Madeira is the ideal winter sun destination, located 960km southwest of Lisbon, just off the northwest coast of Africa. Its subtropical climate, botanical gardens, outstanding cuisine and rugged volcanic landscapes and levadas, together with an eclectic nightlife, are an enticing mix for any visitor. Here are five reasons to visit this Madeira this winter.
Madeira’s capital city Funchal is located on lush terraces and steep hills, a visually arresting backdrop for this vibrant city. The city’s selection of historical buildings includes sea forts and convents and museums. Funchal has a beautiful harbour to explore; take a walk alongside the boats to São Tiago Fortress. Constructed back in the 1600s, it houses the Contemporary Art Museum. Plant lovers will appreciate the lush tropical gardens while oenophiles will savour the world-famous Madeira wine cellars. The colonial era Cathedral – a mix of Romanesque and Gothic styles is especially beautiful.
2 Madeira Botanical Garden
Drive about 4km northeast of Funchal to enjoy this invigorating sub-tropical paradise. Madeira’s stunning Botanical Garden boasts rich flora and fauna comprising thousands of indigenous flowers, trees and plants. There’s a manor house here that belonged to the estate’s original owners which is now the Natural History Museum. It has a fascinating display of fossils, minerals and more and you can stop for lunch at the terrace café and enjoy the superb views over Funchal.
3 Walking the Levadas
Madeira’s 16th-canal system, known locally as ‘levadas’, are unmissable. They make walking in the country’s mountainous areas relatively easy. Breathe in the scent of fabulous laurel forests and lush vegetation. Levada dos Tornos between the Palheiro and Funchal municipal botanical gardens is an easy intro levada, while Rabacal, Queimadas, Ribeiro Frio and Kings guarantee lush rainforest and enticing waterfall pools.
4 Teleférico de Funchal (Maderia Cable Car)
For the best views of Funchal and the surrounding countryside, take the cable car up to Monte. The ride is about 15 minutes and leaves from the esplanade near the Zona Velha. You can go as far as the Jardim Botanico or head further to the Jardim Tropical Monte Palace, the cable car’s final stop. The views over Funchal’s rooftops and gardens, as you climb 1,837ft, are superb. In time-honoured tradition, descend the mountain on the official Monte basket cars made of wicker that slide on skis. You don’t have to do any work as two guides will push you from behind!
5 Mercado dos Lavradores
Visiting Funchal’s markets will be one of the highlights of your stay. Located east of the Sé on Rua Profetas, this fruit, vegetable, flower and fish market is a riot of colour, held in a gorgeous Art Deco hall. The smells of tuna and espada (scabbardfish) will draw fish lovers to the basement, while the first floor is an Aladdin’s Cave of stalls selling local arts and crafts in leatherwork, wicker and pottery. Go early on Friday or Saturday and catch the freshest produce from the region’s farmers.