MADEIRA: THE HAWAII OF EUROPE

Updated: Dec 17, 2021


Combining outdoors and photography on the trekking island of Portugal



If you love outdoors then this island is definitely for you!

To be honest, we didn`t know much about it until some friends ( the ones we went to Jordan with - Monica and Florin ) went over there and shared their beautiful pictures. 😊

Then we started to do a bit of research and since this year we couldn`t get too far from Europe, we decided that this is the perfect choice for a November getaway.


Madeira is an archipelago comprising 4 islands off the north west coast of Africa. It is known for its namesake wine and warm, subtropical climate. The main island of Madeira is volcanic, green and rugged, with high cliffs, pebbly beaches and settlements on deltas of the Fajã River.


Since the island has a general subtropical climate, the temperature tends not to vary too much from summer to winter, so it ranges from 26 degrees Celsius in summer to a low of 18-19 degrees in the middle of the winter. Therefore, it`s kind of an option all year round.


How to get there? What are the Covid restrictions?


Madeira is officially called the Autonomous Region of Madeira and is one of the two autonomous regions of Portugal, the other being the Azores. Therefore, the easiest way to get there is via mainland Portugal, either Lisbon or Porto. However, there are some international flights from other destinations, including charters, but it`s better to check www.skyscanner.com or local travel agencies.

Some airlines that fly there and offer cheap flight options are: EasyJet, Transavia, Jet2, Tap Portugal ( sometimes ) and apparently Ryanair will start the flights soon, as well.


Regarding the Covid 19 requirements, at the moment of our trip, in November 2021, the Green Pass rule applied, the same as in all the rest of Europe.

Apparently, the requirements are still the same at the moment. However, you could double check this website or confirm with Portugal embassy in your country.

Also, it is recommended to fill in a Passenger Locator form, prior to arriving in Portugal.


Being vaccinated, we had absolutely no problem entering there. The only thing they requested from us was to register in the airport and to have our Green passes checked.


Getting around



Although there are some public transport options to some of the places, the best way to explore the island is by car or motorbike or scooter. Basically something that you can drive and can offer you some freedom. 😊


We rented a small car from Europcar in Funchal airport and we were super satisfied with their service.

We initially booked a Renault Twingo but when we went there to pick up the car, a fIAT 500 cabrio was waiting for us. How cool is that? Then, 2 days later, guess who was waiting for the road assistance because of a flat tyre and no spare one? 😅

Anyway, the Europcar team was super professional and we had the towing truck and a taxi for us within an hour and they replaced our car with a BMW which was absolutely fine.

Be careful to choose the road assistance ( which is a separate option ) as can be super handy in a situation like this, even if you have to pay few euros extra per day.


Another tip is to get a car or scooter with a slightly powerful engine as the roads are super super uphill over there.


How much time do you need?


Well, exploring the island in full could take days and if you are into hiking, there are endless trails. Therefore, no matter how long you choose to stay, you won`t get bored.

However, if you are short on time, a minimum of 5 days would be required in order to manage to see some of the most amazing places over there.


When to go


As mentioned before, the weather is pretty good all year round with the temperature not varying too much at the sea level. However, the more you climb, the more the temperature drops and could be even 10-15 degrees Celsius difference between the ocean level and the peaks. So, try to pack some warm clothes as well.


The high season is considered from July to September, when are the highest temperatures.
The low season is from January to March, when the number of rainy days increases.

There is also a medium season: from October to December and this is when we went.

And there is some special season - 4 weeks after Easter - when is the Flower Festival.


We kind of tried to escape the crowds but the main treks were still full of people even in November and even on rainy days. 😅



Accommodation


We were looking for some local place to stay with a garden, when we found an amazing accommodation with the most amazing breakfast. Basically we stayed in an old renovated house which also had a farm and was providing fresh products for breakfast. They have a lovely yard with a small pool where you can unwind.

Fresh fruit juice was provided every morning together with other nice delicious stuff.


The place is uphill, about 15-20 min drive from Funchal.

