Travel is not only adventures and concurs mountaintops and deep jungles. Travel is enjoying life and sinks into different cultures lifestyle. The next trip that I would like to tell you about is the top-rated island in Europe – Madeira. Portugal’s most enchanting island is a place that keeps all its subtropical travel promises. This tiny volcanic island offers so much. I had around 5 days there to discover all of the beauty that Madeira can offer to every curios traveller like me.
Madeira is around 90-minute flight fromLisbon or Porto. I arrived in this piece of paradise, full of so much culture and one of the most beautiful nature in the world. The whole island is like a big botanic garden, no wonder why is called “The tropical garden of Europe”.
My first stop there was, of course, the capital of the island – Funchal. Because of its high cultural and historical value, Funchal is one of Portugal’s main tourist attractions. It is also popular as a destination for New Year’s Eve, because of the fireworks show, which is one of the best in the world.
The Old Town of Funchal
One of the most charming places in Funchal is the old town. Characterized by narrow cobblestone streets and the facades of old houses it’s a great area with the historic and architectural value. It’s really like an old fairytale that comes to life in front of your eyes. This area of the city is so lively and full of cool places to hang out and really feel the local’s lifestyle and traditions.
The street of art
While I was exploring the old city, or to be honest the best restaurants there, one street got my attention – Rua da Santa Maria. The special thing about this area is that it was flooded and almost completely destroyed, but thanks to the public art program called ‘Arte de Portas Abertas’ (the art of the open doors) they managed to transform this street into a colourful outdoor art gallery. I really liked the wide variety of painted doors in all manner of different themes and designs, while I was on my quest to find the best-grilled octopus in the city. But who I’m kidding, they are all so delicious!
The Farmer’s Market
Visiting the local market is one of my favourite thing to do when I travel, so I wouldn’t miss to check out the Mercado dos Lavradores, Funchal’s farmers market. This place is a real paradise for foodie travellers. Because of Madeira subtropical climate, soil fertility and significantly closer to mainland Africa, the local people take full advantage of this and create so many different kinds of fruits and vegetables that you can find only in Madeira. The most characteristic fruit in Madeira is the purple passion fruit. But the interesting part is that there are many other varieties: banana passion fruit, passion fruit pineapple, lemon passion fruit etc. From all of the richness of fruits, no wonder why Madeira’s passion fruit pudding is so famous!
I saw many of the saleswomen dressed in the typical, joyful Madeiran costume in bright colours. At the market, I found also a lot of exotic flowers and fish. And of course as you can guess, all of these wonderful products come for a price, a touristy price, but what to do, right?
The Sintra of Madeira and the gardens of Monte
Probably the most popular Funchal attraction is the Monte Cable Car. At the beginning of the 20th century, tourists could reach the mountain by steam train. Nowadays, you can make the same journey and enjoy the scenery from Monte Cable Car. It’s a really spectacular experience and the view from the cabin is amazing. To go back to the city, there is really fun transportation- Madeira iconic “basket cars”. The cars are made of wicker and slide on wooden skids. The way back to Funchal is descending, so the force of gravity makes the basket-car slide, and the direction and speed reduction are controlled by two men grabbed at the back.
One of the most worthy thing to see in Madeira is the Cabo Girão Skywalk! This is the highest cliff skywalk in Europe, located on top of the Cabo Girão Cliff. Thanks to the recently new structure built at the highest point of the cliff I had a sensation experience! Standing on a glass and steel platform 580 meters above sea level, where I saw the impressive cliff face directly beneath my feet, while at the same time enjoying the panoramic view of the vast Atlantic Ocean surrounding Câmara de Lobos and Funchal. To describe this experience I can say it’s was a mixture of adrenaline and enchantment at the same time! But I not only saw Cabo Girão Cliff from the top but in front too. More about it in my next story.
