Madeira I hear you say, skay so when you think about this destination you may think that it is just ‘that island’ where cruise liners stop off at during Atlantic crossings or Canary cruises and therefore full with an older generation. Whilst this is true to some extend, it is not a reason to avoid island! Whilst Funchal does experience the crowds from cruise passengers, there is literally so much more to Madeira than Funchal. The further away from Funchal you can get the further from the crowds and you can see what Madeira really has to offer you.
Madeira is known as the island of eternal spring. Due to its location the island never suffers from cold winters. With temperatures rarely dropping below a pleasant 15 degrees in the daytime. That’s what you may have read online…however whilst this may be the case in the capital city, Funchal…where the sun seems to shine the majority of the time. This is not the case on the rest of the island especially during the winter months.
Each corner of this tiny island has it’s own microclimates. Funchal could be basking in a warm 17 degrees in January, whilst inland temperatures can drop off rapidly. Don’t even think about escaping the cold winters of the UK if you want to hike up in the mountains. The mountains can experience ice and furious winds. You need to be lucky to get a clear day for a mountain hike during the winter months.
As I was driven away from the airport, which is a sight in itself, the runway is balanced on slits out into the sea. I was jumping around in the back of the taxi, looking from side to side at what I was about to experience for the next few days. Twisty, steep roads, with more tunnels than open roads. It reminded me of those play mats you have as a child with dark black roads and prominent white road markings. There were stunning mountains on one side rising high up into the clouds. Terraced farming fields and houses perched on the mountain side. Whilst on my other side was the open Atlantic Ocean, spanning as far as my eyes could see.
Madeira may be a tiny island off the coast of Africa but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in natural beauty. If you like beautiful scenery, a warmer climate and own a pair of walking shoes then this island may well be where you need to go next. Here are some unmissable things to do on your first visit to Madeira.
1. MONTE TOBOGGAN RIDE:
If visiting Funchal, the cable car and traditional toboggan ride down the hill are normally one of the first things to do. Whilst the cable car up to the mountain side – Monte is enjoyable the ride down wasn’t quite what I was hoping for. Sliding down the hill in a wicker basket is great and why not when in Funchal, right? You might be slightly disappointed though if it’s a thrilling ride you are after, speed isn’t the priority. Maybe the health and safety rules overruled this one. Plus they only take you so far down the hill. You are still a good 10 min drive from where you started (the old town/cable car).
To get down you can catch a taxi, bus or walk. With the cable car costing €11 per person for one way, the toboggan being €30 for two people and a taxi being €15 to the old town you may be swayed if you are on a budget.
2. HIKING PICO DE AERIRO:
If you’ve picked Madeira for it’s hiking then you should have heard about the hike – Pico de Aeriro to Pico de Ruivo. One of the most stunning hikes in Madeira and one I unfortunately wasn’t lucky enough to do on my trip. I needed to be lucky with the weather especially as I went in January and this I was not! Whilst at our hotel on the coast it was all sunshine and light breezes. As we drove higher through the mountains roads the mist started to increase. When we reached the top of Pico de Aeriro we could not see a thing, literally.
Although we did meet a very wet but very friendly mutt. It was 1 degrees and there was still ice on the ground. We had no choice but to head back, and also the reason why this hike is still on my wish list. There are webcams online that you can check before heading up there. Spring and Summer would probably give you better opportunities to get up there though. Here are some photos from the top of the peaks when my friend managed to hike the trail a few days later.
3. WALKING THE LEVADAS:
If you haven’t heard of Levadas and Madeira in the same sentence then you haven’t been reading the right stuff!
Levadas are key to Madeira not only for their primary intention – irrigation systems. But they are now used to navigate hikers all over the island. The ordinary maintenance paths that run along each levada are now used as hiking route for walkers. The whole island is a maze of levadas, providing amazing scenic hiking routes. Some range from an hour round trip to 5/6 hours one way. Each have their own personal touch, some more interesting (pretty) than others. Some explore the edge of towns whilst others take you deep into forests, through tunnels (watch your head, I didn’t) and end up at wonderful waterfalls.
If you are a enthusiastic hiker then check out Euro Hike for their walking holidays in Madeira https://www.eurohike.at/en/destinations/walking-holidays-portugal
LEVADA DO CALDERIO VERDE –
An amazing walk which leads to one of the best things in nature – yup you guessed it a huge waterfall. This levada is stunning as the landscape varies vastly, from walking alongside cliff edges (there is a barrier but i’ve heard people with vertigo struggle with this walk), running through mini waterfalls, to ducking down through pitch black tunnels. I loved this levada walk it makes you feel lost in nature, that’s if you can make a big enough gap between you and the other tourists. Looking out onto the vast mountains makes you remember how small and insignificant you are next to mother nature.
Distance: 6,5 Km (+ 6,5 Km return)
Degree of dificulty: Moderate
Duration: 5:30 hours
Start/End: Queimadas Forestry Park
VEREDA DOS BALCÕES –
Nice short walk to a impressive viewpoint, from what I’ve read at least. We went on a misty day. This walk starts in Riberio Frio, a tiny town famous for it’s trout farm.
Distance: 1,5 Km (+ 1,5 Km return)
Degree of dificulty: Easy
Duration: 1:30 horas
Start/End: Ribeiro Frio
4. CABO GIRÃO VIEWPOINT:
A great little pit stop during a day out along the south coast. It’s the highest cape in Europe at an elevation of 580m. However it is it’s glass platform that steals most of the attention at this attraction. This was the end point to one of our levada walks taking in a portion of the Levada Do Norte.
5. PONTA DE SÃO LOURENÇO VIEWPOINT:
The best way to get around the island is to hire a car and drive into the depths of this tiny island and discover just how maze like the roads really can be. Head East to the peninsula of the island, Ponta de Sao Lourenco. Visit some of the finest cliffs on Maderia but beware of the strong winds. On any day you could be faced with fiercely strong winds which literally knock you off your feet. I had to duck down on the ground as I couldn’t hold myself up and walk any further.
Before I set off, I’d read that Madeira is Europe’s version of Hawaii. I wondered why, but as we drove inland and discovered the snake like roads that curl themselves around vast luscious green mountains. I soon saw the resemblance to those typical instagramable worthy photos you see of Hawaii of an empty road lined with huge green trees creating forests either side of the road with the ever surrounding mountains in the background.
A great little spot for sunset. Located just down the coast from Funchal and near to Canico. You can get panoramic views of the Atlantic and of Funchal as it slowly lights up for the night ahead.