We enjoyed a lovely, relaxing week in Madeira in March - it was our first time there. I really appreciated reading all the tips on the Forum and thought I'd share our adventures. Apologies in advance for waffling - I hope it may be useful and if anyone has any questions, feel free to get in touch.
Monday 19th March 2018
Arrived in Madeira after a 3 hour, 35 min flight from BHX with Jet2. It was the first time we travelled with Jet2 and we were impressed - everything was well organised, their prices were reasonable, the flights were on time and the transfers worked well. After a 25 minibus ride, we arrived at our hotel, the Pestana Village Hotel. Unpacked, then pottered into Funchal. It was downhill going and took us about 25 mins but coming back, the hill felt steep and took more like 30-35 mins and felt like an effort, but maybe I am just unfit! The blue skies and sunshine were most welcome – it was 21c. We left snow and temperatures of -1 at home!
Walked along the harbour and stopped for our first of many gelatos. Continued along the seafront to the Old Town with it’s cobbled, windy streets and painted doorways. It was time for dinner, so we chose Taberna Ruel and opted for a table outside. Brian had the local speciality Black Scabbard Fish with banana followed by Tiramisu. By 7.30pm, the sun was setting, so we wandered back to the hotel.
Tuesday 20th March 2018
After a leisurely breakfast, we left the hotel and pottered towards the Lido. Enjoyed gelatos whilst admiring the majestic sea views. We then doubled back and walked into Funchal, first stopping at the pink Presidential Palace for a look around their gardens. Paid 1 euro per person to walk around for about 20 minutes. There were no signs that we spotted - the man on the gate told us to pay the ladies in a little office building at the right hand side-just in side the gate. It was packed with lots of colourful plants such as Birds of Paradise. Aviaries contained birds from parrots to peacocks and budgies. The highlight was the sweeping balcony with pink bougainvillea and magnificent views of Funchal and the harbour -worth the entrance fee alone in my opinion.
Exited the large gates into Santa Caterina Park, a public space with fountains, ducks and swans. Relaxed on a bench – the weather was warm and we welcomed some spray from the fountain! Walked downhill into Funchal centre and looked inside the Cathedral (free to enter). We then mooched at the outdoor crafty stalls in the Municipal Gardens, which featured beautiful, colourful plant displays in the borders.
After a siesta, we stayed in the Lido area and went for dinner at nearby Mamma Mia Italian restaurant – complete with Abba music. We both opted for pizza, which were delicious.
Wednesday 21st March 2018
After a 7am alarm call, we were collected by our guide, "Elvis" at 8.30am for our Tour of the East. Firstly headed towards Camacha, where lots of wicker goods were sold and there were nice views. Heading upwards towards the mountains, we encountered lots of loose sheep on the road who had broken free – there were hundreds of them, including cute lambs running around causing chaos for the traffic.
It was cold and misty this far up, so we headed for Ribeiro Rio, where we stopped at a tiny village and saw a Trout Farm, followed by a 45 minute Levada Walk through dramatic scenery, which was exhilarating. The Levada is the irrigation system in Madeira. The air smelt really fresh and subtly of pine. Arrived at the Balcoes viewpoint, which was packed with a large group. We were really high up and the mountains looked very dramatic.
We descended down steep slopes and drove to Santana, where we were lucky to see inside someone’s A-frame traditional thatched house in red and white. The owner was welcoming and even offered us liqueur and biscuits (we tipped him 1 euro each). The house’s gardens were lush with birds of paradise. We then drove to see more of these pretty houses, presented as little museums and shops. At 1pm we went for lunch in Faial in a cave restaurant which was very atmospheric.
We sat with our fellow tour-mates from Oz and Denmark. Enjoyed three courses – vegetable soup, black scabbard fish with banana for B and omelette for D and a delicious passion fruit pana cotta. This full day tour cost 40 euros per person and was booked via the Hotel with M&J Agencia de Viagens. We continued to Machico, where there was a golden, sandy beach. Walked along the seafront, watching the waves crash, then found a Gelateria. . We were dropped off back at our hotel by 4pm.
Had a siesta then stayed locally and had dinner at Casa Madeirense, a typical Madeiran Restaurant. This was a quaint, pretty madeiran restaurant with great service and tasty food.
