Madeira – 5 cool experiences for a memorable stay
There are not many places where you can go cruising with a catamaran in the morning to swim and spot dolphins, then have lunch at an old farm house, hike through lush vegetation in the afternoon, sip sweet wine next to banana trees after dinner, and finish the day on a mountain top to watch the sunset above the clouds.
Madeira may be a small island, but it is full of adventures and boasts incredible nature, delicious local delicacies, and amazing hospitality. With the climate being mild year-round, it is a destination for any month of the year.
Go explore the mountains
It’s no secret that Madeira has spectacular nature. Your jaw with literally drop pretty much every time you turn a bend while making your way up and down the mountains. Operators like Adventure Kingdom offer hiking tours for any level and will take you on walks along the levadas, the island’s branched century-old irrigation system that leads the water from the mountains to the fields and people’s private veggie gardens. The lush green vegetation, temperature, and humidity changes significantly as you climb up and down in elevation so there always something new to discover along the way. Many of the walks will take you to a waterfall where you can go for a dip in the pool below to refresh yourself before you continue your hike.
Feeling adventurous? Then one of the jeep tours will be right down your alley! Hit the Road Madeira will take you off the beaten path and show you some of the island’s hidden gems. Thanks to the sturdy cars you can take the island’s steepest roads and short cuts through banana plantations to suddenly find yourself at some lovely old school café in the mountains sipping poncha at 10am and swimming in rock pools on the other side of the island an hour later. The company also has sunrise and sunset tours in their portfolio which is something you need to experience while staying on Madeira – it is just something else to watch a sunset on the top of 1,800m high Pico do Arieiro surrounded by a sea of clouds.
Take to the sea
Madeira may not have dreamy white-sandy beaches, but you should still remember to pack your swimming trunks as there are plenty of other things to do. Madeira’s southern coast is more protected from the Atlantic’s strong winds and thus a nice place to explore by kayak. You will find kayak rentals at most towns along the coast, and even up north at Carniçao – the uninhabited peninsula with its rough shapes is beautiful to view from the water. If you are into surfing, head to the northern side of the island where the wind is stronger and the waves higher. Most beaches are for advanced surfers, however, you will also find surf schools that provide classes for beginners.
For a more chilled adventure hop on one of the catamarans. Operators like VMT Madeira will take you out on the ocean for an invigorating swim in the blue waters – snorkelling gear included. You may even be lucky enough to spot dolphins and whales along the way.
Visit the old manor houses
Back in the days, Madeira’s manor houses, called “Quintas”, were a popular destination for those looking for the benefits of clean, salty air as well as merchants travelling past Madeira on their journey on the Atlantic Route. Today, many of the Quintas have been turned into elegant countryside hotels with beautiful gardens, small vineyards, and swimming pools. The mix of local architecture with British style makes them a unique place to stay. Even if you don’t want to spend the night, stop for lunch or dinner in one of the former manors, for example at Quinta do Furão, which is located on the top of a steep cliff with incredible views of Madeira’s coastline. Book a table on the terrasse to enjoy your meal overlooking the ocean. Quinta da Casa Branca is a 5-star boutique hotel situated close to the center of Funchal, amidst a lush green botanical garden. Its fine dining restaurant with classic ambience serves contemporary cuisine while the garden pavilion restaurant is worth a visit during teatime as it offers homemade scones and cakes in a colourful landscape.
Enjoy the local delicacies
And while you stopped counting calories, continue indulging in Queijada da Madeira, a luscious cottage cheese pastry native to the island. Wash the naughty sweets down with a glass of Poncha, tradionally made with lemon juice, honey, and sugar cane schnaps. The more modern version will tickle your taste buds with a mix of vodka and passion fruit. If your stomach can handle more, try Nikita, an exotic drink that is said to be named after the song by Elton John. It is a mix of pineapple juice, vanilla ice cream, fresh pineapple, sugar, and beer (but the non-alcoholic version tastes great too).
Looking for something more sophisticated? Then Madeira Wine should be your drink of choice. The dry version can be consumed as an aperitive while the sweet ones go along well with desert. To learn more about the history and accidental discovery of the now popular wine, visit one of the producers and join a tour of their winery.
Drinks with a view
What’s the best thing about an island? Right, sea view all around! And what is the cherry on top? Correct – sipping an ice-cold drink while watching the sun drop into the ocean. One of the best spots for a sundowner, that is also popular with the locals, is Maktub Pub in Paúl do Mar, about a 45-minute drive from Funchal. The small bar is right next to the beach so you will have front row seats for the spectacle. Another great location for (sunset) drinks is the terrace of Estalagem da Ponta do Sol. The hotel is built on a sea cliff providing unobstructed ocean views.
Did you know that the Hawaiian ukulele has its origin in Madeira? Madeira’s very own Tiki Bar celebrates the bond between the two islands. The bar’s colourful decoration and attention to detail almost makes you believe you ended up on the tropical island in the South Seas. Until now, Pukiki Tiki Bar is a well-kept secret and mostly known among locals as it is hidden away in the small town of Estreito da Calheta. The tasty drinks are carefully crafted and made with regional ingredients, sporting Madeiran rum and gin as well as homemade sirups. Thanks to the wide range of cocktails and long drinks, you will surely find one (or rather three) that is for you.