“We’re going to land on that?!” I squeaked as the plane continued past the short strip of runway before doing a 180° turn to land. The girl sat next to me assured me that everyone is nervous when landing in Madeira the first time round, but that by the 4th or 5th I wouldn’t even notice. I didn’t know what she meant at the time, but with 80% of first-time visitors returning to Madeira, it didn’t take long to figure out that there was something special about the island.
Situated in the Atlantic Ocean & approx 90 mins flight from Lisbon, Madeira is a mix of mountain peaks and rugged beaches. This main archipelago island contains a range of micro-climates. It is said that any plant in the world can be grown in Madeira, earning the island nicknames such as the Botanical Greenhouse of the World and the Pearl of the Atlantic.
The Madeiran people are wonderfully proud of their unique home, and happy to share information and local knowledge with the tourists passing through. This endearing quality is sure to be part of the reason many visitors return and unusually the local people are happy to keep this industry coming through. Over many cruise liners stopping at the port in Funchal and the ever-growing flight schedule for the island’s recently extended runway. it is entirely possible to see how much tourism has flourished in Madeira over the years.
Aside from this growing number of tourists, the towns & people that live here remain true to their roots with traditional buildings lining the sun-drenched streets and greenery in every available space. The afternoon siesta is still observed here and the balmy days and nights will soon have you lulled into a full state of beach haven relaxation.
If you can tease yourself away from exploring the elegant capital coast, I would heartily recommend a safari or bus tour as the best way to see the island. There is a rich variety of these to be found in Funchal. Our part safari, part walking tour took us around the East side of Madeira. At around 35 euros including a three course lunch, it is economical, cost effective and you are guaranteed to have a fantastic local guide. The islanders pride themselves on giving a good service and our guide for the day was fantastic. We took in idyllic views, banana groves, a sugar cane rum factory, outstanding mountain-top panoramas, fishing villages, trust me the list goes on.
Lunch was spent swapping travel stories with 6 of our companions whilst tucking into a feast of vegetable chowder, mixed espetadas (a chargrilled kebab served on the skewer of chicken and beef) and tropical fruit along with Madeiran wine. It can definitely be said that the Madeiran people know how to look after their guests and we felt truly welcome amongst the local people in the restaurant.
The afternoon saw us taking the challenging drive up the mountainside roads of the 2nd highest peak on the island know as Pico do Arieiro. The views at the dizzy heights of 1818m are spectacular and many decide to take the hiking trail to a nearby peak in the region.
Tip: Weather – The Madeiran weather can be very changeable. Even in August with its strong sunshine heat, when the overcast weather hit the island, we found ourselves reaching for a sweater. Mountain top weather can also catch you by surprise so be prepared.
The descent from the mountains was no less surprising as we arrived first to see the traditional houses in Santana then to a ceramics & wicker basket factory and lastly to the coastal views across the sea of The Desertas Islands.
Much of our time in Madeira passed this way with discovery after surprising discovery and before we knew it, it was our final day. The hop-on hop-off bus tours available are well worth the money and for non-drivers much of the island can be seen in this way.
The accommodation, food & hospitality in Madeira could not be faulted. The islanders make the most of the land, growing a vast amount of their own fruit and veg and an abundance is available. Seafood and chicken are also a big part of the diet for most living here.
It is common for tourists to book a table in restaurants of some of the most luxurious hotels on the island, but for a taste of authentic Madeiran food I would seek out the smaller, local restaurants and treat yourself to passion fruit cheesecake, honey cake or Poncha (a delicious rum cocktail). As the people are fond of saying here, “and why not?”
Madeira is often pigeon-holed as a Cruising destination and yet this unforgettable island is so much more. It has a varied, history, a unique culture, a wealth of natural beauties to uncover and a warmth from the people that will see you returning here time after time. This was my first visit to Madeira but it will certainly not be my last.
The Pestana Miramar Garden Resort was our home whilst in Madeira and found our balcony suite to be spacious and comfortable. The reception staff were exceptional and the facilities included an outpool and indoor pool, jacuzzi, sauna and gym. There were different bars open throughout the day and a choice of restaurants for meals.