Travel Guide: Madeira
Aside from being one of the most dangerous islands to land on and the home of the very famous Cristiano Ronaldo ; Madeira is the island my mom and I travelled to after our time in Lisbon. And it turns out that for a tiny landmass autonomous to Portugal but still belonging to the country like a millennial trying to adult; Madeira has all the charms and delights of Portugal while still exuding the joys of island life.
For a week, my mom and I enjoyed days by the rocky beach, walks along breathtaking cliffsides and plenty of time exploring the old town of Funchal. It was the laziest part of our trip; where we didn’t feel the need to jump out of bed every morning and start our wandering right away. Time and a small space allowed us the luxury of easy days and no pressure. Here are some things we did do, which I would recommend.
Visit the Zona Velha: The old town of any European city is like a magnet for me and my mom, but the old town in Funchal is really special. Whether it’s the city of Funchal, or the island of Madeira itself, the community has taken upon itself the task of promoting local artists in any which way. Free galleries are open for tourists, but the best treat is that many of the doors throughout the neighbourhood have been painted in all manner of styles by local artists. Stroll through and enjoy the coolest gallery you’ll ever peruse, or take a seat at a little cafe or restaurant and contemplate a few painted doors at a time.
The intriguing mix of old and new that is everywhere in Madeira and Portugal as well.
Have a drink or tea at Reid’s Hotel: Reid’s Hotel is the oldest hotel on the island of Madeira and safe to say it has the best view as well. Overlooking a lush green garden that precedes the ocean, your eyes wander past the natural to the man-made … the city of Funchal climbs up a mountainous terrain and Reid’s is perched perfectly for this vista. Famously, it’s afternoon tea is on many a “top things to do in Madeira” list, but we went at night and got to watch the city light up while the sun went to bed. Truly magical.
iphone shot of the view from Reid’s Hotel balcony.
Go to the beach: Madeira’s beaches are rocky, but as a lover of all salt-water beaches, I spent a long time sitting on the rocks watching and listening to the waves crash around me. (There’s an instagram photo that demonstrates this really well) Madeira’s beaches are open to the public but not jam-packed. It’s a great place to grab some snacks and read a book. If you want to take it a step further, rent a life jacket and hang out on the sea jungle gym or pay a few Euro to spend a day at the Lido – it’s a hoot.
Crazy floating jungle gym on the water.
My favourite thing to do.
Visit Camara de Lobos: A tiny fishing village west of Funchal, this little spot features a beautiful bay and some pretty awesome vistas. It is very small, don’t expect much – but a few restaurants and a lot of charm make it a great little lunch trip.
This is not me. But I thought these ladies looked cool enough to be in my photo, as well as the shirtless boy riding a bike in the back.
Camara de Lobos from the street.
Camara de Lobos from the water.
Take a boat ride: I hummed and ha’d (spelling?) over hopping on one of those tourist-infested boat rides that takes you out to sea to find aquatic wildlife. I didn’t want to deal with children, or adults who drink too much (a few of these types of trips in Mexico helped me formulate this type of opinion) – I just wanted a nice few hours on the water as I feel it’s the best way to see an island. I discovered there is only one 6 person small boat out of a local hotel but it was fully booked (FYI – don’t deliberate too much when deciding what to do on this island, everything books up really fast – in fact, I would recommend booking prior to arrival) so I ended up on the Magic Dolphin – the smallest of the tourist boat trip offerings – and I was pleasantly surprised. We were only 20 or so people and there was plenty of space on the boat to sit quietly on my own, lean out over the deck or hang out up front on the nets suspended over the water. And yes, we did see a lot of dolphins.
Thanks to the beautiful Spanish lady for taking this photo!
Madeira from the water … it has 7 different climates!
Not a dolphin. They were too fast for me to capture with my phone… he clearly was not as he is, well, a turtle.
Get a massage: And not just any massage. A massage on the beach where you hear the waves and your muscles are gently but firmly coaxed out of their tension by the most expert hands I have ever experienced. I’m not normally big on massages (I get ticklish) but as I had just injured my SI joint from too much running, I was ready to try anything. I was so glad I did. Don’t get a massage anywhere but Pure Atlantic – not only is it a fabulous experience, but the warmth and positive energy the girls emanate make it a beautiful experience. And don’t be fooled by their size – these girls have a lot of power!
Love these ladies! They coordinate their outfits almost as well as my mom and I.
Listen to Fado Music: As part of our evening wanderings through the old town, we enjoyed a truly magical night listening to Fado music (traditional Portuguese – very melodic, less intense than Flamenco) and meeting two amazing couples. Simply hop into almost any restaurant at dinner time in the old town and you will likely be able to hear a talented singer and guitar player. In addition to this lovely experience, because our tables were so close together, we ended up chatting with a couple from France and a couple from Germany – so enchanting were these people that we went out with them for drinks and tried several local cocktails. It was one of those spontaneous connections that only happen whilst traveling and it was so special.
A little piazza.
Eat Pastries: I believe I mentioned this in my last travel post but it’s worth mentioning twice: the Portuguese ROCK at making pastries. Eat as many as you can find – they will all be delicious.
Before hitting the Zona Velha is the waterfront area – beautifully updated while maintaining original architecture, it’s chichi, great for people watching, and all-around fabulous.
The city of Funchal.
A terrace view from one of the many cafes we stopped at.
A piazza bordered by City Hall and a 15th century cathedral.
Portugal starts with the letter P which also stands for Pastel – they love painting their buildings with it.
Although they’re taking a little while, I hope you’re enjoying my slowly drawn out recap of my summer trip. Our final days were spent in the UK with friends … fewer photos were taken but I’ll be posting a recap of our time spent in the most quintessential English countryside setting that most people don’t get to see when they visit the UK. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!