Madeira Island 🌺
Madeira is a still unspoilt island with an overwhelming flow of flowers, which is why it is sometimes called the flower island. The landscapes are spectacular. Travelers who love peace and nature are certainly in their place here and the sea is never far away. Together with Porto Santo, Ilhas Desertas and Ilhas Selvagens, which is located about 700 km west of Africa and 850 km southwest of Portugal, the island forms the well-known Portuguese archipelago.
Approximately 7.500.000 overnight stays are made by tourists every year in Madeira, but it is estimated that only 270.000 people live there, including 5500 in Porto Santo. Madeira is known for its many levadas that are scattered throughout the island. 2000 km of levadas would have been built over time. Because the irrigation canals, with the accompanying paths, are still well maintained, many walks along the narrow levadas are possible. We therefore made several in every corner of the green island. The archipelago is an autonomous region of Portugal and therefore lies in the European Union. The legal means of payment is therefore the Euro. It is very safe there, because in Madeira there is virtually no crime.
The climate of Madeira 🌞
The climate of Madeira is fantastic. The average annual temperature and sea temperature is 18,80 ° C, making Madeira a top destination for hikers. There is a subtropical maritime climate with mild temperatures all year round. It can rain regularly, but especially in the north and in the mountains. On the south side (Funchal) it rains much less and the levadas are used to drain water from the mountains to villages and pastures in the dry south. Madeira is not really a beach destination, but you can certainly swim in the sea.
There are some sandy beaches with sprayed sand from Morocco, where you can sunbathe and swim in a sheltered place. You can also cool off in the natural swimming pools on warmer days. Due to the many mountains, different climate zones can be distinguished on the flower island of Madeira. With a rather subtropical zone on the coast (bananas & mangos) and in the higher areas, from 300 meters above sea level, a more Mediterranean climate zone (corn & wheat). Even higher, above 700 meters, you will find Laurel forests that you only find on Madeira and Tenerife. In the summer months it can get very hot on the south coast, due to the hot dry wind from Africa. Thanks to the relief, the regular rainfall and the many hours of sunshine, Madeira has an enormously varied fauna and flora.
Best time to visit the flower island of Madeira 🌺
The best season to come to Flower Island Madeira for walking is between April and June. This is the best time to see flowers. In the summer it is warmer, but also busier. For us it could have been a degree or 3 warmer during the day, but otherwise we found April an ideal month for walking. On most days the afternoon temperature was around the 20 à 21 degrees. The sea temperature was fresh with 19 degrees, maybe a little too cool to be able to swim in a relaxed way and without full sun you couldn't get me in. The swimming pool water was not heated in April and with a degree of 19 ° C it was also a bit too "cold". In the summer the temperature rises slightly to around 22 ° C to 23 ° C for both the afternoon temperature and the seawater temperature.
Accessibility Madeira ✈️
We had a direct connection with Transavia from Amsterdam to Madeira, but not from Brussels Airport. That is why we took the Thalys to Schiphol in Brussels. Another option was to depart from Brussels Airport (Zaventem) with TAP, but then we had to transfer in Porto or Lisbon. Tui also flies directly from Brussels, but was more expensive at the time. The best way to find out which is the best and cheapest flight to Madeira is to use a search engine such as Momondo. You can then choose to book directly with an airline of your choice or via momondo.
Cruise ships à volonté 🛳️
Every year, 300 cruise ships dock in the port of Funchal. If you are going to Madeira on a cruise, you will moor at the gate of Funchal for 2 to 4 days, depending on the program. You can then book excursions at the many kiosks that you will find along the quay of Funchal. For example, we booked a catamaran trip to look for dolphins and whales. We saw three different types of dolphins. We even saw hundreds of common dolphins at the same time. More information at “Madeira sights”.
Eating and drinking in Madeira 🍴
In every village along the coast or in the mountains there are plenty of options for something to eat or drink. Fresh cooking is used in almost every restaurant or cafe. You usually see the food prepared in semi-open kitchens or they ask you to come and look at the freshly caught fish. It is absolutely not expensive in a restaurant and we went out for lunch or dinner almost every day. In particular, the cheap black Scabbardfish is offered almost everywhere for lunch or dinner. The black fish is a long creepy fish with large eyes and sharp teeth. He has such big eyes because the fish live so deep in the ocean.
What else is on the menu?
Bacalhau (stockfish) is also often on the menu. This fish was included in the buffet that we ate on the terrace right in front of Jardim Municipal do Funchal. Other traditional dishes are fish stew with potatoes, tomatoes and coriander (Caldeirada de Peixe) and hair-tailed fish with bananas (Espada com Banana). A coke or beer costs all over the island between 1 euros and 1,50 euros. For a complete meal, it's best to consider 10 à 12 euros, including drinks. The beer that is brewed on Madeira is called Coral and can be compared to a normal Belgian beer.
Eating out and coffee ☕️
Because people in Madeira do not take an extensive breakfast, you will see small bars everywhere, where you can buy all kinds of cakes that are eaten mainly as a snack in the morning. During the weekend, Madeirans like to eat in the evenings in restaurants along the coast. During the week, cheap lunch menus are offered in Funchal for employees working in the center. The meal is then usually closed with a sweet dessert and coffee. The coffee that is drunk there is either an espresso (Bica), a normal filter coffee (Chino), coffee-wrong (a Galáo) or typical for Madeira is a Chinesa (coffee with way too much milk). A small (faint) coffee with milk is called a Garoto.
