I had visited Madeira only once, back in April 2022, for a long weekend. But I loved it so much that I recommended it to my parents as a destination to be considered for a month-long visit. Below were reasons I thought it would be a good extended-stay location:
Everyone was so friendly
Getting by in English was rather easy
It was safe, clean and beautiful
The food was amazing, and not terribly expensive
It was easy to get around
There were lots of things to do/see
The weather was temperate
After selling the idea to my folks, I decided to tag along. I thoroughly enjoyed spending the month of love and celebration on this delightful Portuguese island!
Despite technically being 'off-season', with Valentine's Day and Carnival both occurring in February, Madeira was alive with color, decorations, festivities, parades, music and performances.
The highlight of Carnival was the exuberant 'Allegoric Parade', which was held on Saturday 18th February, in Funchal. It featured about a dozen floats and more than 1,500 participants.
On Fat Tuesday (21st February 2023), the 'Cortejo Trapalhão' (AKA the Slapstick Parade) took place. I had no idea what was happening, and I didn't understand most of the satire, but it was random, hilarious and good fun!
As you can probably imagine, after such a long time spent in Madeira, I have quite a few recommendations (for dining, drinking, suntanning, hiking and visiting)...
Whilst in Madeira, I ate. Boy did I eat! Nearly every morsel I inhaled, from hole in the wall bistros to Michelin-starred eateries, did not disappoint. My favorite dinners were at the following venues (in no particular order):
Casal da Penha - This restaurant was not Michelin-starred, but Michelin did grant it a Bib Gourmand Award. This family-run restaurant was simple yet authentic. The terrace was adorable, with a view of a quaint church.
Vila do Peixe - Located in Câmara de Lobos, a pretty fishing village, five kilometers from Funchal, was another delicious 'Bib' restaurant. We selected our fish, like we were at a market (sea bass and parrot fish for us). The fishies were weighed and grilled immediately. They were served with fresh veggies, potatoes and a beautiful view of the sea.
Armazém do Sal - This rustic restaurant offered a contemporary take on traditional cuisine. I had ricotta ravioli with tempura asparagus, accompanied by a few glasses of Vinho Verde.
Terreiro - As far as romantic courtyards were concerned, this place took the cake. We were able to comfortably dine outside because of the heaters, which was a bonus.
Avista - With truly spectacular views, service and cuisine, this restaurant was deserving of its Michelin-star. I highly recommend the beef fillet, with lightly smoked mashed potatoes and barbecued pineapple. Wash it all down with a bottle of 2018 Casa da Passarella 'O Oenólogo' Vinhas Velhas.
Design Centre Nini Andrade Silva Restaurant - Located within a former fort, both the space itself and the food served were works of art. I actually ate here twice during my time in Madeira because it was so unique. Start with the scallop carpaccio. For mains, I enjoyed both the courgette-wrapped scabbard fish and the fillet of Black Angus. Save room for the chocolate gold dessert.
The Dining Room at Quinta da Casa Branca - The website did not do this place justice. Situated in a historic house, surrounded by gardens, The Dining Room was distinguished and elegant, but not pretentious. You really need to try the venison carpaccio with truffle ice cream to start. Mmmmmm!
Kampo by Chef Júlio Pereira - This was my second time visiting this restaurant in as many trips to Madeira. Both times, I sat at the chef's table, which I highly recommend requesting when you book. The tuna tartare in a crunchy cone was the best starter. It sounds weird, but be sure to order the white chocolate, olive and passion fruit mousse for dessert.
Ákua - Kampo's (more fishy, less meaty) sister restaurant. The chef's table at Akua was smaller and more intimate than at Kampo. It turned out, after pulling up photos from my April 2022 trip, that I had the same two chefs as when I visited Kampo the first time (shout out to Rodolfo and A. Ferreira). I tasted nearly every appetizer on the menu and I recommend them all.
Il Gallo D'Oro - This culinary delight has well earned its two Michelin Stars. The 8-moment Top Experience menu + wine pairing (which was actually 12 courses), took 4-hours and was more of an edible 5* production than a meal. The cuisine was fresh, delicious and creative. It showcased a multitude of flavors using contemporary techniques and ingredients. Dishes ranged from gold foie gras hearts, to lobster with frozen gazpacho pearls and fancy breads/butters/salts to crab and suckling pig.