Sailing with Christopher Columbus’s ship
When I heard that in Madeira you can sail with a pirate ship that’s an exact replica of the Christopher Columbus flagship and anchor in front of the majestic cliff of Cabo Girao, I just couldn’t miss that! And what is more fun than enjoying a boat trip with a sense of adventure, and feel what was like when the island was discovered some 500 years ago? So I embarked this 3 hours trip to relieved Christopher Columbus´s voyage of discovery and imagine how he and his crew felt as they headed into the unknown. While at the same time I had the chance to be amused by the breathtaking views of Madeira´s south coast. Also, I had the luck to see dolphins and whales as well, while drinking a glass of Madeira’s wine. It was really an unforgettable experience, that I recommend to everyone who plans to visit Madeira.
Casas Típicas de Santana
Madeira is not a big island so I didn’t miss my chance to explore more of what it can offer. I headed to the north coast to see Santana. This is a small village Characterized by its small thatched triangular houses. These small houses, built of natural stone and thatched with straw, have served the locals for centuries as stables and dwellings. This is the main attraction here, but also Santana is some sort of a Madeira culture centre, because of all the festivals and historical events that the locals have there.
The highest peak on Madeira Island is really tempting for all people who love hiking. It’s reachable after a strenuous hike. To access the trail I had to drive from Santana, up to the car park, at the Achada do Teixeira. Even the drive was an amazing experience. There were a few viewing points along the way, where I stopped the car and take a few photos of the surrounding. From there I admired one of the most impressive 360 degrees views, which unravelled the endless ocean and white long clouds over dramatic cliffs. Truly beautiful. The trails took me through part of the great and majestic central massif of the island.
The route is filled with extraordinary landscapes, steep slopes, tunnels and belvederes. It’s just indescribable how amazing is Mother Nature. By the way, another hiking experience is the Levada’s walks. Levada in Portuguese means to carry and is very loosely interpreted as “carriageway”. A more correct translation would be mini-canal. The levadas were originally created in the 16th Century to bring water from the rainy northern aspect of the island to the sun-soaked south where crops such as sugar, bananas and grapes grow. Levada walks are very popular in Madeira as the way is cleared by maintained paths running along the water making it a calming experience with a scenic background of nature at its most lush. A truly iconic and enjoyable experience.
The natural swimming pools
One of my trip highlights was, first, my amazing hotel in Porto Moniz, and second, the coolest natural pools on the island. The natural saltwater swimming pools are made up of volcanic rock, into which the sea flows naturally. It’s like a pool but you swim with all the fishes and crabs in the ocean. The water is of excellent quality and the landscape that surrounds the pools, the panoramic views of the coast and the rugged cliffs are really attractive.
Let’s talk about Madeira’s food and wine
As I already established the beauty of Madeira Island and its exciting past full of stories and flavours to unravel in its streets and alleys. The wine and food there are not to miss!
I was impatient to discover Madeira’ gastronomy and to taste the most traditional and authentic food from some restaurants, wine producers and the local market. It’s always fun to try new things when you’re in a new place. One of the quite unique flavour combinations is Peixe Espada com banana. This is one of Madeira’s most famous regional dishes. The peixe espada (black scabbardfish) is usually either breaded or battered and then fried along with a banana and sometimes it’s served with a passionfruit and custard sauce. Bolo de caco is Madeira’s regional bread, named after the caco or basalt stone slab that it’s cooked on. The bread is extremely soft, and it’s often served with garlic butter. Lapas or limpets are another Madeiran speciality, and you’ll find them in restaurants in Madeira. These are similar to clams, although they tend to be chewier. This dish goes really well with Bolo da caco.
Besides the famous Madeira wine (which I will tell you in a bit), there is Poncha, a traditional alcoholic drink, made with distilled alcohol made from sugar cane juice, honey, orange/lemon juice and with different fruit juices according to the version of Poncha, but traditionally lemon juice is used. Its really enjoyable drink.
There is no way to miss the amazing combination of Madeira’s food with their wine. Today, Madeira is noted for its unique winemaking process which involves oxidizing the wine through heat and ageing. Madeira’s wine is famous. Did you know that Madeira was poured during Thomas Jefferson’s toast at the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776? I’m really big wine appraiser, that’s why I was fascinated to learn how they make the wine. The wine is Dry, Medium Dry, Medium Sweet or Sweet, all of which are marked by their high levels of acidity.
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