Why you should consider Madeira for a holiday this year
Think you know Madeira? Then maybe you're already aware it was named the World's Leading Island Destination at the World Travel Awards in 2015; that this subtropical Atlantic outpost inhabits the very top of an enormous volcano rising up from the sea bed.
On the other hand, there's a chance you've written it off as an oldies-only destination. If that's the case, we strongly suggest you read on and find out why it's time Madeira was firmly on your must-visit list.
Travelzoo deal expert Raphael Giacardi, fresh from a week's holiday on the island, decided to tackle some oft-asked questions about it...
I've just I’ve seen a great deal for a Madeira holiday, but I know almost nothing about the place. Should I be tempted?
Definitely, Madeira is a beautiful island in the middle of the Atlantic, 400km north of Tenerife. Because it’s the top of a shield volcano, which rises 6000 metres from the bottom of the ocean (1865 metres of which is above sea level), this Portuguese outpost has a unique landscape.
It’s only 3.5 hours’ flying time from the UK and, because of its subtropical climate you find all sorts of things you wouldn’t believe grow in Europe: mangos, bananas, passion fruits, papayas…
Sounds promising. But I hear it mainly caters for, erm, golden oldies?
Actually, Madeira has something for most people. It’s a compact island that can be discovered in a few days, but has a lot to offer: warm sunny weather, beautiful landscapes, great food and drinks (Madeira wine!) and a host of activities from walking and diving to fishing or just sunbathing.
Seems like my sort of place. Anything I should be aware of?
Yes – if you think a sandy beach is essential for a good holiday, this might not be the place for you. Because Madeira is volcanic, sand is not common. In fact, there are only two golden-sand beaches on the island: Calheta and Machico (both artificial). For a day trip, neighbouring island Porto Santo (part of the Madeira archipelago) has a long natural golden-sand beach. Otherwise, it’s pebbles all the way.
But don’t let this put you off. Most hotels have ocean platforms like the one you see below - these are ideal for sunbathing and relaxing by the island’s super-clear waters.
Fine, I can live without a sandy beach, but I can’t live without seeing the sunshine...
Well, the good thing with Madeira is that the weather is sunny and warm all year round. If you want the hottest and driest months, the best time to visit Madeira is May-August, when average temperatures are in the mid-20s and you only have a handful of rainy days each month.
Saying that, you still get average temperatures of 16-21ºC and 7-10 hours of daily sunshine the rest of the year and prices are a lot lower. So, if you want to save money, you know what to do.
What do you recommend I see during my stay?
Start with a day in Funchal, the island’s capital. Walk down the seafront promenade to the Old Town, stopping for a drink at one of the many bars on the way. From there, take the cable car (10€ per person, each way) to Monte, where you can visit the world-renowned Monte Palace Tropical Garden.
Get back to the Old Town from Monte by sliding down the steep hill on a traditional wicker toboggan (30€ for two). OK, it’s a bit of a tourist trap, but a must-do all the same.
Finally, take a tour of the Old Town; visit the Cristiano Ronaldo Museum (if it’s your thing); look round the fruit and vegetable market (Mercado dos Lavradores); and have dinner at one of the many delicious and well-priced restaurants in Funchal. I recommend checking out Restaurante do Forte and O Violino.
Is the food any good?
The island is big on seafood, and fish is plentiful and delicious. Be sure to try the local speciality dish, espetadas. These are big chunks of meat or seafood, cooked on charcoal and served on skewers, which are then hung on a hook above your table.
If you want to be reminded of home, don’t miss the traditional afternoon tea at Reid’s Palace (34.50€ per person). Reid’s Palace is one of the oldest 5-star hotels on the island and where Winston Churchill used to stay. The afternoon tea is served in a grand room facing the ocean – a wonderful experience.
What else is there to do?
If you feel like being active, Madeira is a top place for walks. Small irrigation canals (called levadas) have been built all over the island and make perfect trekking routes through the forests and mountains. People fly from all over the world to walk the levadas.
I would also recommend seeing the following: Camara de Lobos (a lovely traditional fishing village) where you can get a free Madeira wine tasting at local producer Henriques & Henriques; Pico de Arieiro, the island’s third-highest peak, but the highest accessible by car; and the Cabo Girao Skywalk, a clifftop glass-floor viewing platform where you can stand over a 580m drop (it’s Europe’s highest skywalk and second only to the Grand Canyon’s, worldwide). As you can see below, it's one to avoid if you're scared of heights.
A great way to see everything is to book a full-day private tour. These cost around 120€ for one to four people and will give you your own driver, taking you to all the best places for the day.
There are a lot of other activities you can do when in Madeira: 4x4 safaris, dolphin-watching expeditions and canyoning.
OK – I’m sold. How do I get there?
British Airways and easyJet have direct flights. Alternatively, we recommend booking with Inspired Luxury Escapes, one of the UK’s top Madeira specialists.
Before I go, is there anything specific I need to pack?
As mentioned, Madeira has warm weather and year-round sunshine, but if you’re heading to the mountainous interior, you’ll find it can get colder, so do bring a jumper. And a waterproof jacket for the odd rain shower (it is subtropical at the end of the day).
Also, Madeira tends to have quite a few mosquitos, so a good repellent is a must.
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