Madeira – Portugal’s best kept secret

Categories Travel Destinations18 Comments
Fajã dos Padres

Me and my husband wanted to visit Madeira for a while but it was not until recently that we got this exciting chance, and were totally satisfied with our choice. It is not one of those islands that you hear about all the time, so we had a huge element of surprise while we were there (I must say all pleasant surprises). Planning our trip was a bit tough because you do not find as detailed info online as you find for some of the other, more popular and regularly visited islands.

But now you will not have that issue, because BeeTravelista will solve this one for you 😉

ABOUT THE ISLAND:

Santa Maria de Colombo

About 2 hours flight away from Lisbon, lies this beautiful small Portuguese island in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. Madeira is scenic, laid-back and full of culture. The island has rich flower life which you do not expect before you hop on a trip to this wonder island. It could also be because of the great irrigation system on the island, where water from mountains is carried via the long channels to the fields and lower areas of the island. These historic water channels are called “Levadas” and are one of the attractions too. The higher and north parts of island get a lot of rain as well.

Madeira is NOT the island for a classic beach holiday – unless you already have been swimming in the sea in Iceland and enjoyed it ;). The ocean is good for a quick dip, but for spending good amount of time in water, I find it a bit cold. But, this should not stop you by any means to go there as the views only would make up for this. The island has a lot of nice hiking and walking trails, and hiking is one of the biggest attractions on the island.

HIGHLIGHTS:

Hike to Pico Ruivo
  1. Walk over the clouds:

This should not be missed by any means. You can hike up the Pico Ruivo (1862m) and enjoy the stunning views over the clouds on a good day. Do not plan this for a rainy or completely cloudy day. There is a five hours trail or a 2.5 hours trail, and both end up to the peak. We took the shorter one and loved it. The trail is well marked and paved so I would not even classify it as a “hike”, rather a nice walk up.

  1. See the dancing dollies:

I was super excited for this one and was making all the wishes for seeing the dolphins on this trip. Luckily, we did end up seeing two different types of dolphins and I was blown away with the experience. We took the trip with an old pirate sailing boat (http://www.santamariadecolombo.com) and that was an experience in itself. If you are even more lucky, you might end up seeing whales and big ocean turtles as well. Try to take the morning tours as chances of seeing dolphins are higher (at least that is what I heard).

Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço
  1. Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço:

This hike is in the very East part of the island and the round trip takes around 3 hours (4km return). It is also a basic hike as the path is not very difficult (just watch out for the height as you do not want to risk falling here). The views are breathtaking – ocean hitting the mountains and those bays. It is not recommended for people with fear of heights. You can take a quick dip in the ocean in certain parts during the hike.

Fajã dos Padres farm and the cable car
  1. Farm stay in between the ocean and the cliff:

This was one of the most exciting experiences I had in my travels. No matter if you stay here, eat or simply visit, you cannot miss this in Madeira. Fajã dos Padres (http://www.fajadospadres.com) is a small organic farm between the ocean and the lower base of a huge cliff where you can arrive only via cable car or boat. You can go by car till the cable car with no problem. There are about 6 cottages to rent for overnight stays (minimum 2 nights recommended). They also have a great restaurant where you get food made from the farm grown vegetables and fruits. You can enjoy fresh seafood as well. Everything is just perfect about this place. If you do not stay here, you can visit from 10am till 6pm (check website for timings). After 6pm, restaurant closes and you will have the farm, your beach cottage and the ocean waves for yourself. Make it a priority for Madeira (and if you find it available for overnight stays, just do it).

Balcões
  1. Take a walk to the Balcões in Ribeiro Frio

Balcões is Portuguese for balconies. This is a short walk starting at Ribeiro Frio and ends at the viewpoint with great views over the Ribeira da Metade valley.

