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Published: March 3rd 2018
Madeira is an island off of the coast of Africa, belonging to Portugal. With generally warm temperatures year-round, it is a good go-to for some sunshine. Of course, not always guaranteed, and whilst there in November I did experience some rain myself! Escaping the single-digit degrees of winter though, I did not mind some rain.
Longer than expected, it is a four hour flight to Funchal Airport, Madeira. Easyjet have flights from Stanstead direct to Madeira, making it a reasonably affordable holiday. Prior to arrival, I had booked a hire car (the cheapest one) and once at the rental centre, of course there was an up-sell - 'Madeira is very hilly, are you sure you want a one litre engine' was the question to me. My smart answer was - why do you rent out one litre cars if they are not suitable?! Long story short....get a decent car - Madeira is very hilly, lots of winding roads, sharp turns, and steep lanes. Revving up the engine at every hill start was not ideal! I could write an entire separate blog post about driving in Madeira!
I stayed in Funchal, which is the main town on the island and
the central port as well. I was up high on the coast, but it was a simple walk down into the town centre (and a more strenuous walk back). Having the car to explore was well worth it, as it is an easy island to get around and small enough that you can see lots of it in a short amount of time. I stayed for six nights and that was plenty. It's not a wild and active holiday outside of some lovely hiking and walking, but it is a very relaxing place with it's own unique charm and culture.
I certainly noticed the Portugese stamp on the island, with similarities to the Portugese colony of Macau - black and white tiled streets with clever designs on them were certainly a mark of the culture. I thoroughly enjoyed a daily Pastel de Nata (Egg Tart) and can't bring myself to buy one back in England as I know it won't be the same! A morning coffee and pastel in the sunshine was a very relaxed way to start my day! The other 'famous' dish in Madeira is fried fish with cooked banana on top. Of course, I tried it...but
wasn't overwhelmed. Perhaps I wasn't in the best restaurant, but I couldn't help but feel that it was a dish designed due to excess scabbard fish and quantities of bananas on the island! The EU rejected Madeira's bananas stating that they were not large enough! So there are a lot of bananas to go around!
In terms of things to see, the car was great to utilise - ventures to the North/West/East, small towns with quaint churches, valleys to drive through and coastal roads to view the ocean - All very scenic. Hiking was weather dependent, and I had a great day walking the levadas from Rabacal to the 25 waterfalls. Levadas are ancient water irrigation systems that still function today. On another morning, we attempted a drive up to Pico Ruivo, to hike to Pico Ariero, but the weather got the better of us. The climate can change rapidly as you get higher up, and we were in the thick of the clouds with minimal visibility when we had completed a rather hairy drive to the top! Deciding to skip the hike, one hour later we were back in Funchal and in bikinis by a pool - a
marked difference from four layers at the top of the peak!
A bonus moment for me was a walk along the main streets of Funchal, through the daily market, and a colourful lane of restaurants, leading to a view of the ocean and waves crashing up as they broke along the coast. Sitting down for a beer in the sun, prime location - we enjoyed our pickled corn snack and cold beer, and when the bill came we fully expected to pay well for sunshine/beer/view/tourism....but no. Four beers, sparkling water, plus olives, 7 Euros! I can't buy a glass of wine in London for that! A win for Madeira indeed!
A unique island with lots of greenery and rugged coastline - if you're happy relaxing, exploring, walking, hiking - you'll enjoy it!
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