10 Things to do in Madeira Island and Funchal


Let's go find out 10 amazing things to do in Madeira Island and Funchal

When you’re in the remote Atlantic Ocean on the same latitude as North Africa there are things that you wouldn’t expect to find in a European region. On the Madeira Archipelago that might be subtropical laurel forest tended by an eternal spring-like climate and soils that allow almost any flora to thrive. The island of Madeira has natural landscapes can make you gasp, and what’s great is that they’re easy to discover on mountain roads or via historic irrigation channels known as “levadas”. You don’t have to venture into the mountains to enjoy the natural abundance as there are a host of botanical gardens with a assortment of plants. And the ocean awaits, for whale-spotting expeditions and dives in clear, mild waters.

Lets explore the best things to do in Madeira:

1.Funchal cable car  2.Panoramic drives 3.Hiking to Pico Ruivo  4.Levada walks  5.Cabo Girão  6.Monte sledges  7.Monte Palace tropical garden  8.Vareda dos Balções  9.Boat trips  10.Madeira wine

1. FUNCHAL CABLE CAR


Following the route of an old steam railway line is a modern cable car system whisking you up from Almirante Reis to Funchal’s upper suburb of Monte.
There’s usually a queue but it always moves quickly, and then you’ll have 15 minutes to soak up the views of the ocean and the terraced mountainsides clustered with white houses.
There are plenty of reasons to make the trip, from the photo-friendly views to the Monte Palace Tropical Garden or the Church where Emperor Charles I is buried.
But something curious awaits you at the top; people in white outfits and boater hats ushering you into a basket toboggan for a ride down the slope to the centre of Funchal.

2. PANORAMIC DRIVES


One of many cool things about Madeira is that despite its rough terrain there’s a good road system.
These routes wend through astonishing natural scenery, saving you an onerous hike.
Most of these were built at great expense and took years to complete.
On the north coast you have to experience the VE2 from São Vicente to Porto Moniz, which has near constant ocean vistas and clings to the precipitous green coastline.
There are waterfalls along the way, and you can take a detour to Seixal to take a dip in the rock pools.
Also stupendous is the twisting road that climbs from Funchal to Curral das Freiras deep in Madeira’s interior about half an hour away.

3. HIKING TO PICO RUIVO


If you’re up for the challenge, Madeira’s highest peak (1,862m) is walkable if you have the right shoes and keep up to date on weather conditions.
The route for sure-footed hikers begins at the Pico do Arieiro and takes around six hours.
Although there are shorter, more manageable paths to the peak (like from Achada do Teixeira), this trail will present you with the most beautiful scenery.
Words can only say so much about the majesty of the views along the path and on the summit.
The rocky mountainscapes are given a green tint by mosses, ferns and heather, and you’ll want to stop for photos of the bird-life and lizards on the way.

4. LEVADA WALKS


Madeira Island’s topography means that most of the rain falls in the north and northwest, while the southeast can be dry.
So beginning in the 1500s and taking cues from the Moors, dozens of channels were carved along winding upland routes to deliver water to drier areas.
By virtue of their role these channels have made some dramatic and impassable locations approachable.
One of the best routes is the Levada dos 25 Fontes, taking you past the marvellous 100-metre Risco Waterfall.
The Levada do Caldeirão Verde meanwhile is from the 1700s and carries water from Madeira’s highest mountains to Faial near the north coast and coursing though the marvellous São Jorge Valley.

5. CABO GIRÃO


In 2012 a “skywalk” was installed on this 580-metre-high cliff on Madeira’s south coast.
This is only for people with a head for heights because the platform overhangs the edge of the cliff and has glass floor tiles that give you a clear, dizzying view to the ocean far below.
If this is your kind of thing you’ll be doubly happy to know it’s absolutely free.
As you peer down, you’ll notice that the narrow strip of land between the cliff wall and ocean has been divided into little farms.
And on the east side of the platform you’ll be treated to wonderful views of Funchal.

6. MONTE SLEDGES


In Madeira you will find a very special form of transport, the “Monte sledge” made of basketwork. It’s an unmissable experience.
One of Madeira Island most famous attraction are the famous sledge rides. These cars are made ​​of wicker and wood, and has two or three seats.
These sledges are powered by two carreiros, or sledge drivers wearing white uniforms and straw hats, who control this mean of transportation by making use of their boots as brakes.
This journey takes place between Monte and Funchal and is done in about 10m. in a distance of 2 km, providing tourists with an experience filled with pure emotion.

7. MONTE PALACE TROPICAL GARDEN


The first thing you’ll see after emerging from the cable car terminal in Monte is the entrance to these exquisite gardens.
They are laid out on the terraced slopes around the former Monte Palace Hotel, which was built in a Rhenish Revival style at the start of the 20th century.
There are medical plants, herb beds, cacti, heather from Scotland, European azaleas, local laurel forest and cycads from South Africa.
You can also pause by the Japanese garden, which has a pagoda and pond with koi carp.
Azulejos also appear amid the foliage, most memorably telling the story of the Portuguese in Japan on a large panel with 166 tiles.

8. VAREDA DOS BALCÕES


The destination is glorious but the journey is also unforgettable as you weave through forest with orchids, Madeira mahogany, Madeira blueberries, but also some exotic species like plane trees and English oaks.
The belvedere is the icing on the cake, with a front row view of a misty mountain cirque on the Metade Valley.
In the distance the sharp peaks give way to rolling hills planted with crops.

9. BOAT TRIPS


There are some companies offering to take you out into the ocean to spot whales and dolphins.
And while you’re never guaranteed to make a sighting, the skippers know the waters and what signs to look out for.
For instance a sudden flock of seabirds is usually a sign that cetaceans are close.
Some 20 different kinds of dolphins and whales have been recorded off Madeira, more than a fifth of all species in the wild.
Summer is the best season and if you’re in luck you might see a pilot whales, sperm whales and Bryde’s whales, while bottlenose and spotted dolphins are common at any time of year.

10. MADEIRA WINE


Another thing to do as soon as you arrive in Funchal is to get acquainted with Madeira’s eponymous fortified wine.
Depending on the quality this beverage will have been aged in special warm conditions for years (some vintages sold are a century old). Blandy’s Wine Lodge is a good start, shining a light on 200 years of winemaking on this archipelago.
If you book a premium tour and tasting, you’ll be shown around the cooperage where the barrels are made, find out how the negra mole grapes are turned into wine and see the ageing vats made from Brazilian satinwood.

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