Madeira, an archipelago between Portugal and the northwest coast of Africa, comprises four islands. Many believe the main island is a holiday destination for British retirees seeking the Portuguese sun. Step off the plane, however, and you’ll soon discover that Madeira is beyond anything you could ever have imagined.
Stereotyped as an island for retirees and empty-nesters, this adventurous playground is home to friendly locals, a captivating culture, and plenty of activities to keep the most adventurous of travelers happy. So, what are the five things that will surprise you the most in Madeira? Read on to find out more.
1) Europe’s Shortest Runway
With an unusually short runway and rocky hills on either side, Funchal International Airport is recognized by pilots as one of the most unquestionably difficult runways to land in Europe. Don’t panic, though! This means that the pilot who is flying you is especially talented. Only the best can land a plane in Madeira.
2) Tantalizing Cuisine
Blending Spanish and Portuguese influences, the cuisine in Madeira is a real treat for your taste buds. There’s sangria and tapas galore. Particular dishes that you must try during your stay include tuna steak with fried maize, black scabbard fish with banana, and espetada (beef on a skewer).
Foodie hotspots that are a must for any Madeira holiday include Restaurante Beira Mar in Calheta. Although it’s set back from the marina, there are great views of the harbor from the restaurant. It has especially tasty food and exceptional customer service. Be sure to order mussels here. They are freshly caught each day and served with homemade cheese and white wine sauce.
For less traditional cuisine (but beautiful coastal views) the Sea View Restaurant in Ponto Moniz is a great spot. One of my favorite dishes served here was the duck breast. To finish, the trio of dark, milk and white chocolate served with white chocolate and raspberry ice cream is divine. Admire the stunning views of Nuns Valley from the rooftop of Sabores do Curral. Roasted chestnuts and syrup are a local delicacy that can be found here
3) Dramatic Volcanic Landscapes
A key example of hotspot volcanism, Madeira arose from a vast underwater plain within the African Plate. Periods of intense erosion created valleys, heated rock pools, and caves that still exist to this day. The volcanic nature of this island has created a plethora of fertile volcanic soil where a vast selection of flora grows, including terraced vineyards that cling to vertiginous slopes. The landscapes of Madeira look like a scene you might expect out of Jurassic Park
Visit the Grutas de Sao Vicente and take a guided tour. You can learn about the volcanic eruption that occurred 890,000 years ago to create the caves. Or, head to the natural rock pools at Porto Moniz for a free and unique swimming experience. The small pools found in Porto Moniz formed due to coastal erosion.
Carved into the mountains as a direct result of volcanic activity, Nuns Valley or Curral Das Freiras is a cauldron-shaped depression surrounded by steep hills. A great place for hikers, there are over fifty twists and turns around the route. No hike would be complete without something to see, and the trails at Nuns Valley offer mesmerizing panoramic views to enjoy.
4) Captivating Culture on Madeira
A colorful island of culture, Madeira holds several festivals throughout the year. There is always something happening regardless of when you visit. Did you know that a large majority of the flowers around the world come from Madeira? The Flower Festival celebrates this every late April/early May. Funchal’sPraca do Municipio displays a floral mural, floral carpets, and even a floral parade that takes to the streets.
But perhaps the most famous festival and representation of traditional culture is the Festas de Nossa Senhora do Monte held in Funchal and across the island from the 5th of August to the 14th of August. The whole region carries out nine masses. On the night of the 14th, locals are joined by travelers to climb the stairs to Monte Church. Food stalls, flower displays, and live music adorn the streets. This massive street party is certainly ideal for gaining an insight into local life.
5) Marine Life Encounters
The azure waters surrounding the island are home to a dazzling array of majestic marine life. Jump onto a boat and see pilot whales, turtles, and striped dolphins in their natural habitat. It’s a moment that will stay with you forever.
Elle, a food, travel, and lifestyle blogger based in Berkshire, is looking to visit 30 countries in 30 years. She loves sharing inspirational tips and advice for sustainable travel that doesn’t harm the environment. Head on over to her website to learn more.