In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the archipelago of Madeira, made up of the island of Madeira and the island of Porto Santo, each with its charms that attract thousands of visitors every year, both from mainland Portugal and Europe and from all over the world.
From gastronomy – with kebabs, swordfish fillets, tuna steak, limpets, wrasse, bolo do caco and fried corn – to drinks – with poncha, Madeira wine, Brisa and, of course, Coral beer – there is a whole world to discover in this archipelago, from where millions of emigrants left over the centuries to create a diaspora spread all over the world, from Venezuela to South Africa, even being responsible for transporting the cavaquinho to the Hawaii, where, several transformations later, he gained the title of ‘ukulele’.
wood of charms
The island of Madeira – located about 950 kilometers off the Portuguese mainland coast – is one of the main tourist destinations in Europe, and it’s not just that. Its tropical climate results in a relatively mild temperature throughout the year, great for visiting iconic places such as the Botanical Garden itself or the various viewpoints: from Cabo Girão to Cristo Rei.
But it is better to go by parts. After all, what are the places in this archipelago that attract the most attention among the thousands of tourists from all over the world who visit it?
The question is difficult to answer, but talking initially about the city of Funchal will be a sure bet. The ‘capital’ of Madeira has around 100 thousand inhabitants and is the ‘epicentre’ of tourism on the island. Located in the mountains at the foot of the Atlantic Ocean, this city often serves as a postcard to the archipelago, with a wide range of options when it comes to hotels, restaurants, bars and tourist attractions.
Against natural landscapes with vibrant shades of green and blue and receiving exorbitant amounts of sun throughout the year, Funchal has also gained importance as one of the main stops for cruise lines in the Atlantic, which tend to drop anchors a few meters from the city center to allow its passengers to delight in what the city has to offer.
Upon arrival, for example, the extensive and beautiful Praça do Povo, ‘half-way’ with the Marina do Funchal, where the various palm trees define the tropical tone of this place, which at Christmas is home to the giant luminous tree that marks the arrival of the Christmas season, and which in the summer is a place of rest and rest for the tired feet of those who spend the whole day visiting the city.
Around it, some of the main tourist attractions of the Madeiran ‘capital’: the Palácio de São Lourenço, built in the 16th century, Avenida do Mar itself, with several shops and cartoonish cafes and, not far away, just walk through a part of the picturesque Dr Street António José de Almeida, the Cathedral of Funchal, with its Gothic style from the 15th century.
But how to talk about Funchal without mentioning the Mercado dos Lavradores? Built in 1940, this market is the ‘showcase’ of some of Madeira’s main exports: its wine and, of course, bananas, so specific to this region of Portugal. But there is a little bit of everything, and the market is a must-stop for visitors to Funchal, if only to appreciate the architecture of the building designed by Edmundo Tavares, with several tiles by João Rodrigues, all over the market.
There is more to Madeira than Funchal, however, and there is no shortage of options to relax and have fun in nature, whether for those who like the beach, sun and warmth, or for those who are more adventurous, or those who they feel better in the middle of the fog, in hidden places.
For the first group named, the answer is simple: Praia Formosa has to be part of the itinerary, as it is the biggest reference on the island in terms of places to ‘go to the beach’ – with a blue flag and all the amenities needed to spend a pleasant day in the sun, or in the water, whose temperature remains regularly pleasant.
If the plan is, however, to enjoy the fantastic natural landscapes that the island of Madeira has to offer, the best thing is to start at the Cabo Girão viewpoint, very close to the picturesque village of Câmara de Lobos (we’ll be there), from where you can see Cabo Girão, one of the highest cliffs in the world with an approximate height of 580 meters, as well as the surroundings of Câmara de Lobos, the sea and Fajã do Cabo Girão. There, by the way, for the bravest, there is a suspended glass structure, from where the view is even more incredible, but which requires a dose of courage to get there.
But what is not lacking in Madeira are viewpoints: if Cabo Girão is perhaps the best known, Cristo Rei is not far behind, offering the visitor a whole different experience. Those who visit Ponta do Garajau find the statue of Cristo Rei de Garajau, created by Georges Serraz in 1927, from where the view over the Atlantic Ocean is breathtaking.
