Island-hopping in Portugal this may. Stop 1: Madeira

In general, it is quite easy to drive on Madeira – it has a perfect speedway from São Lourenço to Ribeira Brava; the other roads are relatively good but winding and sometimes narrow. While Google maps didn’t work perfectly on Madeira, below is the map of our trip. I have marked the places we visited with the numbers and given more detailed description how to find the entrance in case it is not transparent.

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Our Madeira map

I place the places we have been too in a chronological order: in total we spent four days on Madeira, but first and last days were only half a day.

Day 1 (second half a day on the island)

We arrived in the late afternoon, but as it is getting darker significantly later than on the mainland, we had a chance to start exploring Madeira. First things first – we had to have dinner. From our hostel guy we received a tip to go to “Restaurante Churrascaria Zarcos” (1), R. Conde Carvalhal 136, Funchal, Madeira (http://restaurantezarcos.com/index.php). The view to the city from the restaurant terrace is astonishing. The meal was tasty – I liked sweet potatoes the most. They were served with the sugarcane syrup – famous syrup on Madeira, we tried it the first time though. Besides, the service was very pleasant: elderly waiters were all gallant and courteous.

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Zarcos

Probably, we should have waited for the sunset to see Funchal in lights, but our hunger for sightseeing was yet appeased. We decided to give a look to (and from) the famous viewpoint – Miradouro do Cabo Girao – a glass-floored viewing platform (2). I can tell you, you have somehow rubbery legs when standing on the altitude of 580 m and seeing steep cliffs under your feet.

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View from Cabo Girao

The city center of Funchal (Zona Velha) (3) is very touristic but somehow charming: hundreds of restaurants nestling in the narrow streets, fancifully painted doors and one, maximum two-store houses.

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In Fuchal old city

A pleasant ending of the day was sitting on the terrace in our hostel, drinking local Madeira wine and enjoying fresh potato bread with cheese, olive oil and olives.

Day 2 (full day on the island)

So, we started our hiking tour… First, we drove to the Pico do Arieiro (4). Google maps lead you decent to this place – there is a weather station over there and a parking ring. Walk towards the observation platforms to see the mountains in the clouds under your feet.

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View from Pico do Arieiro observation platform

Afterwards we drove to Ribeiro Frio, to the famous Balconies (5). Our maps didn’t let us down here again. Drive until you see two restaurants (where you can try local specialty – poncho, a mix of fresh orange and lemon juices, hard alcohol and honey) on the both sides of the road and a souvenir shop. Park the car and follow the sign “Balcoes”. This track is the one of the shortest walks on Madeira, only 20 minutes one way. The weather when we were there wasn’t so nice, it was rainy and foggy, therefore the view from the Balcony was nice but one can imagine how beautiful it can be by transparent air.

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View from Balcoes

On the road to the balcony we met a very nice lady surrounded by her knitting.

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The knitting lady

Next destination was one of Levada walks – Caldeirao Verde (6). Here our Google maps were helpless. Therefore, my description how to reach the entrance follows. The walk starts in Queimadas on the altitude 883 m. When you drive from Funchal on the speedway, in the circle in Santana next to the supermarket Continente take the third exit, then bend 100 m with this road to the right direction Queimadas. The street will get very narrow (if there is oncoming traffic, there is a problem) and ends after 4,5 km on a big parking lot. Here you are, where the tours start. Choose the one called Caldeirao Verde, it’s picturesque (jungle feeling, a waterfall, several tunnels), about 6 km round trip, and it takes about 3,5 hours to make it. Don’t forget good hiking shoes, a torch and some water.

On the way back we had luck (literally, a lot of fog): the entrance of the track turned to a magic place – like from a fairy tale about some princess lost in the woods.

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Mysterious Levada

After this tour we were pretty exhausted, because our shoes caused strong ache in the feet (though they were very good quality, but the form simply didn’t suit to my form of foot) and we could not walk properly anymore. Nevertheless, we did it to São Lourenço (7), the most eastern part of the island and walked a bit (I walked barefoot) to enjoy the landscape very different from what we have seen before. Before it was all about jungle feeling, and now it was absolutely empty and dry.

