Madeira, Portugal is a secret paradise that is often called “the Hawaii of Europe” and for good reason. Formed by a volcanic eruption millions of years ago, Madeira has blossomed into a nature-lovers paradise with its rugged landscape and beautiful lush tropical forests mixed with friendly locals and delicious dishes native to the island. Take a boat ride, learn to scuba, go mountain biking or canyoning, horseback riding, or just chill out by your hotel pool overlooking the turquoise Atlantic with nothing insight, making you feel millions of miles away from the “real world”.
Whether you are thinking of a visit to Madeira or have one booked already, here are a few things to get you started before heading to the Hawaii of Europe:
Owned by the Portuguese, Madeira was officially discovered in July 1419 by Portuguese navigators after following the orders of Prince Henry the Navigator to explore and discover more of the West African coast. After strong winds left them adrift for days, they stumbled upon one of the islands that make up the archipelago of Madeira, Santo Stefano. Shortly after being discovered, the main island of Madeira was settled by the Portuguese. Not only did nobility immigrate to the island, but prisoners were sent over to work the land. Madeira eventually became a big player in the sugar exporting business as well as wine (Madeira Wine is extremely well-known – even today!).
Average temperatures year round:
15-25 degrees Celsius
How long to stay:
5 days AT LEAST but a week is ideal…maybe even longer
Where to stay:
Stay in Funchal, the biggest city. Or, there are some nice hotels/spas around the island if you are looking for a more relaxing getaway.
I suggest looking on Airbnb before looking at hotels, or even look into hostels if you are on a strict budget. We stayed in this Airbnb and absolutely loved it.
What they are most known for:
Levada walks and breathtaking hikes
Second highest sea cliff in Europe
Best time of year to go:
While summer undoubtedly will bring in more tourists which means more crowds, Summer still is the nicest time to visit the island. Rainfall is low, which is especially nice on an island with multiple microclimates. Trust me, constant rain can get in the way of enjoying what makes Madeira so magnificent, its natural landscape.
Avoid January, which has the heaviest rainfall as do the surrounding winter months, BUT overall the weather can still be just as pleasant, even above 20 degrees celsius, so around 70 Fahrenheit and quite sunny but more rain than usual. Which again, may force you to cancel some hikes which can be a bummer with limited days to begin with.
What to drink:
Drink every flavor but be careful and drink slow with this local specialty as it will knock you off your feet with one too many. Find out the history and what Poncha is made of here.
If wine fascinates you, visit Blandy’s Madeira in Funchal and go on the tour to find out more about Madeira Wine (and taste some in the end – even better).
Portuguese liqueur that is made by infusing ginja berries in sugar cane rum (also used in Poncha) and then lastly adding sugar. Ginga berries are like sour cherries and makes the drink taste amazing!
Wine that comes from the north of mainland Portugal in the Douro Valley, learn more about this wine here.
What to eat:
A seafood dish you can get fried or grilled that’s particularly fresh and delicious in this area of the world!
Bolo do Coco
I mean who doesn’t love coconut and cake, so delicious and light!
Carne de vinho e alhos
Meat with wine and garlic is the literal translation and wow was this heaven. When we were in Madeira we had this in a huge piece of garlic bread and it was TO DIE FOR!
Pāo com chouriço
Portuguese Chouriço is a pork sausage that is rich in flavor with an added spicy kick and when you put it inside bread (because agin who doesn’t love bread?!) it is heaven.
The Portuguese version of kebab.
Milho Frito is a typical side dish on the island that is made of corn, collard greens or kale, water, garlic and olive oil mixed together and then sinfully fried.
Must-see parts of the island:
Pico Arierio Pico Ruvio
Ponta de Sāo Lourenço Porto Moniz swimming pools
Grutas de Sāo Vicente Ribeiro Frio
Santana Porto da Cruz
Cabo Girāo Funchal
Ponta Do Pargo and lighthouse Botanical Gardens
Ponta do Sol Seixal and the black sand beaches
Ponta de Sāo Lourenço
Levada do Caldeirão Verde
Levada das 25 Fontes
Vereda do Arieiro
Vereda do Pico Ruvio
Vereda da Ilha
Lastly (and possibly most important) how affordable is it?
Extremely! For accommodations, you have the usual choices of hotels, hostels, and Airbnb’s. When I was there, I stayed in an Airbnb that I love, and it was affordable to split between two people. We had a kitchen which allowed us to cook and save a lot of money on going out for meals. We made lunch every day and dinner most nights and always had breakfast before venturing out for the day. Also the best attraction on Madeira is free….hiking.
Ultimately, you can make it has affordable or as luxurious of a trip as you like or your budget can manage, but no matter what you’re time on Madeira will be an amazing and memorable one, trust me!
If you like hiking, check out my post on my favorite hikes in Madeira for some inspiration!
A NOMADIC DREAMER