Thursday 22nd March 2018
After breakfast we set off on our trek to Camara de Lobos. The Coastal Walk was recommended but we were told by the hotel that a recent storm had made some of the walk impassable so we would need to use some of the roads. That meant it took approx. 3 hours but we loved looking at the scenery. Started by walking to the Lido, then continued along the coastal path, going up and down according to the coastline. Passed villages and banana farms and eventually arrived at the quaint village of Camara de Lobos.
Brightly coloured boats were in the small harbour. After our long trek, we chose an outdoor café and enjoyed toasties on garlic bread. Mooched in the gift shops, then walked uphill to the bus stop. A helpful, uniformed bus guy sold us tickets back to the bus stop near our hotel for 2, 20 euros. It was a rickety old bus – it looked like something from the 50s but it was just good to sit down.
After a siesta, we returned to Casa Madeirense for dinner then treated ourselves to wine/cocktails at the beautiful Reid’s Palace near our hotel. The views across the bay were fabulous, service was attentive and it was a pleasure to be in such a gorgeous building which apparently was where Winston Churchill stayed.
Friday 23rd March 2018
After a leisurely breakfast, we wandered into Funchal and bought our cable car and botanical gardens combined tickets for approx. 30 euros pp. Queued for 10 minutes and got on the 6 person capacity cable car. There were seats for us all and we enjoyed the spectacular views for approx. 10 minutes. Once we got to the top – Monte, we got the other cable car to the Botanical Gardens. Again, it was very hilly, with a beautiful white house in the centre. The gardens featured everything from cacti to bougainvillea. Had a rest at the café with a welcome breeze. Devoured passion fruit cheesecake and drinks. The sweeping views of Funchal from here were amazing.
Next to the café were ornamental ponds with very noisy frogs. Caught the cable car back and ascended the hill to Monte where we paid 30 euros for a wicker toboggan ride downhill for 2k. It went incredibly quickly and so fast! It was so exciting – a real adrenalin rush. Traffic was stopped as we shot down the steep roads. Photographers took our photo when we were halfway down and we were presented with a photograph pack at the bottom (for 10 euros). Then had to get a taxi back up to Monte (we were charged 25 euros for a 5-10 minute car ride!).
The next stop was the Tropical Gardens and the entrance fee was 12, 50 euros pp. These orientally-inspired gardens were stunning. Lots of hilly pathways and we meandered down through pretty pink/purple/white azaleas to an outdoor café where we stopped for cold drinks and orange muffins. Some tame chaffinches joined us and snaffled the muffin crumbs. Walked uphill to another oriental garden area which was so tranquil and beautiful. There were plenty of large koi carp, swans and lizards.
We then popped up to the church, before catching the cable car back down at 5pm. We had a car to ourselves and loved the views. Walked along Funchal harbour and chose Restaurante Mansqueria Solar de Santola. Sat right next to the water – we could see the fish swimming by the rocks and also the many boats in the harbour. B had “beef on a stone”, which he cooked himself. A lovely, relaxing end to a wonderful day.
Saturday 24th March 2018
Walked into Funchal to visit the Market. The flower stalls were pretty with birds of paradise, bulbs, etc. Bought some souvenirs downstairs before passing the fruit and veg stalls to look at the fruit and spice staffs upstairs.
Afterwards we headed into the town centre, stopping for gelatos on the way. Enjoyed them in a little square where music filled the air. Made our way back to our hotel and spent the afternoon relaxing. . Popped into the Miramar’s cocktail bar for cocktails. I had a fab Grasshopper and B had wine. Haven’t seen Grasshoppers on the menu for ages! The Miramar is joined to our hotel and is an old manor house – furnished like a country house hotel. Enjoyed a pleasant, relaxing time in the bar listening to Sinatra and Buble. We were the only ones there!
Sunday 25th March 2019
After a lazy morning, we walked for a approx. 25 minutes to the Forum Shopping Centre as we love C&A and don't have it any more in England. Stopped for gelato and drinks then wandered back in the warm sunshine to our hotel.
After a siesta, we walked into Funchal and re-visited the harbour side Restaurante Mansqueria Solar de Santola, which we really liked.
We loved our holiday to Madeira - such a beautiful island with genuinely, warm kind people. We'll be back!