Lying off the north-west coast of Africa, about 250 miles north of the Canary Islands, the Portuguese island of Madeira is a veritable oasis in the Atlantic ocean and is regarded as one of Europe’s most beautiful all-year-round travel destinations with one million visitors each year many thousands of whom return again and again.
With an almost permanent summer climate and wonderful wildlife and scenery Madeira is virtually free of crime and is recognised as one of the safest holiday destinations in the world. Little wonder it was awarded ‘best island destination in the world’ in the 2015 World Travel Awards!
Funchal, the capital of Madeira, is a must-visit destination for many cruise ships with the harbour being pretty much next to the middle of the town. The approach to Funchal harbour is regarded by many as being one of the most spectacular in the world and arriving on a cruise liner is a very popular way for tourists to reach Madeira.
It’s quite commonplace to see several cruise ships in the harbour at any one time. Once ashore the cafes, restaurants, markets and the picturesque old cobbled streets of the city, lined with purple jacaranda trees, are just a short stroll away.
Wonderful as arriving on a cruise ship may be such a relatively short stop misses out on so much that Madeira has to offer and many a cruise ship visitor has chosen to return for a longer stay and get to know the island better.
Madeira is well-served by air travel from a host of european cities making it quite easy to get to and Funchal has many fine hotels well situated for the beach (some have private beaches) for shopping or for general tourist-type wanderings down to the harbour area and marina where many excellent cafes and restaurants can be found.
Madeira has many sights, experiences and places which deserve your attention – far too many, in fact, for a two-week vacation to do justice to but here are some of the highlights:
Botanical Garden: From the old part of Funchal take the cable car high up over the city to the Monte Palace Tropical Garden where you can walk amongst fragrant blooms and wandering peacocks. From there take another cable car on a spectacular 14-minute round-trip giving unbelievable views over Funchal.
Monte Toboggan Ride: The quick way down! Two-seat wicker sledges on wooden runners steered by two men traditionally dressed in white cotton shirts and trousers and wearing a straw hat. This death-defying two-kilometre journey whisks you back down the hill to Funchal in 10 minutes reaching speeds of 45 kmh. Actually, it’s quite safe but If you don’t fancy the wind in your hair and the bugs in your teeth you could always return by the cable car!
Whale Watching: Bathed by the warm waters of the gulf stream Madeira is in a unique position to offer you sightings of just about every species of cetacean to be found in the atlantic ocean from the smallest dolphins to blue whales and sperm whales. The waters off Madeira drop rapidly down to great depth and it isn’t unusual to spot these ocean giants from the shore. Boat trips are available.
Cabo Girão: The second-highest sea cliff in the world and a spectacular viewpoint. If your nerves are strong enough you might take a step or two along the skywalk – a glass walkway similar to the one at the Grand Canyon. Unforgettable!
Levadas: 1350 miles of irrigation channels (and 25 miles of tunnels) which distribute rainwater all over the island. Almost all of them have a footpath right beside them giving mainly easy access to the interior of the island and some very spectacular scenery, Madeira is noted for its extremely rough and craggy mountains and a levada walk will get you up close and personal with some of the most amazing scenery you could possibly wish for.
Markets: Madeira has quite a few small markets scattered throughout the villages. Most of these markets sell typical local produce at weekends only but the Mercado dos Lavradores (Farmers’ Market) in Funchal is open every day except Sundays and public holidays and is well worth a visit just for the ambience – the fishmonger section is amazing!
Best Tip: For first-time visitors probably the best way to get to know the island is to hire a taxi for a day. All of the drivers speak at least some English and many of them have attended tourism driver/guide courses and, being locals, their knowledge of the island, its people and its culture is complete. Your driver will take you wherever you wish to go but will also suggest places and experiences (and lunch stops) you won’t even have heard of never mind have on your to-do list!
Taxis and drivers can often be found parked outside hotels first thing in the morning waiting for custom or you could ask your hotel reception if they can recommend someone or ask at any tourist information office. There is an official price list which should be displayed somewhere in the vehicle but don’t be afraid to haggle a little. A tip won’t be expected but if you’ve received good service and have had a great time then a little extra will be appreciated.
Best Free Experience: A simple evening walk along the Avenue Do Mar past the harbour and the marina, admiring the cruise ships, people watching and maybe having a cocktail and a snack in one of the colourful bar/restaurants which are always busy and never seem to close.
TAKE A LOOK AROUND MADEIRA
A Scotsman born and bred I love to roam Scotland’s hills and wild places taking photographs and writing about my travels around the country and all things to do with my homeland.