Quintas & Gardens
If you're visiting Madeira it's not possible to get a real feel of the island without visiting that for which it is best known for, its numerous Quintas and gardens found dotted all around the island and which play a role in its vast cultural heritage. Some gardens however, are more popular than others and you'll find these greatly concentrated in the city of Funchal also labelled the "floral city". From smaller parks such as Santa Catarina Park and the Municipal Garden to larger-sized gardens like the famous Botanical Gardens, Orchid Gardens, Palheiro Gardens and Monte Palace Tropical Gardens found in the higher mountains of the capital, each will showcase some of the rarest and most multi-coloured flowers, plants and subtropical trees in all of Europe. Here you can walk through sweet-scented pathways in the middle of lusciously-kept plots complimented by spectacular views. Other natural attractions you might want to take a wonder through include Quinta Magnólia Garden, Quinta da Boa Vista Gardens, Emperor's Gardens, Quinta do Arco Rose Garden, Funchal Ecological Park, Ribeiro Frio Forest Park and Queimadas Forest Park.
Mountain Hiking & The Levadas
One of the greatest things to do in Madeira is to explore what makes it such an incredible holiday destination as well as attractive to the thousands of visitors that revisit the island each year. This would be its elevated mountains and the largest surviving Laurel forest on earth. The way to discover Madeira's most spectacular natural features is to hike through the mountains and walk along the island's kilometres-long Levadas, a series of old waterways that cut across over 2000 km of slopes. As you trek through the depths of this volcanic island's exotic forest and most natural wonders you can expect to find hidden waterfalls, blooming meadows, flourishing tropical flora and numerous wildlife. Many Levadas will even take you past vast banana farms. For some hints about the best Levada trails add places to your list like Levada 25 Fontes (25 waterfalls Levada) in Calheta; Levada Ribeiro Frio in Machico, Portela; or Levada do Rei and Queimadas – Caldeirão Verde in Santana. Trekking up to and around Madeira's highest peaks known as Pico do Arieiro, Pico das Torres and Pico Ruivo is also a must, taking you high above the clouds with unmatched views across the island's colourful and bright horizon.
One thing you must try during your holiday in Madeira is to sample all the various kinds of delicacies that constitute Madeiran gastronomy; be assured, you'll be asking for more when you get back home! Relying on the idea that less is more, Madeiran cuisine is simple but most of all natural and mouth-watering. Start with the famous bolo do caco (Madeiran bread cooked on a hot stone) smothered in garlic butter and salsa with which you should order the succulent and juicy Espetada (marinated chunks of meat, pork or beef, grilled on a skewer or bay leaf stick) – a perfect combination great for either lunch or dinner. Another delight is the carne de vinho e alhos (pork marinated in wine with garlic) traditionally eaten in a sandwich. If meat is not your preference, fish dishes also play a significant role in regional cuisine! The bife de atum or tuna steak is a great specialty found on all menus along with the Peixe-Espada or black-scabbard fish, natural to the waters of Madeira, which is traditionally served with fried Madeiran banana or passion fruit; both a daring but very successful blend of flavours. Moving on from salty now to sweet, Madeira is highly famous for its traditional bolo de mel or honey cake using real sugar-cane produced on the island.
For drinks, Madeira offers several traditional beverages most of which incorporate alcohol of some sort. The most celebrated Madeiran drink is known as Poncha (a mixture of aguardente, sugar-cane honey and lemon or nowadays many types of other fruits such as orange or passion fruit). Be advised though, a "real" Poncha will knock your socks off if you're not used to alcoholic drinks! Another traditional drink is the Pé de Cabra (dry madeira wine, black beer, sugar, cocoa, lemon rind) and the highly refreshing nikita (beer, pineapple and vanilla ice) which originated in the beautiful fisherman's village of Câmara de Lobos. Madeira's most well-known drink however, is the Vinho Madeira or Madeira Wine traditionally served with appetizers before a meal and available in several varieties.
