For those who don’t like hot winters. How to rest on the fantastically beautiful island of Madeira
This tiny piece of land in the endless waters of the Atlantic holds so much beauty that would be enough for several National Geographic documentaries. Madeira, which is 650 kilometers from Morocco and almost 1,000 from Portugal, has been called “the island of eternal spring”-an amazing corner of Europe in Africa where there is neither frost (in coastal areas) nor hellish heat. We researched it via Instagram of “winterers” and regular travelers.
Where is it, anyway?
Madeira is an autonomous region of Portugal, the main island of the archipelago of the same name, located northwest of the African coast. To see the outline of the island, you have to zoom in to the satellite image on Google Maps. From east to west, it stretches almost 60 kilometers, and from north to south – 23. The relief is mountainous. In fact, Madeira is the emerged peak of a large ancient volcano, rising about 6 kilometers above the ocean floor.
Geologically the island is part of the African continent, but in ethnic, cultural, economic and other aspects it is a veritable Europe. Six hundred years ago it was claimed by Portuguese sailors, who were driven off the coast of West Africa in a storm. Madeira has been part of Portugal ever since.
Madeira has long been an attractive resort for wealthy Europeans, where from time to time a few Belarusian travelers drop in. In summer, many travel agencies offer direct charter flights from Moscow, Kiev and other cities. You can also get there with a connection. Experienced travelers write that the cheapest way to the island is to change planes in Lisbon or Porto, from where low-cost airlines provide transportation to the island (€40 per one way).
Is it summer there all year round?
More like spring. Throughout the year the temperature ranges from 15-24℃ (at night it rarely drops below 14℃). The peak season is from early May to late September. Then the rains begin. The coldest months are December, January and February. By January, the ocean water temperature drops to 18-19℃, winds blow and waves rise. The weather is not conducive to a relaxing beach vacation. Except for a quick dip – and then on the shore.
Nevertheless, there are enough tourists on the island at the beginning of the year. Hotels reduce prices, but that is not even the point. In terms of wintering the Portuguese island has become an alternative to a stuffy and overly hot South-East Asia. Madeira is for those who want to winter (or spend at least two weeks of vacation) in a mild climate where temperatures allow comfortable travel around the island.
“We were in Madeira from January 7 to 15. Went around the whole island and lived two days in each part (south, west, north, east). In the west the nights are not very comfortable, we had a heater. Walked everywhere, the weather was great – not hot, not cold, it did not rain at all, – a tourist shares impressions on the forum. – In the east, even bathed in the ocean, the water for us is not super, but comfortable.
“The form of clothing – shorts, sandals, windbreakers,” writes in his Instagram another traveler who was lucky with the weather. – And that’s especially gratifying. Because, having many years of experience of wintering in Montenegro, I know that without heaters or air conditioners and warm clothes there is no way. Here we sleep with the windows open – it’s warm!
So what’s so outstanding about it?
It makes no sense to go to the island just for the beaches (especially in winter). Connoisseurs of ancient architecture and museums will quickly get bored here, and partygoers will die of boredom on the second day. Madeira is about nature, rocks and the ocean. The best kind of vacation here is hiking. Mountain ranges, the tops of which are clinging to the clouds, laurel forests, botanical gardens, picturesque villages, coastal cliffs – the beauty is everywhere.
If you want to take your breath away, this is the Areira Peak – Ruivo Peak route, which takes you to the highest points of the island. You can drive up to Areyru (parking is literally a hundred meters from the summit).
“The place is very beautiful, but it’s the mountains, and the weather here is unpredictable. It can be sunny at the top and clouds at the bottom (this is the best option). Or it can be the other way around: it can be sunny at the bottom and cloudy on the mountains. Conveniently, there is a webcam on the mountain and before you go there you can assess the situation,” one of the tourists wrote on the forum.
From Areyru to Ruivo there is a 6-kilometer hiking route. The way is not for the weak, it can take 6-7 hours. But what views from the height of 1862 meters!
Most of Madeira’s slopes are rugged with terraced fields and levades, artificial irrigation canals. This is an ancient irrigation system dating back to the early period of the island’s colonization. Levadas are concreted or paved canals that distribute water streams from the mountain peaks down the slopes and valleys. Next to the levada there is usually a path for pedestrians, and sometimes a lifeline is strung.
To enter Madeira, tourists must fill out the electronic health questionnaire at madeirasafe.com, as well as proof of a negative test for Covid-19, which is made 72 hours before crossing the border. It is also possible to be tested free of charge upon arrival at Funchal airport, but the results of the tests must be self-administered.
A bit of history
Residents of the island of Madeira are used to giving geographic names in two simple ways. The first has to do with the instant associations that certain places evoke. For example, the island got its name from the Portuguese word madeira (“forest” or “tree”). Indeed, madeira’s coastline, thickly clustered in the crown of trees, is the first thing that catches your eye. And in the city of Funchal Portuguese sailors discovered a large number of fennel, which in Portuguese is called “funcho”. The second way is more romantic. The islanders, having left their homes, were too homesick for their native land and gave their names to the villages in Madeira.
A bit of history
The island, which was discovered by an expedition of the Portuguese infante Henry the Navigator in 1419, proved to be a tidbit of land, but the territory needed to be cleaned up. In the XV century, moving to the island meant a lifetime of difficult existence in a new, unfamiliar and completely uninhabited place. Such an adventure required substantial motivation, and fortunately it was found. Henry the Navigator had gone to great lengths to obtain the Pope’s Bull, which promised a lifetime pardon of all the sins of the settlers. It is worth remembering that Portugal was already quite a respectable Catholic country at this time. Henry’s ingenuity should be commended – the method worked, and so began a new history of Madeira.