The name of the place is Quinta da Moscadinha and can be found on Booking.com


What to visit, what to do


Madeira is full of nature and is simply wonderful to explore. Basically, anywhere you go, you`ll find something to see: from cliffs, tiny villages, viewpoints to some of the most amazing treks.

But there is one thing that is missing and that is: beaches. And in particular: sand beaches.


Even if the island is not too big, exploring it in full could take days. But, here are the main things that you would want not to miss.


Trekking

We managed to do only 2 hikes and a levada walk:


Vereda do Areeiro - Pico Ruivo(PR1)
Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço ( PR 8 )
Levada do Caldeirão Verde

However, other trekking options could be found on this blog.


Vereda do Areeiro - Pico Ruivo

Stop at every Miradouro ( viewpoint ) you can find

There is like a gazillion of them!

Miradouro do Véu da Noiva, Ponta do Poiso, Miradouro Ponta da Ladeira, Miradouro do Guindaste are just the ones that we visited, but there are so many other scenic spots not marked on Google Maps.



Miradouro Ponta da Ladeira

Miradouro do Guindaste

Visit Seixal black sand beach

To be honest, we weren`t so impressed by this one, but if it`s on your way, it`s worth stopping by.


Funchal - the capital

If you have some extra time, it could be nice exploring a bit the city, maybe the Botanical Gardens, or going to some wine bar, or just simply wander on the streets.



Camara de Lobos

It was this traditional fishing village, situated five kilometres from Funchal, which inspired Sir Winston Churchill to paint its lovely surroundings. The village was given its name by the explorers João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira because of the shape of its bay and the many Mediterranean monk seals (‘lobos’) living there at the time.

Câmara de Lobos, apart from its wonderful bay, has several points of interest, such as Pico da Torre, Curral das Freiras, Boca dos Namorados, Boca da Corrida and Cabo Girão.


Camara de Lobos harbour viewpint

Ribeira Brava

If you head to Camara de Lobos, it is worth stopping, at least for a coffee and a Pastel de Nata, here. It is situated on a cliff and has some really nice views of the ocean.


"The good view" bar in Ribeira Brava

Ribeiro Frio and Levada dos Balcões (PR 11)

This was on our list but we had that problem with the flat tyre and on top of that it was raining on that day in the mountains so the visibility was not good, therefore we decided to skip this. We reached Ribeiro Frio and we only when to the starting point of the Levada, though.

The village looked super nice and with some good weather it could be really interesting.


The scenery towards Ribeiro Frio

Trekking


There are loads of them, the only thing you need is time! 😊

As mentioned earlier, we managed to do only 3: 2 hikes and a levada walk.


PR1 - Vereda do Areeiro
Distance: about 14 km round trip
Degree of difficulty: Moderate
Duration: about 7-8 hrs round trip
Start/End: Pico do Areeiro Belvedere ( Parque de Estacionamento Pico do Areeiro - parking lot ) / Pico Ruivo ( and then back )
Max. Altitude/Min. Altitude: 1857 m / 1491 m
What to pack: lunch and layers 😅 ( there is only one coffee shop at the base of Pico Ruivo but there are not many eating options and the temperature can vary significantly )


This is considered the most beautiful hike of the island and we definitely agree with this! For us, it was even in the top 5 most beautiful treks ever done; and we`ve been to some of the most impressive places in the world such as the Himalayas, Patagonia, New Zealand`s Southern Alps, Dolomites.. 🤪


The hike itself is not too difficult and it definitely can be done in less than 8 hours, but the scenery is so beautiful that you`ll be stopping every 10 minutes anyway to take pictures or simply enjoy the views and this will definitely slow you down. 😅


The part that makes it so unique might be its micro-climate, the combination of the humidity from the ocean and the steep mountains that create these impressive clouds filling up the valleys. Initially, we thought that you need to be really lucky to get this type of view but apparently it is something that occurs quite often. And when you add some sunset light, the views are simply breath-taking!