Sunset from Restaurant Sol Poente

TIPS:

  • Renting a car would be very handy on the island.
  • Avoid the touristic Lido area to stay away from the crowds and big complex hotels.
  • No matter what time of the year you visit, bring some kind of jacket and a scarf. The evenings can get chilly depending on where on island you are. On heights, it can be chilly during the day as well.
  • The most scenic restaurants aren’t the best for food (may be good for snack and drink).
  • Go for the sunset at the Ponta do Sol town. The smaller terrace of Restaurant Sol Poente (facing the village and ocean) is perfect spot for a sundowner (food is very average – better for snack/drink).
  • Unless you really really want more sandy beaches and do not mind 5 hours ferry travel, I would suggest spending your time on Madeira only. Day trip to Porto Santo is hectic. I would suggest doing it if you can spare one night or two to spend there. Do check ferry schedules before going there.
  • Always check travel requirements before. But you can travel there on Schengen visa as it is part of Portugal.
Forte São Jose

OTHER THINGS TO DO:

  • Visit to Cabo Girão viewpoint where you stand on a hanging glass deck next to a cliff
  • Walking the old town of Funchal (especially at night)
  • Visiting the Farmer market in Funchal and trying some exotic crossed fruits
  • Camara de Lobos harbor
  • Forte São Jose (claimed to be the smallest country in the world)
  • Driving along the old coastal road between Santana and Porto da Cruz
  • Visit the towns of Santana, Ponta do Sol and Porto Moniz (volcanic pools)
Camara de Lobos Harbor

WHEN TO VISIT AND FOR HOW LONG:

Though the number of tourists are increasing, Madeira is still not comparable to Canary Islands or Balearic Islands in number of people visiting (or at least that is how we felt). This by the way was a positive aspect as at certain areas, we could be driving alone or had complete view to enjoy for ourselves. Probably avoiding the peak summer holidays time helped as well. We chose the end of May for our visit and I would say this is one of the best times to visit. I can totally see beginning of June or mid-September as good options as well. Ideal stay would be 7 to 8 nights. This gives you enough time to explore, relax and digest. You can also divide your stay in different parts of the island, but island is small enough to reach any place for

a day trip by car.

WHERE TO STAY:

Fajã dos Padres

Apart from my personal favorite Fajã dos Padres, I can recommend some other options below. Generally, I would suggest staying somewhere outside Funchal as it is more relaxing and less busy (avoid Lido area unless you love tourists all around you). South of island is usually warmer and has more sun.

 

WHERE TO EAT:

Madeira traditional cuisine has a lot of meat in it, and apparently, they love this Brazilian rodizio kind of restaurants. But you will always find sea food or vegetarian meal if you plan a bit and look up the restaurant before you go. I would mention some food places not to be missed.

  • A Confeitaria – perfect for a coffee, cake or a little sandwich when visiting Funchal Farmer market. Also, the café restaurant at the top roof of farmer market is great.
  • Abrigo do Pastor in Camacha town
  • Fajã dos Padres Restaurant – of course!
  • The locals’ favorite pizza place – Papa Manuel

I hope this post encourages you to go and explore this beautiful, charming little island. And you can always get in touch with me for questions while you plan your itinerary.

Signing off,

BeeTravelista

Volcanic pools Porto Moniz

P.S. Do not forget to follow @beetravelista on Instagram.

And if you find the post useful, do leave a comment. Thanks!

18 thoughts on “Madeira – Portugal’s best kept secret

  1. I’ve never heard of this island before, but wow. Organic farms, hiking along the beach and up into the clouds, and dolphins? Count me in! Thanks for highlighting this little-known spot.




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  2. I haven’t realized Madeira is located so far away from Lisbon ! I though it’s a short 30 min flight! 🙂 it looks so beautiful tho! I’ve always wanted to visit! Especially now when I see this wonderful hike Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço! That looks like s dream! The view is stunning!




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  3. I’ve been wanting to go to Madeira for ages to do some hiking! It looks absolutely beautiful in there and I could spend days just wandering around the mountains. Didn’t know you could do dolphin and whale watching in there – would love to do that!




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    1. Thanks Cristal. Yah it is lovely. And all dolphin shots I took were from my iPhone. This is super cool place for dolphin watching. I could not embed a video in my blog post, but I posted a video of this dolphin dancing on my Instagram and Facebook. Check @beetravelista if interested to see that video.




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  4. Thank you for introducing me to Madeira. I think I’ve seen it on travel relocation shows before but always thought it was a super sunny beach-goer destination. Your tip on ‘cold’ swimming waters was valuable for someone like me who enjoys getting in the water!




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  5. It is true there is little information on Madeira so an informative post like this one is a great contribution to the travel community. Thanks for sharing! I have been wanting to explore Madeira for a while now so perhaps I will manage to include it in my 2018 travel plans. Is there any particular time of the year you recommend?




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    1. Hi Raquel, I loved end of May. But I also wrote in the post about best times to visit. I would avoid July/Aug as it might get too crowded. Ya I could not find a lot on Madeira either. Feel free to share the post!




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