Find the best restaurants in Madeira in this complete restaurant guide: http://www.madeira-restaurants.com
Golfing in Madeira and Porto Santo
If you are an avid golfer, and can't imagine being away from the green for days or weeks at a time, worry not, the archipelago of Madeira is all about the green! With three golf courses at Santo da Serra (Machico district), Palheiro (Funchal district) and another located on the island of Porto Santo, you can play your favourite sport against spectacular mountain and ocean backdrops along with unrivalled scenery that at times it's hard not to get distracted! Apart from picturesque panoramic views, this golfer's paradise also boasts a stable climate that makes it possible to play or practice golf almost year-round. It is an important location for international golf championships such as the Madeira Island Open and annually welcomes back professional golfers and amateurs alike who have fallen in love with this popular golfing destination.
Santo da Serra Golf Course
Built in 1937 and redesigned in 1991 by the famous Robert Trent Jones who created an entirely new three 9-hole (27 holes) golf course with views overlooking the bay of Machico, surrounding sloping green mountains and the blue Atlantic ocean. This attractive and undulating golf course is lined by Pine, mimosa and eucalyptus trees along with exotic flowering bushes which add even more to its beauty.
Palheiro Golf Course
A truly magnificent course set nearly 500 metres above sea level with enviable views towards the Atlantic Ocean, the Desertas Islands and the buzzing city of Funchal, Madeira's capital. Designed in 1993 by Cabel Robinson, the Palheiro Golf Course is an 18-hole par 72 championships course located within an old country estate. Surrounded by mature trees and shrubs, sub-tropical vegetation and the most idyllic setting imaginable, Palheiro Golf Course is a true favourite among golfers.
Porto Santo Golf
Located in the beautiful "Golden Isle", Porto Santo Island, and designed by the legend that is Sevariano Ballesteros, the Porto Santo Golf course opened in 2004 and has rapidly grown popularity among golfing fanatics having stamped its mark within the Top 100 Continental European rankings. This 18-hole golf course, described as extensive and demanding, makes use of each one of the island's natural features from various plant species to lakes. In close proximity to the ocean, with a stunning sea backdrop, a golden jagged shoreline and high cliffs, Porto Santo Golf guarantees both stable weather conditions and unforgettable vistas.
Just as magnificent on land and it is off land, Madeira Island really does have it all! With a good selection of water sports allowing you to enjoy the deep blue waters of the Atlantic, Madeira has undoubtedly made itself known as a great destination for a holiday spent at sea. The year-round mild climate and almost always calm shores permit you to try out activities such as sailing, leisure boating, canoeing and a top favourite nowadays, scuba-diving. If you enjoy fishing don't miss the opportunity to revel in an afternoon of fishing for sport, deep-sea fishing or the adrenaline-pumping big game fishing. An even greater favourite is to witness what lives within the waters and shoreline of this one of a kind gem of the Atlantic. About 5 km away from the shore, experience some of Madeira's finest marine wildlife. Swim among dolphins or catch glimpses of migrating whales during boat excursions. Another tip would be to head to the Desertas Islands and see up close the dozens of almost extinct monk seals that live here. Head underwater with fantastic deep-sea diving activities and see for your own eyes the magnificent world most never get to see blessed with multi-coloured sea creatures in all shapes and sizes. An experience you won't forget ever!
Viewpoints or Miradouros in Câmara de Lobos
Madeira is filled with fantastic viewpoints or miradouros, however, few make an impression like the three viewpoints found in the municipality of Câmara de Lobos. If you love dramatic sceneries the viewpoints at Eira do Serrado, Cabo Girão and Fajã dos Padres will each offer you a 2-in-1 experience - unrivalled views at soaring heights that will no doubt get your heart pumping as you take that first look down. If you're a professional or even an amateur photographer you won't want to miss out on capturing the timeless sights found at these three locations.
The Eira do Serrado viewpoint, situated atop a mountain, grants you the most impressive and indescribable views of them all. It overlooks the quaint small city of Curral das Freiras or Nun's Valley which is surrounded by intimidating but majestic mountains at an astonishing altitude of 1095 metres!
