This year I was lucky enough to visit Madeira twice, once in March with my friend Amanda (we do a trip somewhere together every year) and more recently, in August, with my family, including my 90 year old Grandfather.
The two trips, as you can imagine, were quite different. One very active with plenty of hiking and exploring, and one more of a beach hol. But that is one of the joys of Madeira, that it provides both!
I had a few questions about going with my Grandfather to this notoriously hilly destination, and we did manage to navigate around with a wheelchair (borrowed from the hotel) and his stick. We also did a day tour which was more of a driving tour plus a few suitable stops for lookouts, lunch etc. Much of Funchal is almost tiled, making it easier to push the wheelchair, but we did get taxis around most of the time. It’s also worth noting that everyone was incredibly helpful, from tour guides to taxi drivers and waiters, offering to give my Grandfather a push or steady arm. The weather was also ideal, not too hot with a gentle breeze, ideal for poolside relaxing!
Where to Stay
We booked both trips through BA Holidays (which, if you’re a tier point hunter like myself, is currently offering double tier points for flights taken as part of a BA holiday until 30th Sept for trips taken until 30th Sept 2023). You can often get better deals on hotels when booked with a flight as we discovered earlier this year, securing a decent hotel plus flights for under £300 each.
We stayed in Funchal during both stays which was handy for walking to restaurants and cafes, as well as convenient for tours and airport transfers. There are a LOT of hotels in the area, which means you can often find very good deals however, for those that would rather be away from the bustle try one of the coastal towns (such as Pestana Churchill Bay).
Where to Eat
We had some great meals in Madeira on both trips, including
Kampo – the food was so good here I came on both trips. Rude staff but worth it for their aged meats, interesting dishes and delicious wine.
Cirpriani – attached to Reid’s Hotel so we partly ate here out of convenience but the views were spectacular and the Italian food was very good. One of my fave meals on the trip.
Avista – another restaurant we ate at for convenience but turned out to far exceed expectations (especially the chocolate melt in the middle pudding!) A lovely patio area
Greenhouse Coffee Roasters – a lovely cafe set in the Monte Palace gardens (however you don’t have to buy a ticket to the gardens if you just fancy a coffee & slice of cake – simply let them know at the entrance). A fun morning activity to get the cable car up/down for amazing views on a clear day. Order a double shot if you like a strong coffee.
RealMaR – located at the bottom of the cable car, we had a great fresh seafood lunch in the buzzy bay area.
Beef and Wine – does what it says on the tin. Really good steaks (also has veggie options) without ridiculous price tags.
Mercearia da Praca – I think we lucked out the first time we came here and were spoiled by the owners, selecting a glass of wine for us to try based on our preferences and accompanied by some complementary cheese. When I brought my family, unfortunately the girl working was less forthcoming with her wine recommendations but the cheese & meat board was a great pre-dinner snack.
Where to Hike
Pico Ruivo Hike
You don’t need a guide for this very well trodden trail, but it is worth getting someone to drop you off/pick you up so that you only have to traverse it in one direction. The panoramic views are well worth battling the crowds (although the earlier you go, the fewer people you will encounter). It is very steep in parts, with ladders to clamber up and narrow ridges so might not be an ideal hike for those averse to heights. Don’t bother with a coffee at the start (disgusting) but the cold drink at the refuge near the finish is well worth bringing a couple of euros for. We used Nature Meetings tour guides for our trip.
Ponta de São Lourenço
We took a taxi to the start and arranged to be collected 3ish hours/text the driver when we reached a certain point. This beautiful hike takes you out on the peninsula that you’ll fly over as you first see Madeira. We started earlyish to avoid crowds (be warned the cafe is closed during the off season). A relatively easy hike for most levels aside from the final (optional) climb at the end which was straight up!
We also did the infamous Levada das 25 Fontes that I would actually not recommend unless you need your hike to be very beginner friendly. Expect the trail to be VERY busy.
On my bucket list for future trips are Levada do Moinho & Levada Nova Loop and Pico Grande, as well as taking a dip in the volcanic pools (I had thought the day trip we had booked included this but apparently it was just a viewing point of the pools!)
Top Travel Tips
- Nervous drivers, beware! The roads are steep and narrow, so those who aren’t the most confident behind the wheel may prefer taxis/tours to avoid having to navigate around the island. Those who suffer with car sickness might benefit from bringing some travel sickness pills (speaking from experience!)
- Early tours? Not many places are open early enough to pick up a packed lunch before early departures. We made the most of our continental breakfasts and made ham & cheese sandwiches, picked up fruit and filled up water bottles, topped up with crisps and sweets for hiking. I have zero shame at a breakfast buffet!
- The sea was absolutely gorgeous and clear for our morning dips, however it was quite choppy on occasion. I swam daily with my Aunt who is a very competent swimmer, and my Mum was also on lifeguard/lookout duty – be careful if you’re not a confident swimmer when there are yellow flags at the coast.
- Bring layers & waterproofs! Madeira is definitely a year round destination, I sat by the pool and sunbathed in March (although I didn’t quite have the nerve for the unheated pool), hiked in shorts and a tank but also required an anorak. It was much busier in August, during the Summer Holidays, as you might expect but still cool enough that you can hike and explore.
- It is definitely hilly. I ran an out and back loop on the main roads, and also along the coast rather than venturing onto the trails. For those who are more adventurous than me check out XXX, or consider signing up for a race – the perfect excuse for a trip!
- The airport is notorious for being a tricky landing (Tom has told me it’s a captain’s only landing at British Airways), so flights can sometimes be diverted to Faro or even back to the UK. If you’re trying to arrive on a certain date, make sure to bear this in mind.
- If you are travelling with someone who does need extra assistance, I would call ahead – we discovered that there were golf carts that could take people up and down the hills at the Monte Palace gardens (however these did cost extra). We did find that a lot of spots were not wheelchair accessible.
- Coffee snobs should consider bringing their own brews. On both trips we seriously struggled to find anything decent, resorting to mochas at breakfast for a caffeine boost, and an unfortunate experience with a ball of vanilla ice-cream in my latte (perhaps contributing to my aforementioned car sickness!).