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Madeira - Nature and Traditions to Explore

21/06/2017

We got a super early flight from Lisbon to Madeira island and picked our rent-a-car directly at the airport on arrival. Having a car is essential when exploring the island, although it's not extensively big (it's only 57 km long and 22 km wide). It is however, very mountainous and full of tunnels - it's soon expected to reach 70 km in tunnels.

Madeira archipelago is made of 4 islands - Madeira, Porto Santo, Desertas and Selvagens. Only the first two are inhabited. It was Porto Santo (means "Holy Port") indeed that saved the Portuguese sailors in 1420, who reached the island after a storm. Then they also made it to Madeira island (means "wood") and eventually named it this way because of the countless number of threes it had. Nowadays, the island continues pretty and green, and is a famous hiking destination all year round thanks to its relatively mild weather.

When leaving the airport (now named after Cristiano Ronaldo who was born on Madeira island) don't miss to take a selfie with his bust just outside the Arrivals gate 😂

From the airport we headed directly to the viewpoint of Balcões. It's located at 860 m altitude and is reached by a relatively short hike (around 15-20 minutes) next to a "levada" - a man-made water system that "leads" the water from North to South - the dry part of the island. The construction of these "levadas" started in the 16th century and today there are around 3000 km of them around the island, helping visitors to explore its nature. On our walk to Balcões we were surrounded by the most gorgeous shades of green. The viewpoint itself offers some breathtaking views to the deep, green valley as well as to the red-ish mountains and blue ocean.

I got so stunned with the view, I couldn't wait to see more. We went even higher - to Areeiro Peak - the third highest one on the island - 1818 m. Here is the beginning of a hike that connects it to the highest one - Ruivo Peak (1862 m). We had no time to go hiking, but when I come back (and I will come back for sure) I will definitely plan some more time to explore the island. In the meantime I'm stuck with memories like these. Poor me, right? 😍

That altitude and pure air made me starving. We went to Eira do Serrado for lunch and to check more stunning views. It's still up high (1095 m) so the views down to the valley where the village of Curral das Freiras (633 m) is located is really breathtaking.

When talking about food in Madeira watch out, as locals love to use a lot (I mean a lot!) of garlic. On everything. Including french fries sometimes. But while on the island, there are a few gastronomy specialties that are a must-try: local bananas (there are small and very sweet); caco bread (normally served as an appetiser with garlic butter); honey cake (using honey made by sugar cane).

After checking in and chilling for a while at the hotel, it was time to try Madeira's most famous drink - Poncha. Ok, Madeira's wine (it's sweet and reminded me a lot the Port wine) is also very good, but poncha [ponsha] is what's most typical for the island. It's always made at the moment and consists of local brandy, fresh juice (orange or passion-fruit), sugar and honey, and it's mixed with a special "instrument" called "caralhinho". The best place to go for experiencing Poncha is at Serra de Agua. Strategically, it's located almost in the middle of the island, so wherever we were going, it was always on our way to pass there for a quick poncha. Plus, it has very beautiful views to Grande Peak (1657 m). When ordering you will get nuts as a gift. Don't dare to NOT leave the nut shells on the floor.

We were supposed to have dinner after having a glass or two of poncha, but we got so carried away, we ended up staying in Serra de Agua for almost 3 hours. It got so late that no restaurant would serve us dinner... So we found a food cart in Câmara de Lobos (close to Funchal) and went there for a delicious hot dog. Yummy!

At our second day on the island we went for a short stroll around Funchal - Madeira's main city. More specifically, we explored its "old" part where the streets are narrow and covered with pebbles. Santa Maria street (and others around it) are filled with old houses, most of them are now restaurants and shops. Thanks to the "Art of Open Doors" project the area is really colourful and vivid, transformed into an open air art galley by local artists.

After having a light lunch at one of the tiny streets, the heat in the city was getting quite heavy, so we headed North. As we had to cross the island we passed again at Serra de Agua for a quick poncha-stop. It's hard to resist it. Hahaha

Porto Moniz natural pool however, was our destination for a fresh afternoon by the sea. As Madeira's coast is high it has too few sand beaches, but happily there are many natural pools where you can feel the ocean. The one at Porto Moniz is made in between the volcanic rocks but also has a lifeguard, sun beds, beach umbrellas and a pool for kids. What actually stunned me (except for the beautiful contrast on the black, volcanic rocks and the crystal clear water) was that the main pool is accessible for disabled people. Congrats for the great job!

Even though it was cloudy and quite fresh compared to the heat in the South part of the island, the scenery was too pretty to resist.

While on the North side of the island I was really curious to find a place I've seen on photos but had some difficulties on finding information about. I only knew it's in Seixal and looked magical. In fact it was not that difficult to find it, as soon we found the Post Office with an awesome sea view. 

As we didn't come to Madeira to stay under the clouds, decided to chase the sun. Jardim do Mar (on SE coast) was the perfect place for a late afternoon snack and catching some warm rays of sunlight on the deck of Portinho bar. And to enjoy a stunning sunset, simultaneously witnessing the moon rising.

Jardim do Mar's centre looked really cute and cozy as we were walking between the buildings looking for a place to have a late dinner (again lol). Ended up at the Joe's bar and then playing table football until 3 a.m. somewhere in the middle of Maloeira.

Our third day in Madeira started again with a stroll at Funchal's streets and lunch at Taberna Ruel. The last ones from our group have arrived, so a long lunch around a big, loud table was actually expected. From there we went directly to the cable car that connects Funchal to Monte. I found it a bit expensive (11 euros/person) but it offers a different perspective of the city. Funchal is located in a very beautiful, kind of an amphitheatre-shaped valley, so going up the hill, we experienced its acoustics, as well. At some point we heard a goat, but its sound was so loud it almost felt as it was inside the cabin with us. In fact is was probably more than 30 m bellow us (I'm not good at figuring distances, but it was a lot). The souvenir shop just next to the upper station of the cable car offers free local products' degustation, so it's a place not to be missed.

Also in the area is the Botanical Garden but we were already out of time to visit it. Instead we went directly to find the typical "basket" cars to slide down the hill on our way back to the city. Just when we found them I saw a beautiful church on the hill on top of the street, so had to take a look. It was "Nossa Senhora do Monte" church - where Funchal's biggest religious celebrations take place.

Now I was ready to slide down. And what a slide it was!? Probably one of the coolest experiences ever!

Unfortunately, the sliding cars don't go all the way down to the centre of Funchal so we had to take a taxi. The afternoon was quite hot and after the amazing slide down, we really needed to cool off a bit - the Lido pool was our choice for that. A gorgeous project by the Portuguese architect José Rafael Botelho, this beach area catches all the senses immediately.

It has two ocean water pools - one for adults and one for kids (with slides), and stairs to the sea. 

Before dinner I really wanted to go to Girão Cape and its skywalk (589 m high), but it was already closed when we got there. That sunset view over Funchal however, was totally worth the try. 

We had dinner at a local place in Câmara de Lobos, close to Funchal. As Vides restaurant specialises in another delicacy, typical for Madeira island - beef skewer. After dinner it was time to hit the night life in Funchal, as it was Friday night. We went to a bar, called Vintage at Santa Maria street. I liked it, but around 3 a.m. I was ready to go back to the hotel. The following day we had a beautiful wedding to attend.

Overall, I have to say that Madeira surprised me. I really loved the time I spent there but I feel it was more of a teaser, as I got to see and experience such a little part of what the island and the archipelago have to offer. 

See you back soon, Gorgeous Madeira!

 

 

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