A rudimentary wooden staircase descending from the statue seems to take visitors directly to the Atlantic Ocean, giving a unique feeling of adrenaline.
towns and villages
Away from Funchal, Madeira is full of cartoons and picturesque towns and villages, which are worth a visit, even if only to take some pictures and enjoy the curious landscape. Among them is Câmara de Lobos, just eight kilometers from Funchal, where fishermen’s boats parked in the water, facing the coastal street where several colorful houses fill the view, complete a landscape worthy of a visit.
A little further away, 24 kilometers from the Madeiran capital, is Ponta do Sol, another small – but colorful – fishing village on the south coast of the island, where you can visit the Church of Nossa Senhora da Luz and the Palacete do Lugar de Low.
Porta do Sol still had a curiosity, which, unfortunately, is no longer possible to find: entering (or leaving) the village came with a part of the route that looked like it came out of a movie. If you used the Regional Road 101, the visitor would end up passing by the Anjos waterfall. The road section would end up closed, however, after a series of landslides.
Not everything in Madeira, however, is located by the sea. After all, there is a lot of life in the ‘inland’ of the island, and Curral das Freiras is one of the main points of interest away from the ocean. Between hills and mountains, a small village appears that was isolated until 1959, the year in which the first road was built that connects it to the rest of the island, and which forms one of the most ridiculous landscapes on the island.
It is possible to observe the village in all its splendor from the viewpoint of Eira do Serrado, but a visit will also pay off, even if it is to drink a cherry or the traditional chestnut soup.
But how can we talk about towns and cities in Madeira without mentioning Santana, ‘home’ of the traditional V-roofed houses that are one of the main symbols of the island of Madeira?
The entire municipality of Santana is, in fact, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, so it’s not just traditional houses that make this place’s appeal.
Also far – far away – from the sea are the highest peaks of the island of Madeira, with their respective microclimates and phenomenal views. For example, Pico Ruivo, at an altitude of 1862 meters, is the highest point on the island, and the third highest in the country – after Pico, in the Azores, and Torre, in Serra da Estrela. .
To get there, the visitor will have to follow a pedestrian route, among which one of the suggestions goes through the trail that connects Achada do Teixeira to Pico Ruivo (2.8 km). In addition to being one of the most accessible trails, it is surprising for its beauty, and for giving the feeling that it is possible to even touch the clouds. It is, however, a climb of 300 meters, which can take up to an hour and a half.
But it is impossible to talk about peaks in Madeira without mentioning Pico do Areeiro, perhaps the best known on the island, at 1818 meters of altitude. It is even possible to walk a 7 kilometer trail between Pico Ruivo and Pico do Areeiro, but this one can also be reached by car, which is why it is also one of the most popular on the island. There is also another curious detail about this peak: its microclimate. If there are many people who associate the island of Madeira with the sun and heat, the peak of Areeiro is often invaded by fog and humidity in the air that make you feel that you are not on the same island where you were. when the journey started.
Sea pools and caves
There is one place on the island of Madeira, however, which a visit cannot be missed: the village of Porto Moniz, in the northwest of the island, where its natural volcanic pools call for a dip, were the water temperature not always around. from 20-21 degrees Celsius.
And if the beauty is on the surface, it’s also on the island’s interior. The São Vicente caves, the result of a volcanic eruption that occurred more than 890 thousand years ago in Paul da Serra, are also an interesting attraction on the island, where visitors can walk a 700-meter route full of tubes of solidified lava that form the landscape. At the end of the visit, the visitor is entitled to visit the volcanic center, where they will be explained how volcanic eruptions are formed and how the island of Madeira was created.
charming Porto Santo
The archipelago of Madeira is not composed solely, however, of the island of Madeira. A few kilometers from the east coast is the island of Porto Santo, which vibrates with its white sand beaches.
It is only 11 kilometers long and 6 kilometers wide, but the Golden Island – as it is called by many – is a treasure for those looking for relaxation and rest. There are, after all, nine kilometers of beach with fine white sand, bathed by turquoise waters, rich in iodine, calcium and magnesium, which generally do not drop below 17ºC.
Porto Santo is also history: it was the first overseas discovery of João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira, who would later also discover Madeira. The Portuguese gave it the name ‘Porto Santo’, as the island gave them shelter after being diverted by strong winds from their exploration route along the west coast of Africa.
But this island is not just about the beach: boat trips, sport fishing, diving, windsurfing, kite surfing, water skiing, mountain biking, or paragliding are some of the outdoor activities that Porto Santo promotes, without forgetting the possibility of a few shots at Porto Santo Golf, designed by Spanish champion Ballesteros.