Today the island abounds with ornate tiled roofs, well-kept gardens, elegant buildings, transport interchanges and engineering solutions. The grandiose irrigation system, the levadas, is one of the greatest testaments to the titanic efforts of our ancestors. Water canals were created to distribute water, which was plentiful on the mountain peaks, down the slopes and valleys. The Levada is now one of Madeira’s special attractions and there are interesting hiking routes of varying difficulty levels. These wonderful walks allow you to admire a breathtaking landscape and be at one with nature.
The cuisine of the islanders is delicious. Among the local seafood, the clams lapas (served in a hot frying pan with plenty of lemon juice), the Atlantic crab sapateira (which has its own special way of cooking!) And the very tasty fish estpada are top of the list. The local bolo de caco bread is baked on a basalt stove; seasoned with butter, herbs and garlic, it perfectly complements the taste of the seafood. The meat dishes are every bit as good as the ocean delicacies. Shashlik eshetada is cooked on the laurel sprigs: the meat is crispy and incredibly juicy inside. Desserts often contain passion fruit and the traditional sweet dish of Madeira is not the famous Portuguese pasteis de nata, as you might expect, but the delicious quijada (thin pastry).
After living in Madeira for 2 or 3 days, you can’t imagine having coffee in the morning without the queijada, lunch without the ballo do caco, and dinner at sunset without the frying pan, where the delicious pasta rolls are roasted, and without the fantastic view of the majestic ocean. The ocean is treated with special care here. The people of Madeira emphasise its power and majesty: on Funchal’s promenade you will often find original sculptures, frozen in helplessness, showing the helplessness of the human being in front of the most powerful water element. Local sculptors often depict people naked, but this has nothing to do with helplessness. Thus, here they break the connection with the time – the period when the sculptures were created. And even though it is not difficult to identify the era by the style of the sculptor’s work, the feeling while in Madeira is simply amazing: timeless, surrounded by the unstoppable water element.
The island’s rocky shores are not ideal for swimming, so you shouldn’t fly to Madeira just for the beaches. Nevertheless, there are beaches – even sandy ones. Sections of Funchal’s famous public beach, Formosa, are of black volcanic sand. The rest are stony and not suitable for children.
Natural sandy beaches are in Seixal, Caniço and Porto da Cruz. And in the village of Caleta and the town of Machico you can even enjoy the beaches of white sand imported from Morocco.
Interesting are the natural pools formed from volcanic lava that came to the surface and was cooled by ocean waves. The industrious inhabitants of Porto Moniz, where this phenomenon occurred, leveled the bottom of the pools, decorated the area around with bridges, stairs and horizontal concrete surfaces, turning the natural baths into a popular complex. Other lava pools in Funchal are the Doca do Cavacas (close to Formosa beach) which has also been adapted into a comfortable bathing area, and the Poas do governador (near the Lido promenade) which has remained in its original form.
What to see
What to see
A good place to start is on the promenade and in the old part of Funchal. On the waterfront is the museum of Cristiano Ronaldo, the famous Madeira-born footballer. The museum is quite small, but fans of the star of world soccer will be interested to see the collection of cups, golden balls and other awards Cristiano. A little further down you will find the bottom station of the funicular railway which goes directly to the entrance of the Monte Palace Tropical Garden. Walking around the tropical garden and around the palace is a great pleasure. You will be amazed by the colorful flowers, the birdsong, the stunning waterfalls, and the unique flavor of the Madera on the tasting stand.
Back in the old town you should walk through the street of painted doors. Not only is it a good and cheerful art project that has produced hundreds of brightly painted doors – from the Mercado dos Lavradores in Fort Santiago – but it is also a hedonistic feast. The tastiest restaurants, the most talented musicians, and the strongest lemon ponchos can be found here.
What to see
Câmara de Lobos is not far from Funchal. The colorful boats of the local fishermen at the picturesque pier, the velvety green hills covered in traditional white and orange houses, the flowering trees and cosy local streets were a great inspiration to Winston Churchill, who loved holidaying here and painted colorful oil sketches. Today, the streets of Camara di Lobus are transformed into an amazing installation of garlands, panels, and sculptures made of trash. Despite the fact that it sounds rather peculiar, the project looks surprisingly stylish and aesthetic.
Next to Camara di Lobus is the luxurious Cabo Girao promontory. This natural basalt sea cliff, about 600 meters high, is considered the highest in Europe. What else does this place have to offer besides the view from the panoramic deck? There is no horizon line here – the transition from ocean to sky strangely dissolves in a light watercolor haze. And this fabulous picture is also generously seasoned heady aroma of mimosa and eucalyptus, which abound on the hill.
The town of Curral das Freiras in the Nun’s Valley is a grandiose spectacle. From the vantage point of Eira do Serrado, the village in the gorge seems like a toy. It is said that nuns used to hide in this valley from Moroccan pirates, hence the name.
Before leaving the island, do not forget to visit the Fanal forest of laurel, taste the local wines and find the rock of wishes, on which the Madericans installed a sculpture of the Holy Virgin. The snow-white Fatima on the black rock looks impressive and is said to leave no request unanswered.