We spent a week on Madeira in the last week in August before the school holidays finished.
We booked what looked like a large house with pool and sea view somewhat above our usual price range and I wasn't sure what to expect. Well, we had the rare experience of the accomodation being exactly as advertised! A lovely sea view over the Arco da Calheta. The pool was large enough to almost swim lengths and play improvised water polo. The accomodation included a jacuzzi and a sauna, neither of which ended up using since the pool was enough. Perfect.
When picking up the car at the airport, a 1.2 litre Citroen, the lady at the desk was trying to get me to upgrade to a more powerful car for 200 Euro. She justified this given that Madeira had plenty of steep hills and given that there would be four of us in the car 1.2 litres might not be enough. I figured this was just a scam and chose not to. Well, I hadn't expected the roads to be quite so steep, especially off the main ones. Lack of power meant going uphill was largely done in first gear, unable to change up into second. Should we come again, I will try a more powerful car.
A word on the road network on Madeira. I was really positively surprised by how well maintained and thought through the road network was. As mentioned above the roads were very steep at times, but the system of main roads was very easy to understand and to use. Essentially there are two levels of roads. Older ones, at the sea level, sometimes in need of a little maintenance. Whislst usually connecting the village, the idea of these roads was not to travel from village to village, but to access the local area (assesso local as the road signed indicated). About 50 metres above these local access roads, was the main road network, connecting the whole island. So to get from one village to another one further along, it would be more efficient to drive up to this level, get on the main roads and drive through the network of tunnels to your destination. The number of tunnels was astounding. Essentially these main roads are a set of tunnels which you only leave in order to get to the next village. So between two tunnels there would be a roundabout in order to get out of the tunnel network. Very simple and straightforward once you got the hang of it.
In addition I was also happy to see the driving was generally calm, unrushed and safe. Around Funchal you sometimes encountered someone in rush, probably because here there were two lanes in each direction. Once you were out of the city though, the roads were one lane each way, and being in a rush was simply of no use. Everyone drove at a reasonable speed, keeping a safe distance.
The climate and nature
We had a week of perfect weather. Not too hot, a little cloudy at times, pleasant in the evenings. Perfect. Up in the hills it was often cloudy, but down by the sea it was sunny. Madeira is full of Banana plantations on the hillsides around the coast. Higher up it takes on a distinct tropical feel. The terraced fields made it look like my memories of Bali. And some of the flora and fauna gave it a distinct Hawaii look and feel. Fantastic.
Day 1: Funchal
On the first full day we headed off to Funchal, had a walk around the sea front area and then got on the cable car up the hill to the Monte Park area. Here we walked around a little and visited the "Nossa Senhora do Monte" church.
We then walked all the steep 4km back down to the sea front. Our muscles thanked us the next day. An interesting aspect of this was walking alongside the levadas as we went. The levadas are a network of canals brining water from all over the island to where it is needed. Usually you follow these on the walks in the centre of the island. I wasn't expecting to walk next to them in Funchal. They do flow at quite a speed in the steep parts.
After the walk down, we sat in a poncha bar for a well deserved drink, before heading home.
Day 2: Madalena do mar
After the steep walk down the hill from Monte in Funchal, we needed a bit of a rest on the next day. So we spent the morning enjoying the house, pool and view, before heading off for lunch in the Madalena do Mar village. We had noticed the previous day, which was a Sunday, that this village had been closed off by the police due to festival taking place there. It seemed like the whole of Madeira was going as the roads for chock a block full in the other direction, including many many special service buses taking people to the area.
The village has a nice sea front with a peble beach. We sat down in the Restaurante Cantinho da Madalena restaurant for a lovely sea food meal. After that we headed to the Cascata dos Anjos watefall, which you can drive through with your car.
We finished off the day in the pool followed by a relaxing meal on the terrace watching the sunset.
Day 3: Fanal and Porto Moniz
Afer taking it easy the previous day, we got up a little earlier and headed up the hill to the Fanal forest. The drive up was steep. Very steep. If there hadn't been cars similar to mine driving up in front of me, I might well have just turned round and gone to the beach. So after 20km or so of being stuck in first gear, we reached the Fanal forest area, which was completely covered in clouds. So the walk to Fio that we wanted to do with breathtaking views of the other side of Madeira wasn't really worthwhile, as we couldn't see more than 50 metres or so ahead. Instead we walked around the Fanal forest area, headed to the Fanal lake and walked back through fields taking care not to annoy the cows!
After completing the walk around Fanal forest, we headed down the hill to the north side of the island to Porto Moniz. Here we enjoyed the views, then had a nice lunch before walking round the natural pools (we didn't bring our bathing suits...).
Finally we headed back to our house to enjoy another nice evening watching the sunset. The kids also discovered that the previous occupants of the house had left their Netflix account on the TV, so that sorted us out for the evening, once it was dark!
Day 4: Risco waterfall
A bit more relaxed, we had a later start and headed to the waterfall area to see the Risco waterfall, which is on the same path as the 25 waterfalls which are further along. We hiked down a steep road for about 40 minutes before reaching the cafe for a brief rest stop. After that we carried on and followed the path to the Risco waterfall, which was very impressive.
On the way back as we were discussing the merits of hiking back up the steep road or getting the bus, two buses turned up and made the decision for us. This shortened the day somewhat, but meant we had more time to relax back at the pool.
In the evening we then headed to the Calheta marina area for a lovely dinner and late evening walk.
Day 5: Hike at peninsula
The previous evening we had stayed up trying to watch the blue supermoon, which apparently appear irregularly once every 10 years or so, the next one being in 2037. It had still not appeared from behind the cliff by the time I went to bed. However it was still hangning around when I woke up around 7.30am.
On our last but one day we decided to do the "Sao Lorenco" hike. After a late start to the day, we headed off around 11am and arrived at midday. That was a mistake. Apparently we were not the only ones doing this hike, as we had to park about a 20 minute walk from the trail head.
The hike itself was great. Steep at times and quite busy on the narrower parts with no shade, at all. This meant we were sweltering in the sun all afternoon, except for at the cafe at the end of the trail. It was a lovely walk from which we arrived back home exhausted and hungry. So we headed for the "Manifattura Di Gelato" Italian restaurant at the marina we ate at the previous meaning. The food was great.
Our final day was calm affair. We woke up late and hung out at the pool for a while, cleaned the house a little in preparation for our depature the next morning at 4.30am. We then headed back to the restaurant in Madalena do mar which we enjoyed so much on the second day. After another great lunch, we went to Funchal for a little souvenir shopping.
Here are some final photos of the house.