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Madeira

The Pearl of the Atlantic, and Europes leading island destination several years in a row.

MI7

Whenever I mention Madeira, people often tell me; ''I've been there, and found it expensive.'' This is often the perception but it is not so! Once you are away from the 'tourist traps' of the cities, accommodation, food, drink and activities are often much cheaper and, given the infrastructure of road and tunnel networks, even the furthest places on the island are now easily accessible within an hour or so. Basing your holiday in such places as Ribeira Brava, Ponta do Sol, Madalena do Mar, Calheta, Jardim do Mar and Paúl do Mar along the south coast can offer you the best of both worlds.... enjoyment of the more rural location but within easy reach of the capital, Funchal and the other cities on the island.

This page is not meant as a comprehensive guide to the island and what's on offer, but as a basic guide to aid in your decision to visit.

Discovered in 1419, this subtropical island lies approximately 1000km SSW of Lisbon and 700km W of the African coast. Flight times from the UK are around 3-3.5 hours into Funchal Airport at Santa Cruz. Funchal, the capital city of Madeira, also has access by sea, through a port with several cruise ship docks, and more than half a million cruise passengers visit here each year.

At 56km west to east and 21km north to south, and an area of 741 square km, Madeira is a relatively small island. Due to its mountainous nature, the island is full of diverse microclimates. The difference in altitude makes it possible for a huge variety of plants to be grown, which contributes to the islands reputation for fine dining and wines. The highest point on Madeira is Pico Ruivo, at 1862 metres above sea level and ocean depths exceed 2000 metres only a short distance from shore. Madeira also boasts Europes highest sea cliff, Cabo Girão, (2nd largest sea cliff in the world!) at 580 metres.

With average summer temperatures of 24-30C, it never really gets too hot here! During the winter, the temperature averages 17-24C, which is still much warmer than most of Northern Europes summers. The prevailing wind is the North Easterly Trade winds which pick up off the Portuguese coast and runs towards Cabo Verde. This brings moderate sea swells to the North coast of the island which attracts surfers, particularly during the winter. The ocean temperatures average 18C in winter and 22C in summer.The south coast of the island is warm and dry, and the north coast recieves most of the islands rainfall and functions as the islands watershed by way of an intricate water-control network (the levadas.)

Funchal is the capital of the Autonomous Region of Madeira, with a population of approximately 130 000, or 45% of the islands inhabitants. Funchal is a clean, modern, cosmopolitan city renowned for it's many top class restaurants, hotels and clubs. Although well-known as a holiday destination for mature travellers, today you will find Funchal to have a vibrant nightlife enjoyed by all age groups. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, the city awakens after midnight. Those who know the city eat dinner at the normal time, relax for a few hours then head out for all-night partying. Unlike most European cities, with little or no crime on the island it's safe to walk the streets at any time without any crowds of rowdy 'binge-drinkers' or associated trouble in public places. It's a safe city where young and old co-exist peacefully.

 

As the south coast is sheltered, warmer and enjoys more sunshine than elsewhere on the island, it is here that most of the tourism is focussed (this also overlooks the rich Marlin feeding grounds!)

 

Câmara de Lobos

From Funchal, the first 'city' we reach is Câmara de Lobos, so named because, at the time of the islands discovery by the navigator João Gonçalves Zarco, the bay resembled a grand house filled with sea-lions (lobos). Although most of the sea-lions have gone now, a large colony still exists on the Desertas Islands, a few kilometres offshore.This beautiful bay inspired British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, in 1950, to paint it's breathtaking land- and sea-scapes. Although tourism plays a large part in the economy, agriculture and commercial fishing for tuna and black scabbard fish (espada) are also important economic activities here and the bay looks stunning dotted with the brightly painted Xavelhas, the traditional fishing boats. Only a short distance to the west is the sea cliff and miradouro (viewpoint) at Cabo Girão, complete with the glass skywalk, for those who wish to walk 500 metres above the beach and Atlantic below. The panoramic views from here are simply astounding! There is also a cable car down to the Fajãs at the base of the cliff.

 

Ribeira BravaMI1

A little further along the coast and we arrive at Ribeira Brava. Although agriculture still remains one of the key economic activities here, Ribeira Brava continues to make significant headway in tourism and, apart from the many street bars, cafes and shops, includes many new facilities to keep the visitor interested and the locals closer to home. There are sports and fitness facilities here, along with an indoor swimming pool and cinema complex.The Ethnographic Museum of Madeira can be found here, which exhibits collections linked to Madeiras cultural, social and economic heritage. The Forte de São Bento, built in 1708 to protect this part of the coastline from pirates and privateers, stands on the coastal road and currently houses the tourist information centre. The main arterial road splits here and from here we can choose to head north, through Serra de Água and Encumeada to São Vicente on the north coast (more about those later), or continue west to Ponta do Sol and beyond.