Mountains, rivers and trout fishing in Madeira ⛰️
Madeira is surprisingly mountainous with spectacular hiking trails that sometimes lead you to the top of mountains above 1800 meters. One of the most beautiful hikes we took was to the top of the highest mountain, Pico Ruivo (1862m). Sometimes very narrow hiking trails run along levadas, which take you to the most remote places. You walk along steep cliffs, gorges and even behind waterfalls. Sometimes the hike starts in full fog, but as you climb higher, the fog banks become thinner until you suddenly continue walking in full sun. The nice thing about those levadas is that sometimes trout swims in them. My son caught many. Note: You need a fishing license in Madeira to be able to fish in fresh and / or salt water. The trout are released every year for anglers in the countless rivers and sometimes there are large fish among them that have never been caught. Read my blog post here “Trout fishing in Madeira".
Walking on Madeira
Madeira is one of the best walking islands in the world and usually de reason why you come to Madeira on vacation. The walking routes are beautiful, varied, passable and sufficiently marked. There are various maps and apps on the market that can help you find your way better. Most routes are well maintained and on the way or at the end you usually come across a cafe where you can drink or eat something. There are so many walks on the small island that it never gets too crowded on the hiking trails. In addition to the flower island, Madeira is sometimes also called the hiking island.
Depart earlier on the busy PR routes
On the more famous walking routes there are of course more people and it can get a little busier, but you can avoid that by leaving earlier. Most walkers arrive with buses around 9u30 at the parking spaces provided. The period when we were there, namely in the Belgian Easter holidays (early April), it was never really busy. I suspect it will be busier from May and during the summer months. Levada walks are very popular because the walks have a small slope. And also because you can admire the beautiful landscape along well-maintained paths along the levadas. More than 25 PR hiking trails have been signposted by Madeira's tourist office. Some of the nicest walking routes I will describe later on my blog.
Our vacation stay in Funchal
We stayed on the south coast in a rented apartment Atlantic Gardens, that we found through HomeAway. The apartment complex, with a heated swimming pool in winter, is located right on Praia Formosa beach. Even with the sliding windows closed you could still hear the sound of the sea. Jan, the landlord of the apartment was waiting for us at the entrance and gave us a tour. At his recommendation, we went out for dinner just outside the grounds on the edge of the parking lot. Good food and friendly staff. The price for 4 times fish with potatoes, five drinks and two ice creams was a total of 52 euros. We stayed on the 4de floor and could enjoy the sunset every evening on the terrace.
The beds were a bit on the firm side for us, but we got used to it quickly and then we slept well. The beach and the sea are accessible through a gate at the pool, but it was too fresh in April and the sea sometimes too turbulent to swim in the sea. The apartment was equipped with two fairly large terraces arranged in such a way that you had a lot of privacy. Highly recommended. On the next trip to Madeira, we will definitely consider renting the same apartment.
Renting a car in Madeira 🚘
If you want to explore the flower island smoothly, you actually need a car. The roads are very well maintained and the accessibility of villages and coastal towns has improved a lot since the expansion of the road network with more than a hundred tunnels at the end of the '90. They really did their best here. For example, we only drove 45 minutes to get from Funchal to Porto Moniz. You then drive through 26 tunnels, some of which are more than 3 km long. I can't think about how long it would take without those tunnels.
Car rental Sixt
This year we rented from Sixt, which you can easily find in the hall that follows the hall where you pick up the luggage. We had to wait a long time, because the employees made a rather large explanation. They always want to sell you an extra insurance, but I always take one together when renting the car. I usually look for a car through the search engine of the airline, but you can also arrange that through Momondo of cheaptickets.
In the parking lot, the landlord showed a list with examples of “minor accidents” that will not be charged afterwards. These are scratches and small bumps of so many centimeters. This was the first time I saw such a list. Even though I had taken out extra insurance (60 euros), it still gives a reassuring feeling that you will not end up in a paper shop for the smallest scratch.
Always pay attention when you "do your round" with the car rental company. When we were back in the parking lot after two weeks to return the car, there was a tourist in discussion with Sixt about an asterisk in the window that would be charged. So always take a few photos of the rented car when collecting to avoid discussions. The car had to be returned here filled with fuel. At a small 10 km from Funchal to the airport there is another gas station along the road. Make sure that the fuel tank is always completely filled up, so that the car rental company does not charge any extra fuel costs afterwards.
Public transportation on Madeira 🚌
Public transport is very well organized and therefore certainly an alternative. Because the island is so mountainous and the roads steep, there are many stops foreseen. We were there 13 days and didn't want to waste time waiting for a bus everywhere. The car we rented was a Renault Megan and strong enough to take the steep roads. Sometimes our GPS sent us to our destination via another smaller route. We were shocked a few times by the slope of these streets. You really don't want to stop on a road like that.
Tip1: One person waits for the suitcases while another person immediately goes to the rental desk. Not even five minutes, after we joined Sixt, a dozen people came in after us!
Tip2: Rent early. You can always cancel the car later up to one week before departure. The price for the Renault Megane the week before departure was more than double for the exact same car. We booked 6 months before departure!
Tip3: Do not lose time in the parking lot and program all known addresses in your GPS device in advance. We used the app "Here" and Google maps alternately. The maps can be downloaded in advance and can be used offline for free.
Extra video: A glimpse of Madeira's beauty 📽️
On our trips and hikes I made small movies and made a you-tube movie. It is the intention that I will add a few more videos later in the description of the walks, so that you get a better idea of the type of walk you can expect.