I was invited by the Madeiran tourist board to visit the island in March 2017, my time on the island was short, just 48 hours – but we crammed in an awful lot! I really recommend Madeira as a holiday destination, I think it’s been given a bit of a bad reputation as an island for the elderly, but that just isn’t true. I found it has the perfect combination of weather, culture and food and I immediately fell in love with its rugged coastline and green, mountainous interior.
Day 1 London – Lisbon – Madeira. I took the TAP Portugal flight from London Heathrow, which is perfect for me as I live just 10 minutes away. I then took a smooth connection onto Funchal, little did I know that on the day all the morning flights had been cancelled. Madeira is notoriously difficult to land on, due to the fact that the runway is short and it’s built into the side of the hills.
After a safe (but very bumpy) landing I met up with the rest of the group, all tour operator representatives from all over Europe, we transferred to our hotel for the duration, The Golden Residence hotel in Funchal, the sun was setting as we checked in, and I was absolutely blown away by the view from my room. We ate dinner at the here, the food was delicious and we tried the famous Espetada em Pau de Lauro (basically beef on a skewer hung on a rack above the table) which was absolutely delicious, washed down with Madeiran wine and passion fruit pudding for desert. I was in heaven!
Day 2 Madeira. Today we really got under the skin of Madeira, we visited the market in Funchal, where we saw huge variety of fruit and vegetables (many of which I hadn’t heard of before!) we also went to the fish market where you can see Espada (black swordfish) and tuna being prepared. It was great to see locals and tourists alike coming together to peruse the market stalls the vendors were enthusiastic but very courteous and not at all pushy unlike many other European markets.
After mooching around the market for a while we went to the cable car up to the village of Monte. Unfortunately everybody else had the same idea (there were two large cruise ships int the port) so we had to join the back of the queue. The views in, and up the top of the hill where worth the wait, it was breath-taking! We wandered around the village for a while before making our way to the toboggan attraction. This was great fun!
Prior to cars being on the island the locals would often transport themselves and supplies by toboggan (basically wooden baskets) due to the hilly nature of the island. They have no steering wheel and no brakes(!) but are guided by local men, who run the 2km alongside the toboggan.
Following this, we went down to the main town for a quick Madeiran wine tasting at Blandys one of the main wine producers on the island, and then went onto a restaurant for lunch. We enjoyed vegetable soup (the Madeirans LOVE soup almost as much as they love Christano Renaldo! the islands airport being named after him, lunch was typically Madeiran black swordfish with a fried banana(!) and passion fruit pudding in a lovely location overlooking the marina.
Next was the part I was most looking forward to, the afternoon spent on a catamaran looking for whales and dolphins. We were lucky enough to spot a pod of dolphins including lots of tiny young ones it really was amazing. This also enabled us to get up close to the beautiful Madeiran coast, they really have some impressive cliffs!
The evening was spent here in a Madeiran and sushi restaurant, where we tucked into limpets, ceviche and steak. A delicious meal and highly recommended.
Day 3 Madeira – Lisbon. Our final day on Madeira started off early with a jeep safari to the centre and the North of the island, we had a fantastic guide who took us off the beaten track (literally) as we explored this green island. We stopped off at Pico Arieiro (the second highest point on Madiera at 1818m) and the last peak accessible by car. Unfortunately the weather turned and the cloud descended and it was really windy, but I imagine on a clear day the view is fantastic.
After, we did a short levada walk in Ribeiro Frio to Balcões and back again. Levadas are how they used to transport water around the island and to the crops and they make perfect walking trails! Our guide was telling us that this was one of the most rewarding walks in Madeira. When you reach the Balcões (balcony in English) you are greeted with spectacular, panoramic views of the mountains, forest and rugged northern coast.
We then drove onward to Santana, a place where we can see the traditional Madeiran houses, they are very cute thatched houses which look like they should be in the Lord of the Rings! Our final stop on this trip was a lunch at Quinta do Furão, we sat out on the terrace and had the most amazing views of the cliffs and the coastline and we enjoyed a meal of scallops, steak and of course passion fruit pudding!
After this we were whisked away to catch our flight back to Lisbon for the next leg of this work trip, but I left with a real love and fascination for this beautiful island, it makes for a perfect city break and I will definitely return!