 

Ponta do Sol

The 500-years old village of Ponta do Sol (Point of the Sun) nestles in a high ravine and features a palm tree-lined promenade that stands by a picturesque pebble beach, lined with whitewashed and shuttered buildings overlooking the ocean. The village comprises of cobbled streets with shops, cafes and restaurants serving local cuisine. The sunsets are spectacular here, and enjoyed best with a cool drink in ones hand, sat at the promenade or beach. The terraces on the surrounding hills are are filled with colour, with the deep green of the banana plantations predominant, contrasting with the rocky cliffs, white houses and deep blue ocean. Although a traditional village, Ponta do Sol has all the hotels and amenities required of the traveller.

 

CalhetaMI4

A short distance away is Calheta which, with it's marina and golden sand beaches, is one of Madeiras hottest tourist spots for several very good reasons. Being only a 35-40 minute drive from the islands capital, and centrally located on the south coast most, if not all, of the island can be reached within an hour for those wishing to day trip to Funchal, explore the island, or engage in walking some the islands 2150 kilometres of levadas.

Calheta is home of the 'Sociedade de Engenhos da Calheta' where you can observe the machinery used in the manufacture of sugar cane 'honey' and the white rum which is a key ingredient in the local Poncha. Not far from there, on it's clifftop location, is the arts centre, the Casa de Mudas, which features a wide range of cultural offerings such as exhibitions, shows, musicals, plays, conferences etc. For the thrill-seeker, there's paragliding from the clifftops at Achada, while down at the beach, more sedate activities such as volleyball, swimming and sunbathing.

At the beach, you will find changing facilities, showers, public toilets and a small number of cafes and snack bars.

The fully-equipped recreational marina, fronted by restaurants and bars, plays host to many activities including canoeing, scuba diving, snorkelling, spearfishing, whale and dolphin watching, sunset cruises and of course the Blue Marlin and big-game fishing. At either end of the marina are large hotels, recently taken over by the Savoy group. Although rather expensive, they do have reasonably facilities. If self-catering is your preferred choice, we have access to a number of apartments and villas in Calheta and the surrounding area, at preferential rates. There are a supermarket, pharmacy and a few other shops next to the marina, so the basics are covered.

 

Jardim do Mar, Paúl do Mar, Ponta do Pargo

Only three kilometres west is the charming small village of Jardim do Mar, situated on a small Fajã between the mountains and the Atlantic. Reachable only by one road/tunnel, the 'garden of the sea' is a peaceful place where the only road in terminates at the small plaza in the village centre. To explore the village fully, one must continue on foot through the numerous narrow paths which lead the visitor past flower- and fruit-filled gardens towards the Church of Nossa Senhora do Rosário, and onwards towards the ocean. Another attraction of Jardim do Mar is the waves, which attract surfers from worldwide. From the coastal viewpoints in Jardim, you will see Paúl do Mar kissing the ocean only a little farther west. This village plays host to many international surfing competitions, and is a favourite of many surfers. Paúl do Mar is the last of the coastal villages on the south coast before we reach Ponta do Pargo, the westerly tip of the island. Named after a species of fish prolific in these waters, (the Pargo, a type of Red Snapper), Ponta do Pargo has a lighthouse 350 metres above the churning, treacherous ocean below. The rip tides, undulating ocean floor and reefs combined with the swell from the North makes this a coastline to be respected by those who dare to fish or walk at the base of the cliffs here, or venture close inshore in small boats. The panoramic views from the lighthouse are not to be missed.

 

 

Away from the south coast, there are many other places of interest, and activities on offer. Places such as Curral de Freiras (valley of the nuns), Porto Moniz with its volcanic swimming pools, São Vicentes caves and volcanic centre, the spectacular viewpoints of Encumeada, the market at Santo da Serra, sliding down a mountain in a wicker basket at Monte to name but a few. Whatever time of the year you decide to visit the island, there is always a carnival, festa (party) or celebration happening.

All in all, Madeira is a clean, safe island not only enjoyed, but respected, by all ages of fun-loving locals and tourists. I hope this brief guide has been of some help and if any further information is required, please do not hesitate to ask. You will receive the most honest and up-to-date information we have.

That is our promise to you.MI2