Madeira: Here are 5 cool experiences to try is written by Laura Graf.
The whole world on a single island
There are not many places in the world where you can cruise around the catamaran and swim with dolphins in the morning, have lunch in an old farmhouse, hike through lush green landscapes in the afternoon, sip sweet wine under the banana trees after dinner and end the day on top of a mountain watching the sun go down above the clouds . But you can on your Madeira trip.
Portugal Atlantic island of Madeira is not that big, but the island is full of adventure and offers incredible nature, delicious local delicacies and a hospitality beyond the usual. The climate is mild regardless of the season, and Madeira is therefore the obvious destination all year round.
Explore the heights
It's no secret that the nature of Madeira is magnificent. You literally drop your jaw, pretty much every time you make a turn on the spectacular road up and down the mountains. Tour operators like Adventure Kingdom arranges hikingture to any fitness level and takes you along the 'levadas' - the island's branched network of irrigation canals that carry water from the mountains down to the fields and to people's private gardens.
The lush green surroundings, temperature and humidity change markedly as you move up and down in the heights, so there is always something new to look at along the way. Many of the hiking trails takes you past waterfalls where you can hop in and take a dip and get some renewed energy for the next part of the hike.
Do you feel a little more adventurous? Then a ride in a jeep is just what you need. Hit the Road Madeira make trips away from the famous places and show you some of Madeira's hidden treasures. The cars are extremely robust, so you can get around the island's steepest roads and take a detour through the banana plantations. That way you can sit and drink 'poncha' - the local cocktail - in a nice way old school cafe in the mountains at ten in the morning and swim around the rocky lakes on the other side of the island an hour later.
The company also has sunrise and sunset tours on the menu; it is an experience not to be missed when you are in Madeira. Watching the sunset on top of a 1800 meter high mountain surrounded by a sea of clouds - it really can matter!
Stand at sea
Madeira does not have the beautiful white sandy beaches, but just bring your swimwear anyway, because there is plenty of other things to do in and on the water. Madeira's south coast is a little more protected from Atlantic strong winds and is therefore a good area to explore in a kayak. You will find kayak rentals in most towns along the coast and even up north at Carniçao - the uninhabited peninsula with its rugged shapes is beautiful to experience from the water.
If you exist surfing, then head to the north side of the island where the wind is stronger and the waves are higher. Most beaches are for experienced surfers, but you can also easily find surf schools that have courses for beginners.
Are you more for chill and relaxing adventures, then hop on a catamaran. Operators such as VMT Madeira takes you out to sea for a refreshing and life-giving swim in the deep blue water - snorkeling equipment is included. You may even be lucky enough to see dolphins and whales on the trip.
Doesn't it really feel like a vacation without a walk on the beach? Then you have the opportunity to visit the neighboring island of Porto Santo, which, among other things, differs from Madeira by having beautiful sandy beaches. It is worth considering combining the two islands on the trip, because both islands have great experiences.
Visit the old mansions in Madeira
In the old days, Madeira's mansions, called "quintas", were popular destinations for those who wanted to enjoy the clean salty air as well as trade travelers who came past Madeira on their way across the Atlantic.
Today, many of the quintas have been transformed into elegant country hotels with beautiful gardens and parks, small vineyards and swimming pools. The mix of local architecture and British style and ambiance makes the quintas a unique place to live.
Even if you do not spend the night on a quinta, you can stop by for lunch or dinner at one of the former mansions, for example at Quinta do Furão, perched on top of a steep cliff with stunning views of Madeira's coastline. Book a table on the terrace so you can enjoy your dinner overlooking the sea.
Quinta da Casa Branca is a five star boutique hotel close to the capital Funchal in the middle of a thriving botanical garden. The hotel's fine restaurant offers a modern food in a classic setting, while the restaurant in the garden pavilion is definitely worth a visit for tea time, as you will be offered homemade scones and cakes in colorful surroundings.
Enjoy the local delicacies
When we talk food and drinks, you have to try some of Madeira's delicacies. UauCacau in the center of Funchal is a small chocolate shop that makes heavenly pralines filled with local ingredients like Madeira wine, passion fruit, banana, cherries and more. They are each worth a calorie and are also an excellent souvenir that you can share with friends and family at home as a reminder of your Madeira trip.
Once you have stopped counting calories anyway, you might as well continue with Queijada de Madeira, which is delicious baked goods with cottage cheese that is only made here on the island.
Rinse the 'sweet sins' down with a glass of poncha, which is traditionally made with lemon juice, honey and sugar cane schnapps. The more modern version springs your taste buds with a mix of vodka and passion fruit.
If the stomach can hold on to more, try a Nikita; an exotic drink that is said to have been named after a song by Elton John. It consists of a mixture of pineapple juice, vanilla ice cream, fresh pineapple, sugar and beer - but the non-alcoholic version is also nice.
Are you looking for something more sophisticated? Then Madeira wine is probably what you should go for. The dry version is often enjoyed as an aperitif, while the sweet varieties go really well with the dessert. You can learn a lot more about the different ones vine - and how the now popular wine was discovered by chance - by visiting one of the local producers and getting a tour of the winery. You will hardly find a better memory of your Madeira trip.
Drinks with a view - Madeira is perfect for sundowners
What's the best thing about being on an island? Of course, there are sea views all around. And the very best thing is to sit with an ice cold drink in hand and watch the sun dive under the water out on the horizon.
One of the best places to enjoy his sundowner er Maktub Pub, also popular with locals, in Paúl do Mar about 45 minutes drive from Funchal. The small bar is located right next to the beach, so you can fit in the front row for nature's spectacular show.
Another great place for sunset - and drinks - is on the terrace at Estalagem da Ponta do Sol. The hotel is built on a cliff above the sea and therefore offers uninterrupted sea views.
Did you know that Hawaiian ukulele actually originates from Madeira? The island's own Tiki Bar celebrates the special bond between the two islands. The bar's colorful and detailed décor almost makes you feel like you've ended up on a tropical island in the South Seas.
So far is Pukiki Tiki Bar a bit of a secret that only the locals know as it is hidden a bit out of the way in the small town of Estreito da Calheta. The tasty drinks are painstakingly made from local ingredients such as Madeira rum and gin along with homemade syrup of various kinds. The large selection of cocktails and other drinks means that there is definitely one for you - or probably closer to three.
Madeira must be experienced with all the senses - have a good trip and have fun with it all!
What to see on your Madeira trip?
- Pico Ruivo - Madeira's highest mountain peak
- Camara de Lobos
- Madeira Botanical Garden
- Funchal Cathedral
- Gabo Girão - the view cliff on the south coast
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