Madeira at a glance
Because the weather is spring-like all year round, the lush interior is impossibly beautiful, and because there’s a growing adventure sports scene.
The walking path to the Pico do Arieiro, at 1,818m, takes you through a dramatic landscape that recalls Tolkien’s Middle-earth.
You probably didn’t know
Britain’s wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill loved to paint the pretty fishing village of Camara de Lobos – today, there’s a plaque where he set up his easel.
Tango in Madeira (2013), Jim Williams’ novel which involves – among a motley cast of characters – George Bernard Shaw learning to tango with the hotel manager’s wife.
- Population: 268,000
- January mean temperature: 16.1°C
- August mean temperature: 22.3°C
Things to do in Madeira
Restaurante O Forno
For a classic Madeira eating experience, it’s hard to beat Restaurante O Forno, in Ponta do Pargo on the remote northwest coast. Owners Marta and Arnaldo are famed for their friendly welcome, great wine list and hearty food, mostly done on a wood-fired grill out front. Try the stewed octopus, “espetados” (beef on skewers) and Madeira specialities like “bolo do caco” garlic bread. After it all, you get a free shot of their homemade “poncho” spirit.
Taberna da Poncha
Poncha – a potent combination of “aguardente de cana” (alcohol distilled from sugar cane juice), honey, sugar, lemon rind and various fruit juices – rivals sweet Madeira wine as the alcohol of choice on the island. The best place to try it is the Taberna da Poncha, in the inland hillside town of Serra de Agua, a cosy but vibrant tavern where the floor is covered in discarded peanut shells and the poncha flavours range from mint to passion fruit.
Blandy’s Wine Lodge
Blandy’s is the most famous of the Madeira wine brands, and their Wine Lodge in the centre of Funchal takes you through the history and the making of a wine that has barely changed in centuries (it’s still heated to high temperatures to mimic the sea voyages that inspired it). At the end you’ll get to taste different varieties of Madeira.
Carros de Cesto wicker toboggan ride
Ernest Hemingway once called Funchal’s famous Carros de Cesto wicker toboggan ride “the most exhilarating experience of my life” – and the attraction, which has been going since 1850, is still popular. Two of the 150 “carreiros”, all dressed in crisp white uniforms, will ferry you down the 2km stretch of tarmac from the village of Monte, reached by cable car from central Funchal. If it’s more leisurely than in Hemingway’s day, it’s still a fascinating little slice of Madeira history.
Events to look out for:
- Madeira Carnival (February)
- Madeira Flower Festival (April)
- Porto Santo Ultra Trail Run (May)
- Madeira Day (July)
- Paul do Mar Limpet Festival (July)
- Funchal Jazz Festival (July)
- Madeira Wine Rally (July/August)
- Machico Food Festival (August)
- Monte Festival (August)
- Paul Do Mar Water Jump (August)
- Funchal International Film Festival (November)
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