The Cabo Girão viewpoint, situated upon Europe's second highest cliff, is most famous not only for grandiose vistas across the vast Atlantic Ocean, Estreito de Câmara de Lobos all the way to the Funchal bay, but also for its glass-floor suspended at a height of 580 metres allowing you to look directly down towards the stunning shoreline and cultivated land below. It's daunting but you'll feel proud of yourself for walking across it!
The Fajã dos Padres viewpoint is located upon a cliffside at an altitude of 250 metres offering splendid views across the shoreline and the different blues of the sea below. Here you can take the slightly nerve-racking elevator ride down to the beach below which is the only way of reaching the area if not by boat.
Rock Pools of Porto Moniz
Situated in an almost isolated part of the island, the quiet parish of Porto Moniz is host to an extraordinary natural exhibition in the form of lava-rock pools. These natural bathing pools are filled by the fresh crystalline waters of the surrounding sea all day-long but are entirely safe and a popular family attraction where you can easily spend the entire day. Expect to find small fish swimming beside and below you as you swim around this large complex, so as a tip, remember to take your goggles and snorkel so that you can see just what lies beneath the surface. When seas get too rough, however, the attraction is closed but this is by no means a reason not to visit it. From the surrounding promenade you can watch as the fierce waves crash against the rocks, reaching incredible heights that are nothing less than a brilliant spectacle of nature! Admission to the complex is surprisingly economic and there are even facilities to ensure that your entire experience is a great one. These facilities include a kindergarten, facilities for the disabled, excellent changing rooms with lockers and showers, a snack-bar, a first aid centre and car park. The best time to head to these natural pools is during summer and early autumn as seas are calm and the climate is mild to hot making the swimming in the pools that more refreshing.
Santana, located on Madeira's blossoming northern coast, is an exceptional place to enjoy nature at its best and the simple way of country life. Deep, dense, and exotic forestlands, daring Levadas and mountain peaks are what you can count on there being here. In fact its spectacular trail walks and hiking opportunities are what mainly attract tourists to this part of the island where you'll find Pico Ruivo, the highest point of the island at an elevation of 1861 metres. Besides nature, make sure to visit attractions such as the emblematic and quaint Casinhas de Santana, colourful triangular houses with roofs made of straw; as well as the pedagogical Madeira Theme Park filled with fun activities and plenty of ethnographic information about the island. Whilst in this charming parish, the second largest in Madeira, check out its various regions from Arco de São Jorge, São Jorge, Ilha, and São Roque do Faial and Faial sampling regional drinks and fine traditional gastronomy. Festivals like 48 Horas a Bailar (48 hours dancing) in the city of Santana or the Festa da Anona (Custard Apple Festival) of Faial, are certainly worthy of a mention and lively times to be in the parish.
Mercado dos Lavradores
The Mercado dos Lavradores is one of Madeira's most well-known and historic attractions inaugurated in 1940. Located in downtown Funchal in the busiest part of the capital, this famous market is best known for selling fresh fruit and vegetables produced all across the island. This must-visit market is a great opportunity to buy or try all kinds of tropical sweet fruits like read more...
Visit Porto Santo
Porto Santo, hailed the "Golden Isle" of the Madeiran archipelago is located only a short distance from Madeira, and just like its nickname suggests is graced with a glorious coastline of golden-coloured sand. Whilst attractions are few on this island, Porto Santo is mostly alluring to those looking to do as little as possible whilst relaxing on the beach or taking a dip in the blue waters that brush along the shoreline. The island does present some interesting sites however, including Miradouros or Viewpoints with delightful views across the island or towards Madeira and the Desertas Islands such as at Pico das Flores, Portela or Pico do Castelo; then there are the old windmills or Moinhos once used to grind wheat among other cereals. For golf professionals or amateurs who fancy playing a round in a unique location, Porto Santo even has its own 18-hole golf course nestled within a desert-like location but featuring all that a top golf course has to offer in addition to notable views.