Madeira is not your ordinary travelling destination. Although mostly sunny throughout the year, Madeira is not the place for the beach lovers, but for the outdoors enthusiasts. Located in the Atlantic Ocean 540 miles from the Lisbon shores, Madeira has long been known as the Spring Island due to its year-round lush vegetation and incredible variation of colourful flowers.
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A quick guide to Madeira
With a constant temperature of around 20 degrees, Madeira is the perfect destination for hikers and nature lovers. It offers a variety of trails, from 45 minutes walks to day-long challenging treks. There are myriad of small villages dotted all around the island, where you are always welcome to take a break, eat a local speciality and enjoy a coffee overlooking either the green dressed mountains or the never-ending ocean. Being home to exquisite cuisine, fantastic activities, relaxing promenades and adrenaline pumping opportunities, it's easy to see why in 2015, Madeira received the Gold Award for being the world's best island destination.
Getting to Madeira
Madeira has one of the world’s tiniest airports, which is almost 3 km long. Suspended above the ocean, it’s one of the most exhilaration (and scary) landings even for the most experienced of pilots. There are several international planes flying into and from Madeira, on a daily basis. From the UK, the average flying time is just over 3 hours.
Where to sleep in Madeira
Once in Madeira, most people tend to base themselves in Funchal, the capital city. Funchal is located in the South, which is the sunniest side of the island. For those in favour of less touristy places and cheaper accommodation, I recommend renting an apartment in Caniço, which is only 15 min drive from the centre of Funchal. I stayed in Apartments Madeira, a brilliant one bedroom flat with a large kitchen and snug living room, overlooking the beautiful ocean. Couldn't get tired of waking up to such magnificent view every morning.
Getting around Madeira
Although you can get buses and taxis almost everywhere around Madeira, there are many trails only accessible by car. Renting a car is relatively cheap and by far the best option to make the most out of your holiday. Rent a car with Funchal Cars, as they usually have great special offers. I got a class C Seat Ibiza, in perfect condition, with all-inclusive insurance for under 200 euros. Know that in Madeira there are motorways called Expresso, but the mountain roads are incredibly narrow and quite winding. Most roads are almost 90 degrees up or down, hence knowing how to manoeuvre a car and possessive great clutch skills are imperative. Invest in a good car which will be able to take you up the hill, as you will have moments when you will really need serious engine and horsepower. Madeira has plenty of tunnels (some as long as 2 km) which too, are winding.
What you need for Madeira
Madeira has a rather beautiful and constant temperature of around 20+ degrees. Even if it’s overcast, it very rarely gets cold. However, once you are exploring the deep and dark forests, things start to the get a chillie chili. Depending on your itinerary and holiday plans, you should bring plenty of summer clothes, but have a pair of hiking boots, a waterproof jacket and a couple of sweaters, just in case. For example, whilst in Funchal I could walk around in shorts and sandals, but once I ascended to the botanic gardens, I could feel the need to put on my long sleeves.
What you must eat in Madeira
Being on an island, Madeirans love eating fish and seafood in general. A beloved local specialty is the espada, which is a dish made of a very long, black, creepy sea creature which is usually fished during night time only. It’s an easily recognizable monster with black skin, huge eyes and very scary teeth. You can eat it in pretty much any restaurant in Madeira.
For desert, you can choose between passion fruit cheesecake or pastel de nata, which is essentially a custard tart with puff pastry. For a taste of Madeira’s local produce, head over to the Funchal market on a Friday morning. You will find locally grown passion fruits, tiny bananas and peach mangoes. Who doesn’t like the idea of tomato, lime, banana and pineapple passion fruit? They all taste different, ranging from sweet to sour. Feel free to ask the vendors for a sample as they are always happy to showcase the fruits of their labor. If you are interested in a full food tasting experience in Madeira, go with a specialized food tour guide called Madeira Food on Foot. This is a great way to experience the local cuisine, meet new people and learn the Madeiran culinary secrets.
What you must drink in Madeira
The Ginjinha is probably one of the most amazing Portuguese boozy inventions. It's essentially cherry liquor, served in a shot glass made entirely of edible, yummy dark chocolate.
There are many stories about the origin of the Poncha, but in reality, nobody knows how it came to be. You will find variations in the Poncha recipe as you go around the island, as some prefer it with lemon, whilst others make it with fresh orange juice or even passion fruit. Poncho is a rum-based cocktail which is said to give fishermen courage to go out in the ferocious Atlantic during night time and hunt for the Espada.
Madeira has a long history of winemaking. Due to the nature of the unique making process, Madeira is a robust wine which can survive the test of time for quite a while after it has been open.
What to buy in Madeira
Madeira was once famed for its embroidery and it is still an integer part of the culture. In order to find authentic items, handcrafted by the locals, keep an eye on the logo of authenticity, which looks like a silver sticker. Items made of cork are quite common crafts in Madeira and in Portugal in general. Perhaps the most interesting Madeiran things to buy are traditional biscuits or unheard of varieties of fresh passion fruit and dried hibiscus.