The only downside that we could find: the crowds. Being such a famous trek, the amount of people coming here is just crazy, even extra season.


The best time to do the trek: sunset or sunrise, of course. Since we are not morning people and in November the sunset was super early ( around 7 pm ), we chose to start the trek around 10 am so that we can get some sunset light at the end of the trek, where we were getting back to Pico do Areeiro ( which, by the way, has the most impressive views ).

However, starting at sunrise could be equally beautiful.


More about this trek here.




PR8 - Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço

Distance: 6 km return
Degree of difficulty: easy
Duration: 4-5 hours ( including the stops )
Start/End: Baía d’Abra ( Ponta de São Lourenço Parking ) / Casa do Sardinha
Max. Altitude/Min. Altitude: 124 m / 23 m

This is our second favourite hike and it is super different from all the other hikes in Madeira.

The semi-arid climate and its exposure to North winds have sculpted the low vegetation and explain the lack of trees, which distinguish this area from the rest of the Island and is a veritable natural heritage.


We found this trek to be quite easy but picturesque at the same time. It is a short trek so it can be easily made after lunch, so that you can get the nice views at sunset.

Actually, we enjoyed the sunset so much that we ended up coming back at night and being alone on the whole trail, almost getting lost. 😅


There is one thing that we didn't know before: you can bring your tent and spend the night here camping. All you need to do is submit a prior authorization request to Institute of Forestry and Nature Conservation on this link.

The area is super quiet at night, not many people know about this camping option,there is literally no one on the entire peninsula and all you could see are the stars and all you hear is the sound of the waves.


More details here.


The cafeteria close to the end of the trek



PR9 - Levada do Caldeirão Verde

Distance: 16-17 km
Degree of difficulty: easy but the trek is super long
Duration: 6 hours
Start/End: Queimadas Forestry Parking lot / Caldeirão do Inferno
Max. Altitude/Min. Altitude: 1020 m / 877 m
What to pack: lunch, torch and layers

They say this is one of the best bad weather treks in Madeira. So this is pretty much the main reason we did this trek. However, we must say that, apart from couple of nice views, the trek is quite long and quite boring. Mostly in bad weather. But you get to do some walking, at least.

However, bear in mind that the nice views come towards the end.


The levada of Caldeirão Verde is an impressive work of art built in the18th century that begins in the main stream bed of the Caldeirão Verde brook. It carries the water that runs off the highest mountains of Madeira, to be used to irrigate he farm lands of the parish of Faial. This levada is mainly used for agricultural purposes, but it is also an important means of reaching the interior of the deep valley of the São Jorge brook on foot.


More about it here.



Our itinerary


We only had a week, including the flights, so we had to make the most of it quite quickly. Therefore, we rented a car and we tried to combine road-tripping, trekking and sight-seeing as much as we could.


Day 1: arrival, lunch at Abrigo do Pastor restaurant ( btw, a really good one! ) and then Seixal beach and the western coast ( around Porto Moniz and Miradouro Ponta da Ladeira )


Day 2: Vereda do Areeiro trek


Day 3: road trip to Ponta do Sol, Cascata dos Anjos, Ribeira Brava and Miradouro do Guindaste. We wanted to do also the short Levada dos Balcões ( PR11), but we had that flat tyre problem on our car so we didn`t have time after that any more.


Day 4: Levada do Caldeirão Verde


Day 5: Camara de Lobos ( where we had lunch ) and then Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço trek


Summary


After all, Madeira is an European destination so everything is pretty much straight forward.

The prices are reasonable, mostly if you go a bit extra season, the food is really tasty ( if you do a bit of research beforehand ), the trails are well marked, the roads are good and the people are super friendly.

On top of that, entry is super easy if you have a Green Pass.


So, if you want a hassle free destination, nice weather all year round and a good spot for outdoor activities, Madeira is one of the best options.


If this article hasn`t convinced you to go to Madeira until now, maybe the photos will. 🤪

All taken with Sony A7III camera using Zeiss 55 mm, Tamron 17-28mm and Sony 135mm GM.