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  • Writer's pictureShana Antonissen

Madeira: Europe’s Best-Kept Secret


Porto da Cruz
Porto da Cruz

Madeira, an autonomous chain of four islands, is a Portuguese archipelago renowned for its natural wonders and cultural treasures. Located off the northwest coast of Africa, this fabulous little island is famous for its Madeira wine, prehistoric laurel forest, diverse flora, fauna, waterfalls, and breathtaking views. With a mild and moderate subtropical climate, Madeira offers a variety of microclimates as you travel through different elevations.


Activities for Everyone:

Madeira Landscape

Madeira caters to all kinds of adventurers. Whether you love exploring on land or water, there's something for everyone. Mountain biking, hiking, paragliding, golfing, canyoneering, birdwatching, and climbing are just a few of the easily accessible activities. For water enthusiasts, the island offers sport fishing, dolphin & whale watching, surfing, windsurfing, kayaking, paddle boarding, swimming, and boat tours.


A Culinary Delight:

Foodies won't be disappointed in Madeira, either. Surprisingly, the island boasts not just one but two Michelin-starred restaurants – Il Gallo d'Oro and Willam – both found in the main port town of Funchal. If you're on a budget, fear not, as there are plenty of other excellent dining options to satisfy your taste buds.


My Extraordinary Adventure in Madeira:

Funchal Airport

In March 2023, my husband and I had the privilege of visiting Madeira. We opted for a two-hour flight from Porto, Portugal (OPO) to Funchal, Madeira (FUN), though a direct flight from Lisbon is also available, taking only one hour and forty-five minutes. The landing experience was remarkable, with the runway elevated over the island's main highway (V1). Lush green mountains greeted us on one side while the vast ocean beckoned us on the other. It truly felt like entering a different world altogether.


Embracing Serenity at Grand Pestana:

During our stay, we had the pleasure of lodging at the Grand Pestana, surrounded by the island's lush greenery and breathtaking vistas. The hotel's timeless charm and warm hospitality provided the perfect retreat for our journey. Although it may cater to an older crowd, the peaceful atmosphere was like a soothing balm to our souls.



Sightseeing and Levada Wanderings:

Funchal Funicular

To kickstart our sightseeing adventure, we hopped aboard the iconic Funchal-Monte funicular, offering a scenic journey from the city to the picturesque village of Monte. The ascent treated us to stunning panoramas of Funchal and the azure sea below.


For hiking enthusiasts like us, a Levada walk was a must. We followed the City Levada back to Funchal, tracing the historic irrigation channels while reveling in Madeira's natural beauty. Some sections were extreme, with steep descents and stairways, but the rewarding views and sense of accomplishment made it all worthwhile. The island offers various Levada walks, catering to all levels of hikers.


An amazing dinner at Il Basilico:

Il Basilico Dinners

We finished out the day with a delightful dinner at Il Basilico, a charming Italian restaurant in Funchal. Their Italian dishes with a Madeiran twist were bursting with flavor, making it a memorable dining experience.


Afterward, we headed to Fortim do Lindo Bar on the promenade for drinks and breathtaking coastal views. The promenade is a hub of local activity. The lively atmosphere, music, and friendly locals created a vibrant ambiance.



Exploring the Island by Car:

North Mills Distillery

Renting a car allowed us to explore Madeira's scenic coastal drives, including a stop at Ponta Da Cruz, where the breathtaking cliffside views and the power of the Atlantic waves crashing against the rocks left us in awe. We also made a point to visit the North Mills Distillery, where we sampled Madeira's renowned rum and traditional ponchas while learning about the island's sugar cane farming and rum distilling history.


Discovering Local Charm in Santana:

Santana, Madeira Tipicas

Our journey took us to the charming village of Santana, famous for its traditional thatched-roof houses known as "casa tipicas." These quaint dwellings offered a delightful glimpse into Madeira's rich heritage and provided a photographer's paradise. As we strolled through the village, we immersed ourselves in the authentic local culture.



Adventurous Mountain Drive to Calheta:

Heading over the mountains from Sao Vicente and venturing through the rugged terrain, we encountered awe-inspiring mountain roads, some of which will soon feature in the upcoming Star Wars series - The Acolyte. The switchback-filled drive to Calheta was daring, but the picturesque views and unforgettable experiences made it an adventure to remember.


Luxury at Calheta Beach Club Resort:

We had a fantastic time at the Calheta Beach Club Resort, taking advantage of all the wonderful amenities available. Whether we were lounging by the sparkling pool or strolling along the picturesque sandy beach, there was never a dull moment. One of the best parts was that it was conveniently close to our fishing charter, just a few steps away.


A Feast of Fresh Seafood:

Our trip wouldn't have been complete without a fishing expedition. We joined Nelson from Fish Point Maderia for an unforgettable fishing experience and were thrilled to catch a sheepshead red snapper. Back on land, we brought our prized catch to Marina Azul Restaurante, where they prepared a delectable seafood feast, allowing us to savor the freshest flavors of Madeira.



Adrenaline-Pumping Canyoneering:

To fully immerse ourselves in Madeira's natural beauty, we embarked on a canyoneering adventure with Epic Madeira. Equipped with all the necessary gear, we experienced an adrenaline-pumping journey through the island's waterfalls and rugged terrain.


In Conclusion:

Madeira exceeded our expectations, enchanting us from the moment we set foot on its soil. With its diverse activities, breathtaking landscapes, and culinary delights, this gem in the Atlantic Ocean is a destination that appeals to travelers of all interests. Whether you're an adventurer, a nature lover, or a food enthusiast, Madeira offers an extraordinary experience that will leave you with lasting memories. I hope my experiences and tips inspire you to embark on your own unforgettable journey to this captivating island.

 

To fully experience the beauty of Madeira, you can request a quote. I am here to confidently assist you in discovering the world.


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