Week in Madeira

View over Funchal

Madeira has been in my bucket list for a long time. When I saw that Easyjet starts to operate direct flights between Basel and Madeira, I didn't think long. January seemed also to be a nice time to visit because it's relatively warm but not the high season for tourists.

We stayed in Madeira for a week but actually didn't manage to see the whole island. You can easily spend there 2 weeks without getting bored. Madeira is an island that has something to offer for everyone - lazy beach vacation, museum and culture vacation, active vacation in the nature. We were mostly focused on the last one. And it really is a hiker's paradise. I will write about each hike we did a separate post.
Hiking from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo
Half the time we had an accommodation in Funchal and the other half we stayed in Sao Vicente. Distances are not long but often the roads need to climb over the mountains and therefore the speed limits are quite slow. There are some high ways but they don't go everywhere. The North-East coast doesn't have fast roads at all.

You could stay the whole time only in Funchal and then do day-trips from there. Funchal area is very touristic with loads of restaurants and hotels. North coast is more "wild". I actually quite enjoyed staying in a small coastal Sao Vicente village for a change.

First couple of days we mostly walked around in Funchal. After that we rented a car. I must day that driving culture is excellent in Madeira but you need to be an experienced driver there. Actually, it is easy to get around without a car. The bus network is very good and there are buses also going to the most popular hiking routes. If you don't fancy driving on occasional very narrow and steep roads then you can either use the public transport or services of tour companies that organize transport to the hiking trails. Those companies you can find basically everywhere in Funchal.

Example of a good road

Food we had was excellent. If you like seafood then this is the place to go. They also have lots of meat dishes there. Big part of Madeira is covered with laurel tree forests and local specialties are beef skewers marinated in wine, vinegar and laurel leaves.

Weather in Madeira is very local. We experienced several times how it might be cold and cloudy in one place and just 5 km away it's full sunshine and warmth. The mountains in the middle of the island really make a difference and alter the weather. So if you happen to experience a bad weather you can be pretty much sure that not far away there is a place with nice weather. In general on the coast the temperatures were around 20 degrees but on higher elevations it was often very windy and much colder. At our mountain hike I was actually wearing a winter jacket.

Our travel agenda: 

Day 1. Our arrival to the airport was in the afternoon. We took an Aerobus to Funchal, checked in to a hotel, walked a little bit along the beach and had dinner. The first dinner was the best dinner we had during the whole trip. We followed the advice from TripAdvisor and went to a restaurant called Med. It's located in one huge hotel and it's not so easy to find but it is totally worth it. It is hard to beat the level of food and service there.

Day 2. We participated in Madeira Cook Experience cooking class. There was another couple in addition to us. The day started with visiting the local market which unfortunately is quite small and most of the sellers sell exactly the same things. It is definitely not comparable to Middle Eastern or Asian markets. Then we went on to the class where we learned how to make fennel salad, local drink poncha, parrot fish with pomegranate dressing and a dessert from local cheese and passion fruit. The two ladies organizing the cooking class where really nice and we had lots of fun. Unfortunately they engaged in cooking only one participant at time and the others just had to watch.
The cooking class ended around 2 pm. Since it was located very close to the cable cars going up to Monte, we decided to take the cable car and visit the Tropical Gardens.
Unfortunately I don't have any photos until this point because I discovered only at the Tropical Gardens that I have forgotten the memory card home. We went back down and the next stop was electronics store to get new memory card.
Dinner was again very nice, although not as amazing as the night before. This time we went to Taberna Madeira.
Christmas decorations in Funchal in January
Day 3. We walked along the coast promenade to Camara de Lobos and back, had lunch at the marina there, read books at the ocean and even went for a swim to the natural pools on the way. We were the only swimmers and the lifeguard had to come down to the pools just because of us. The water in January isn't the warmest but we were lucky with the nice sunny weather. In the evening we had another amazing dinner at Theo's Bazar Cafe. The food and the service both were excellent.

Natural swimming pools
Day 4. We rented  a car and drove along the South coast in western direction. We stopped at Cabo Girao - one of the highest coastal cliffs in Europe. The view is nice from there but it wasn't as spectacular as I expected. Next stop was Ribeira Brava where we visited local museum. It gives a nice overview of Madeiran old life style and they have the information in English available as well but I wouldn't say this museum is a must-see. Then we headed to Calheta to visit Casa das Mudas - modern art museum. The building itself is worth seeing but the collection didn't impress us much. After that we decided to turn around and visit the Valley of the Nuns on our way back. I will write about this in a separate post. 

Casa das Mudas
Cabo Girao

View down from Cabo Girao
Day 5. The most amazing hike of Madeira - from Pico do Arieiro (third highest point) to Pico Ruivo (the highest point). I will write a separate post about it. In the evening we reached to Sao Vicente where we stayed rest of the nights. 

Volcanic caves of Sao Vicente

Day 6. Hikes of 25 waterfalls, Risco waterfall and Levada do Norte. 

Ponta do Poiso view point

Day 7. We made short stops in Seixal and Porto Moniz. Seixal is small sleepy coastal village but with very nice natural swimming pools. Porto Moniz is much bigger and looks more touristic. The swimming pools in Porto Moniz are the most famous ones in Madeira. 
We did two hikes this day - circular hike at Ponta do Pargo and Ribeira da Janela levada walk. In the evening we had nice dinner in Porto Moniz at Perola do Norte restaurant. 



Day 8. We still hadn't seen the East part of the island. So in the morning of our last day we decided to go and see Ponta de Sao Lourenco nature reserve. On a way back to Funchal we made a short stop in Santa Cruz. Then it was time to return the car and fly back home. 

If you consider Madeira as a holiday destination then I absolutely recommend it. After the week we spent there I feel that I could go back there once and explore those areas that we didn't see yet. And as I mentioned already - it is a paradise for hikers.