Okay, so we weren’t ALWAYS tipsy…just consistently enjoying the local spirits! Any-who, this past October we jetted off to a small island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I don’t remember how, exactly, we decided to go to Madeira, Portugal. I recall it going something like “let’s Google cool places to go in Portugal.”. So, that’s what we did. When we got on the plane to leave, we didn’t know what to expect of the tiny island when we arrived and found ourselves winging it while we were there (classic!). What we did know is that it’s famous for beautiful scenery, stellar weather and Madeira wine (oh and Cristiano Ronaldo as every cab driver will tell you!). In some ways, Madeira reminded me a lot of Santa Barbara…only European and with bananas everywhere.
We spent four nights in Madeira in an Airbnb that was unreal. Like bury-me-in-the-floors-when-I’m-dead unreal. Perched high on a cliff with 180 degree views of the Atlantic ocean, it was close to downtown and a hard place to beat for the price (especially because we the 3 bed 2 bath place to ourselves). It was the perfect retreat we needed for a fall getaway. If you are planning a visit here, know that it is a tad difficult to get to. And by a “tad” I mean that I think we spent close to sixteen hours flying there despite it being relatively close to the states (eek!). The airport is one of the more dangerous in the world (didn’t know that until we got there, maybe that was better…) and they often close it down if the sea winds are too strong. Needless to say, the people were friendly, the seafood amazing and the island a definite must visit. We also did a pretty good job of not being those stereotypical American tourists…or so I think. Here’s a look at some of our indulgences in Madeira.
We started day one in Madeira and wasted little time. Dropping our things off at our Airbnb, we headed for the quaint capital city of Funchal. Talk about beautiful. The streets are laid in mosaic tile and are absolutely pristine. We started with lunch at the Golden Gate Grand Cafe – a touristy spot but it was right on the pedestrian street and made for great people watching. Sky bought a nice ball cap that proudly features the name “Madeira” on it. Following lunch we made our way up into the mountains via the cable car to a little village called Monte. There we frolicked in the tropical gardens(seriously, look at me frolicking in those gardens below…maybe I was a stereotypical American…), had an espresso and headed down the mountain in a little wicker basket. But, actually! You sit in a basket and two men clad in white outfits glide you down narrow alleys to the base of the hill. The picture below is terrible and doesn’t do it justice but, you get the idea!
There are two can’t miss things to try in Madeira. One is the Pastel de Natas (custard-filled pastry) and the other being Madeira wine (similar to port). I think if I lived on this island, my size would immediately quadruple. We started every morning in Madeira with one of these pastries and ended our days with a glass of the local desert wine. Cafe Opán has amazing Pastel de Natas and Blandy’s and Henriques & Henriques are perfect for a little Madeira wine taste and history lesson.
Though small, Madeira has a lot to offer. We chose to hang local on the Funchal side but still got a taste for the island life. We started with a visit to Camara de Lobos. A few miles from Funchal, it’s a beautiful little fishing village (you can catch a glimpse of it in the photo below). We chose to burn off that wine and food and take the walk from our Airbnb. If you do, walk along the ocean. There is an amazing sea-cave tunnel that you can go through and it’s quite the experience. While I’m sad to say the beaches aren’t sand, they do have incredible large rocks that make a beautiful rumble as the tide carries them in and out. I thought that was pretty fascinating. From there, jump on the green train and head up the winding mountain to Cabo Girao – the highest cliff drop in all of Europe. The train plays some classical Portuguese folk music while you wind around the banana plantations and the views are stunning.
If it’s some aquatic time you’re after, try the natural pools. Every corner of the island has them. You can cool off, have some small fish peck at your legs (kind of freaky, but also intriguing) and work on your tan. It’s only been a few months, my tan is gone and we are already missing Madeira. While we weren’t entirely sure we were going to make it off the island, we did. But, we did ask ourselves “is getting stuck here really that bad of a thing?”. We made it out in the end (we obviously had to get back to Warren) and are so looking forward to another trip in the future. Off we went to Madrid for another few nights in European bliss – hopefully a Spain post will be coming soon!
Where We Ate
Golden Gate Grand Cafe | Centrally located and great for people watching!
Real Canoa | Amazing service and their beef wellington was unreal!
Cafe Opán | Perfect place for a quick coffee and a pastry!
Doca do Cavacas | The views. Make a reservation for around sunset. Ask to be seated on the patio. You will not regret it!
Where we Drank
Blandy’s Madeira Wine Cellar | Fun staff and great place to sit and try Madeira wines!
Henriques & Henriques Wine Cellar | A great place for a quick pick-me-up.
Where we Visited
Monte Tropical Gardens | Beautiful Japanese-style gardens nestled in the mountains. Take the cable car up the mountain.
Monte Wicker Basket Rides | Ride down the mountain in an actual wicker basket!
Sé Cathedral | A beautiful and old cathedral in the heart of Funchal.
Camara de Lobos | Quaint and quiet little fishing village!
Take the Green Train to Cabo Girão | It’s the highest sea cliff in all of Europe!
Funchal Natural Swimming Pools | I have no link for this one… but they are there, I swear!