Some less formal spots that were well worth munching at (for lighter meals) included:
Whilst in Madeira, do as the Madeirans do...and drink Madeira wine, poncha and vino verde. I recommend consuming libations at the following watering holes:
Skybar Galaxy at Savoy Palace Rooftop (16th Floor) - You must pay €15 per person to enter, but then the cover charge gets deducted from your tab at the end.
Reid's Palace at the Belmond Hotel - This clifftop haven is classic and classy. Enjoy a libation alongside exquisite views on the terrace or a fancy cocktail in the Gastrobar.
Dash Cocktail Bar - The cocktails were sweet, but the space was cool and the staff were attentive.
Many of Madeira's beaches were rocky, but I recommend catching some rays at the following sandy beaches:
Calheta - Located west of Funchal, on Madeira's unspoiled southern shoreline. The sand was imported from the Sahara. The beach was quite small, but very pretty.
Machico - East of Funchal you'll find this beautiful beach, with its artificial yellow sand and clear waters, nestled within lush mountains.
Porto Santo Beach - To get here you need to take a 2.5-hour ferry from Funchal. But it's well worth the journey! Move over Greece, Italy and Spain, because this golden sand beach was awarded the title Best Beach in Europe 2022.
Seixal Beach - Ranked #3 on Europe's Best Beaches 2022 list, was the volcanic black sand beach located on the north western coast of Madeira. It was definitely one of the most beautiful beaches on the island.
Madeira was home to more than 2,500kms of hiking (mostly footpaths alongside a network of narrow canals called levadas). In my time on the island, I hiked the following three:
PR8 Ponta de São Lourenço (AKA Dragon's Tail) - Located at the far east of the island. This hike was moderately challenging and about 7.4km (there and back). Throughout the trek, I was rewarded with amazing coastal cliff and beautiful azure sea views.
PR9 Levada Do Caldeirão Verde Trail - You'll find this lush stroll in the north/central part of the island, in Queimadas. It was a flat 12km jungley hike, with a waterfall at the halfway point.
PR11 Levada dos Balcões - This was the perfect trail for a short, easy adventure (only 3km roundtrip). Be prepared for epic, dramatic views over Laurel Forest once you reach the balcony. Bring some birdseed with you if you fancy feeding the brave Firecrest birdies who will eat right from the palm of your hand.
Other Things To Do:
Visit the village of Santana, on the north coast of Madeira, to see the cute, small thatched roof A-framed houses.
Cape Girão (Cabo Girão) Skywalk - At 580 meters above sea level, this glass-floored viewing platform (the second highest in the world) offered exhilarating downward views of the Atlantic Ocean.
4x4 Jeep Tour - I did a few half day Jeep tours, to various parts of the island. I highly recommend using Madeira Offroad Tours (ask for João to be your driver).
Valley of the Nuns (AKA Curral das Freiras) - This village was built in the crater of an extinct volcano. It was once a place where nuns hid when pirates attacked Funchal. We didn't go to the actual village itself; instead we overlooked it from the Eira do Serrado viewpoint. The views were spectacular, and it was very peaceful up at 1,095 meters above sea level.
3D Museum - This interactive museum was goofy and fun for the whole family! Luckily, we had the place to ourselves so we could take endless pictures without any photobombers.
Funchal to Monte Cable Car - Take a 15-minute cable car up from downtown Funchal to Monte. Once in Monte, to your left you'll find Monte Palace and Tropical Gardens. I did not go but it looked beautiful online. To your left, after exiting the cable car, you'll find Babosas Village, where I suggest you stop and get a bite to eat and/or a drink, before carrying on further to the left, down to cable car #2, which takes you to the Botanical Gardens.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:
Must try typical Madeiran foods include: Scabbard fish with flambéed banana and passion fruit, limpets (sort of like mussels), bolo do coca (bread) and lupini beans (a bar snack).
If you take enough Bolts around the island you'll start to recognize the drivers.
According to my Apple weather app, in February, it was 59°F/15°C every single day, which was hilarious because the weather actually varied from hot to hail and everything in between. We experienced 75-mph winds, sand storms (from the Sahara), cloudy weather, rain and even a cracking thunder and lightning storm.