When visiting your family takes you to a beautiful destination, you must go (you must go, regardless). This was the case with our most recent visit to Madeira islands, current home to my parents. This was our final stop in this european trip.
Madeira is one of the two autonomous regions of Portugal, the other being the Azores islands. It has two inhabited islands; Madeira and Porto Santo. On this trip we only visited Madeira. The island offers year-round summer climate, beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean and wonderful fauna and flora throughout. If you have the time, take a ferry that leaves from the port of Funchal and goes over to Porto Santo. I’m told the island is worth exploring. An overnight trip sounds like a great option.
When choosing your home base, you have many options of locations. You can opt to stay in Funchal and be in the center of everything, you can head north to Porto Moniz for a small village feel with amazing natural pools, or like us, go to Machico.
Machico is a town on the southeast part of the island and a perfect base for visiting all the beaches and points of interest on the island. The town is just 2 miles or so from the airport, offering a small town feel with many restaurants and shops. There is also a golden sandy beach, which in this volcanic island, it’s a treat.
While everything you want to see is fairly close by in miles, the same is not true in how long it takes to get there. Between Machico and Funchal there is a great highway that only takes 30 minutes to make the trip between the two cities, but outside of that, you will be traveling through some hairpin roads with grades beyond 10 percent in many cases. What I’m saying is, start early, give yourself time to get there and enjoy the journey.
I try not to stack up too much in the short time we are in any one place; “enjoy more” versus “do more”. Sometimes I’m actually successful at this. I had researched all the moderate hikes available on the AllTrails app. There are many options from easy to hard. I had about 15 different hikes saved on my favorites, but we only ended up hiking the Ponta de Sao Lourenco. Spectacular hike with many overlooks. At the end, you are at the easternmost point of the island. The sunrise is said to be amazing; we did not get up that early. Stop at the Miradouro on the way out; offers a higher viewpoint of the north side of the rock formations.
On this trip we really just wanted to see as much of the island as we could, see as many of the beaches and towns. On the return trip, we will have more time to dedicate to hiking.
Aside from wondering, there were two things I had on my must-do list when in Madeira; one was learn more about the Madeira wines and the other was riding on a toboggan.
While learning about the complex history of wines is not something you do in one afternoon, we did choose a wine house and headed over to Funchal to get educated on this great wine. But first, we took a gondola ride to the Monte station, near the Monte Palace Tropical Garden. A short walk from the station is the famous Carreiros do Monte, aka toboggan sledge. I finally got to go on this famous ride. The Monte sledges are made of wicker and mounted on two wooden runners. They are traditionally handcrafted by skilled craftsmen and master carpenters; experts in the hand wicker-making technique from the mid 1800’s. While this is super turisty, which we try to avoid, this was one of those things we had to try. I was a bit scared , but soon realized these guys know what they are doing, was able to relax and enjoy the ride! So much fun!!
After the toboggan ride and the hike down to Funchal, we were ready for some wine tasting. We visited H.M. Borges in the heart of city. This wine house was founded in 1877 by Henrique Borges and currently being managed by the fourth generation of his family. We were welcomed by a most gracious young man, who was very knowledgeable about the wines and answered all our many questions. While we are somewhat familiar with portuguese wines, this was our first time trying the Madeira wines. Enjoyed the visit immensely. We will be adding Madeira to our growing list of wines. If you get a chance to visit Funchal, I would highly recommend visiting H.M. Borges.
We had another wine tasting at a local Machico wine shop. There we tasted Madeira Wine Company wines. Very good wines. On a future trip we will have to visit the Blandy’s Wine Lodge in Funchal.
Funchal has much to see and enjoy. We had a very nice meal and walked around the many streets and alleys. Visited the statue of Madeira’s most famous son. Yes, I’m talking of Cristiano Ronaldo. CR7 is god around these parts. I guess, he’s ok!
On another of our stops, we visited the small town of Porto Moniz; just north of Funchal and best known for its natural pools. It did not disappoint. We swam in these unique salt water pools, which are dramatically set amid rugged coastal cliffs and protective volcanic rock. There are two set of pools. One is a rustic group of pools, natural lava formations, no changing rooms, but free. If you take your snorkel, you will see fish swimming with you!
The other pool facility is just a short walk from the aquarium, with full facilities, and an entry fee of 1.5 euros. These pools are filled naturally at high tide.
While the full facility pools where larger, had walkways, restrooms, changing rooms, etc. I have to say, I really liked the more rustic set of pools.
We did many day-trips around the island and visited some great little towns, ate amazing food, enjoyed the beaches and the scenery. We also just sat at the Machico beach front restaurant MareAlta, and enjoyed the scenery while snacking on some great “petiscos” and house wines. I think I enjoyed these wonderful wines even more knowing I was only paying 2 euros a glass!
Some of our favorite towns, points of interest and beaches: Praia da Chalheta, Ponta do Sol, Cabo Girao, Ribeira Brava, Canical, Santana and Santa Cruz.
The island of Madeira should be on your list of places to visit. The island has so much to offer those visiting. Beautiful scenery, amazing hikes, and flowers everywhere. The people are warm and friendly, the food is great, and the weather is fabulous. How can you not enjoy 76 degrees everyday?! There is something for everyone. I almost forgot, even diving.
While we were in Machico, we connected with Haliotis Madeira for a two-tank dive. Their offices are right at the Dom Pedro Hotel ground floor. First dive was at Baixa da Cruz, which is just by the marina in Machico. The second dive was at Quinta do Lorde just outside of Canical. Great outfitter; both Joanna and Victor were wonderful. Really enjoyed both dives.
Ate a proxima Madeira. Really enjoyed our stay; may need more time on the next trip. We will return, soon.
Have you ventured to an international destination this year? What was your experience?
Sunrise in Machico