The Enchanted Island of Madeira

I’m not too sure why I went to Portugal (which was the catalyst for visiting Madeira). It was never really on my bucket list, but somehow it got tied into my annual adventure trip, but I’m guessing it has to do with the travel rule…My travel buddies and I have a rule when traveling together that each person gets “one thing,” one thing that they can choose to do/see/eat, whatever and the rest have to go along with it. Meredith is known for picking the far off, least convenient, but turns out to be a great adventure thing like on our first trip to Ireland, she decided she wanted to see the Giant’s Causeway, which is a mysterious and natural formation of Hex rocks along the coastline in Northern Ireland.  Cool and all, but we were on the west side of the Republic of Ireland then, which meant a 5-6 hour drive each way~  And you know what?  It was a great road trip (no matter how much I whined about it).

True to her fashion, when Spain and Portugal came into the conversation, she added the island of Madeira as her one thing.  It’s a little island south of Portugal and her reason for going?  “It’s where Madeira wine came from.”  Sound reasoning I say, so it was added (though I’d never even tasted Madeira).  Only after it was added to our itin, did we realize that it was a long and expensive flight from Portugal to Madeira, but read on and you’ll find that it was well worth it.

First and foremost (even if you’re not a soccer fan) you should know that the world renowned futbol star Christian Ronaldo who plays for Real Madrid is from Madeira. It won’t be hard to figure with all the ad banners and Soccer themed hotel, Pestana CR7, with his image plastered all over it and then there’s a CR7 (his initials and jersey #) museum and restaurant…but if you say “Who is that” or “Oh, I had not idea he was from here.” You’ll get either a horrified response (I know, ‘cuz I did that) or at the very least shaking of the head and slightly rolling of the eyes.  He is revered.  Showing respect for it will go along way.

Second, the water is cold.  Very cold~  It’s near the Mediterranean, but it’s the Atlantic and the waters are deep and chilly around the island, so if you’re looking for a beach, snorkel holiday, go to Italy or Croatia or Spain and then come here because it’s a really cool place.

This is the place that’s also famous for the basket runs (wicker toboggan), so even though it’s a cheesy, touristy, they’ve got their palms out for tips the moment you land, kind of thing. It is cool, unique and not to be missed. It’s so cool that a clip of it made it into the 12 Adventures film series intro :-).

When to go.

The climate is mild year round, so anytime I’d say.  We went in September and it was shorts and summer dresses by day with a light sweater and capris at night.  I’ve been told though that Spring is when it’s at its prettiest. The trees are in bloom with blue and gold (matching their flag) flowers floating in the air.  Mid April is their annual festival that’s very popular with lots of entertainment and night life.

Where to Stay.

There are a ton of options from luxury hotel to living like a local.  If you staying less than a week and want to be treated like royalty, splurge for the hotel.  If you want to live like a local then rent an apt through AirBnB or other sites.  Both are relatively reasonable.  We opted for the luxury hotel in the main city of Funchal because we were only staying 4 nights and wanted as much guidance at hand to get the most out of our trip. Meredith wants me to point out that she could and would easily come here and live for a month, it was just that great of a place.

We opted for one of the Pestana hotels (nice chain), the Pestana Promenade which was within walking distance of town.  I’ve heard they all have the same great formula of experience, so pick your location and know you’re in good hands.

If we had more time, we would’ve gone for a couple nights across the island to Aqua Natura Madeira Hotel.  Here you can swim in the ocean without quite the same chill or depth.

Where to Eat, Drink and Be Merry.

The majority of the restaurants we found there were really reasonable with great food, wine and ambiance.

Taberna Madeira. Open air restaurant with modern takes on traditional foods and great ambiance.

Fabrica Santo Antonio. Cakes, pastries for every kind of sweet tooth.

Rei da Poncha. You have try the Poncha and there are several places, but these guys make it on the premise and very local vibe.  It’s a big part of the fishing village history. Fisherman who take a swig of it before heading out onto the water.  It was considered medicinal. One then done, trust me~  FYI I stumbled across a pretty painting of simple Madeira fishing boats that I added as a background to the Poncha photo in the gallery.  Credit where credit’s due I say.  Painting by a Mary Stubberfield. Check out the link to see the full painting. Nice~

Il Basilicio. I know, I know, this is an Italian restaurant and we’re supposed to be experiencing Madeira foods and beverages, but they’re really good, so go there at least once while you’re here.

SCAT Music Club & Restaurant.  Great place for outdoor dining and live entertainment (inside and outside).

What to Do (when you’re not eating, drinking and being merry).

Madeira has the Hop on Hop off busses and I always recommend taking advantage of those on day one.  They really help to give you the lay of the land and figure out just what’s walkable and what isn’t.

Madeira Exquisite Food on Foot Tours. Well, this involves all of the above, but it was one of the best walking food tours I’ve ever been on. It’s run by a local woman who is such a pleasure to be around and so informative that you barely notice that you’re suddenly full and sloshed and made new friends whose names you can’t recall (and I mean that in the best way). Check out their website for all their tour and picnic options. I see they’ve added quite a few since I was there.

Funchal to Monte Cable Car. Like the ski slope gondolas of the Swiss Alps, these take you right up to the top of Madeira to the town of Monte, where the main attraction are the wicker toboggans that take you right back down. Wheeeeee~

Wicker Toboggan Sled Ride. This was so much fun~  Take the cable car up (great views) to the area and walk back. This was a typical mode of transport into town back in the 1800’s. Now a huge touristy thing to do, but so unique, why not? There are high priced taxis laying in wait after the ride, but the walk is just a bit further down the hill and good for you. Just take it slow because it is steep~

There also lots of hiking, walking, boating, foodie excursions abound in this area and all pretty reasonably priced.  Funchal was a great home base, but I agree with Meredith, you could easily spend a month here to really take it all in. They’ve got all the modern conveniences, including WiFi (that actually works~), so if you can swing it, go for it~