two smartly dressed fellows steering and pushing us, using their rubber-soled boots as breaks. TOTALLY SAFE.
But in all seriousness, it’s great fun! And there you have my fancy 5 reasons.
Have you ever visited Madeira?