Are you in the mood for a relaxing vacation? On blossoming trees, sun, hiking and delicious food? Then off to the dream island of Madeira. Let the itinerary presented here inspire you to plan your trip.
Recommended duration of the trip: 8-14 days
Number of places to stay: 4-5 (depending on whether you visit the neighboring island of Porto Santo)
Start in Machico and choose Funchal as the last stop of your trip
Travel time: We did the trip in spring (mid-April). We had warm days with 20 degrees and sunshine and could also swim once in the sea. However, there are also cooler days with overcast skies in this season and often it is also windy on this island. So if you travel during this time, it is best to pack clothes for fresh weather as well. Do I need to mention that hiking boots and hiking pants are a must for a vacation in Madeira?
You might be wondering if you really need several overnight stops for a vacation in Madeira. The answer is 'no', you can also reach the sights of the whole island in day trips from one stop. However, I find that it is immensely fun to change your overnight stop and experience the small towns on Madeira during an evening walk or early morning. Also, during these blue hours the light is better for photography and this is something you quickly miss out on if you only explore the island with day trips.
Machico makes a good first overnight stop, as it is just a 9-minute drive from the airport and also offers a tranquil little town with a pedestrian promenade, as well as a small center with mansions and a local history museum, making it ideal for arriving in Madeira. The town offers the only sandy beach on Madeira besides Calheta, and is a good starting point for hiking and for visiting the impressive Whale Museum (Museu da Baleia da Madeira) in Canical.
Diese Wanderung verläuft nicht entlang einer Levada und auch nicht im Wald, sondern auf kargem Terrain. Sonnenschutz und ausreichend Trinkwasser sind also ratsam. Dazu läuft man hin und zurück überwiegend die gleiche Strecke. Nichtsdestotrotz ist diese Wanderung spektakulär. Der ständige Blick aufs Meer bietet Steilklippen mit tosender Brandung. Man muss sich etwas beherrschen um nicht jede Blume und jeden spannenden Blick auf die Klippen zu fotografieren. Wir haben die Wanderung nur bis zur Raststätte gemacht und sind dann den gleichen Weg zurückgegangen, da die Zeit nicht mehr zuließ.
The natural seawater pools were formed by volcanic rocks and are enclosed in a magnificent landscape. They are located directly in Porto Moniz and can therefore be reached on foot from any hotel and still offer an impressive view of the Atlantic Ocean and the rugged cliffs. The pools offer a good infrastructure such as changing rooms, sun loungers and a snack bar. Proudly presented on site is the award as one of the most beautiful natural swimming pools in the whole world (as far as I remember the award comes from 'CNN').
Porto Moniz is also a good starting point for hikes in the northern part of the island, such as the popular 'Levada of Ribeira da Janela', where you only have to climb a few meters.
In Santana there are the Madeira houses known from postcards, which are traditional stone houses with a thatched gable roof that reaches almost to the ground. A bit away from the tourist center, in the Santana old house you get a story about the history of the house and his family from the friendly owner, in addition to a delicious cafe liquor. In addition, you can visit the house, which is still partly in its original condition, also inside.
Just 3 km and 5 minutes drive from Porto Moniz, there are these picturesque rocks to photograph, link to Google Maps. So I went there with my little Gorillapod tripod in the morning around 07:30, screwed the gray filter on the camera, reaped a few pitying looks of 2 photographers with proper tripod and still, I think, shot an appealing photo.
To really get around the island, you should take a small detour and make the drive to Arco de Calheta along the coast, stopping briefly at the photogenic lighthouse Farol da Ponta do Pargo (link to Google Maps). Once in Arco de Calheta, you may be surprised to find that it has the only sandy beach on the island besides Machico. So if you also come to Madeira to splash around in the Atlantic, you should definitely stop here. The beach here also consists of imported sand from Morocco.
In the past, Calheta was the center of the sugar industry. Worth a visit is the sugar museum, 'Engenho da Sociedade de Engenhos da Calheta', which offers an original factory with sales rooms and tasting room. Here you can taste the best 'Bolo de mel', a delicious honey spice cake, which is one of the Madeiran specialties. Also, just outside Calheta is the 'Casa das Mudas', (Museum of Modern Art Calheta) a museum with award winning architecture. In my opinion, this is impressive from the outside, but inside it is only recommended for those interested in modern art.
The Levada hike to the 25 Fontes (25 springs, official name of the trail is 'PR6'), is considered the most popular hike in Madeira and for good reason. The hike leads from Rabaçal parking lot, Paul da Serra over a length of about 11.6 km (outward and return, including detour to the Risco waterfall) in about 1.5h to the waterfall 25 Fontes. You can save about 4 km of walking if you use the shuttle service that takes you to the Rabaçal house down in the valley (the shuttle service started at 10 am for us). What may sound a bit complicated here is usually not, as the hiking route is well signposted and you can ask other hikers for advice if needed. Since the hike is popular, you have to share the trail with many other hikers and since the trail is narrow at times, you have to improvise a bit to get out of the way.
As a redneck, I also feel like 'city' on vacation and Funchal can be called such with about 130,000 inhabitants (equivalent to about 45% of the population). Therefore, we have made a stop here during our round trip. Funchal offers itself as overnight stop, in order to visit the house mountain the so-called 'Monte' with its botanical gardens and to slide afterwards with the 'basket sledge' again back into the valley. Funchal is considered a beautiful city and I can confirm this. It sits in a picturesque bay and offers some relaxed promenades with good shopping opportunities. However, it becomes inland immediately really steep and since our hotel was not quite at the sea, we had to cope daily so some gradients. Personally, the ubiquitous car traffic has disturbed me a bit. Fortunately, there is always a light wind that brings fresh air. That you can easily climb steep hills with an e-bike is not yet really arrived in Funchal.
The classic way to get to the Monte is to take the Teleférico do Funchal, the cable car that starts at the bottom of Funchal. The main attraction at the top is the botanical garden Monte Palace Madeira. Next to it there is the beautiful church 'Monte Church Sanctuary' and the descent you make as a tourist classically with the basket sledge. Tourist nonsense? Maybe a bit, but also some folklore and clearly more action than I expected. From my perspective, it was great fun. The garden photo above is of the second well-known botanical garden, the Madeira Botanical Garden. The two gardens are connected by a cable car. However, you don't have to see the two gardens in one day, you can start by cable car from Funchal on another day or alternatively go there by car.
If you would like to discover the surroundings of Funchal, the following excursions are possible: You can reach the Cristo Rei statue by car in about 20 minutes and on the other side of Funchal, the neighboring town of Câmarade Lobos (pictures 2 and 3) in a good 10 minutes. If you stroll around in the town, you will meet 'Churchill' everywhere, who regularly spent his vacation here. What we liked best were the numerous works of art made from old fruit juice packaging, which are stuck to the doors of the streets.
The ferry ride from Funchal to the neighboring island of Porto Santo takes about 2h 30 min, and it is worth it in our opinion to spend 2 nights there, because the island is so completely different from Madeira. There is a mile-long wonderful sandy beach, which invites you to swim and walk and also in the hinterland there is a lot to discover. We booked the crossing without a car, but then decided on Porto Santo at short notice to take a rental car for a day to experience the island even more intensively. The peacock on the left picture, which posed for us for minutes, we found in the Quinta das Palmeiras.
.... many great impressions and experiences during your trip around Madeira: Kirsten & Thorsten