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Peninsula Sao Lourenco

Day 3 (full day on the island)

In the morning visit the market in Funchal (Mercado de los labradores, open 10-18, https://www.visitportugal.com/es/content/mercado-de-los-labradores). Various fresh fish is being “carved” here. Besides, many exotic fruit are presented there – maracuja lemon, maracuja orange, maracuja tomato, anana (banana and pineapple) and many others. However, they are very expensive – 20-25€/kg, what is unreasonably high price.

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Market in Funchal

If you insist on swimming in the ocean (which is very cold for me, no jokes that I’m a Russian here, please), visit the natural swimming pools in lava rocks (follow the signs “piscinas naturales”) in Porto Moniz in the northwest corner of the island (8). There are two swimming pools: to the left hand a “cultured” one, where you have changing rooms and other practicalities and pay for the entry, and to the right hand a “wild one” that is for free. The temperature of the water was about 17-18 degrees, so we didn’t risk going swimming.

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Natural swimming pools in Porto Moniz

If you are leaving the town direction Calheta, make a short stop on the viewpoint above the city: the view is undoubtedly picturesque.

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View to Porto Moniz from above

In the north-west part of the island half of a road is going through tunnels: the old road which leads along the shore is partly broken and therefore dangerous – a car can easily break down to the ocean.

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Great infrastructure

For a lunch break stop at the restaurant “Rocha Mar Marisqueira”, Vila da Calheta, Avenida D. Manuel 1 (http://www.madeira-restaurants.com/pt/calheta/rocha-mar) (9). There we tried (and liked) Bacalhau com Nata (codfish overbaked in cream cheese) and Filete de Espada (scabbard fish that looks like barracuda). Price for a fish dish is about 12-14 €.

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Scabbard fish

If you place your parking ticket face-down, the fine will be only 4 €. We learned it occasionally when parking in Calheta. Good tip if you are planning to stay longer than 4 hours;). By the way, you can park in the cities for free after 20 o’clock. Otherwise you pay around 1€ for 75 minutes parking.

In Calheta village walk along the stony beach with a small pattern of white sand brought from Morocco.

On the way back to Funchal (or the place you stay if otherwise), drop by in the small fisherman village Camara de Lobos (10) with its little haven full of colorful boats.

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Camara do Lobos

In the evening we went to the cinema in the big shopping complex “Madeira Shopping” (11) (http://www.madeirashopping.pt/). Free parking, good choice of shops, huge supermarket – modern and convenient center. The movies usually run in original language with Portuguese subtitles. In the middle of the movie there is a WC pause, that is pretty clever, I would say.

Day 4 (first half a day on the island)

In Funchal there are two gardens – Botanical garden “Jardim Botanico” (12) and Tropical garden “Jardim tropico”. We went to the first one and enjoyed the proximity of plenty of cactuses, tropical plants and flowers growing along the cobblestoned ways.

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Botanical garden

The ticket to the cable car which starts in Jardim Botanico, round trip costs 12,75€ (there are as well two other cable cars, but they start in the center of Funchal and are more expensive). You arrive to the little village Monte (13) and enjoy a beautiful view to Funchal from the church hill. Under the hill many “basket-toboggan” drivers are waiting for the tourists who want to make a downhill trip with this unusual means of transport. Be aware, the cable car closes at 17:30.

The airport on Madeira (14) deserves a couple of lines as it is situated very close to the shore of the ocean and has a very short runway surrounded by high mountains. This makes it tricky to land for even the most experienced of pilots. The pilots get a special training to be able to land and take off on this island.

To sum up, Madeira is perfect for hikers, wanderers and nature lovers; beach buddies will be somehow disappointed. Whichever of these types you are, you can’t miss some local food and drinks: Portwein, Madeira wine, poncha, pastel de nata, scabbard fish, sweet potatoes with sugarcane syrup, lemon/orange/tomato maracuja and Super Bock beer.

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View to Funchal from Monte
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