We are often asked the question, “Where to spend a weekend in Portugal? A week ago we published a piece where we shared the best places to vacation in the country according to our editorial. But what to do if you’ve already explored all of mainland Portugal? Luckily, just a month ago, a perfect friend of ours, accompanied by her husband, returned from a week-long trip to Madeira – a beautiful island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Anastasia kindly agreed to describe her weekend and told us why Madeira is the best place to stay in Portugal.
Where to spend a weekend in Portugal? A week-long trip to the island of Madeira.
One week in Madeira is an unbearably short time. Many beautiful cities were choosing where to go and what to skip will not be easy. I would have loved to go there even for a month, but alas, my husband and I only had a week, so I have carefully thought of everything and made a little itinerary to guide you through today.
I want to mention right away one of the nicest things about this island is the public transportation system. It just so happens that neither Artyom nor I drive a car, so we were just delighted with the local infrastructure. Seriously, no matter where you are or where you want to go, there will be a stop within five minutes of you where the bus you need passes. It’s just incredibly convenient! Well, we’re done with the intro, so let’s hit the road!
Day 1: Arrival and walk around Funchal
When we arrived near noon we landed, stayed in a small hotel in the old center and went to explore the main city of Madeira, Funchal. Sightseeing is great, but we wanted to get to know the city better, so we decided to spend the first day just walking around.
The first thing we were greeted within the old town was the Painted Doors Project. I still wonder how I missed the information about it when I was preparing for the trip. The streets of the old town were like an art gallery: the doors of apartment buildings and stores along the main street had amazing street art illustrations on them. We later learned that the project was launched to turn one of the most important areas of the city into a permanent cultural center and to make a real work of art out of the ordinary facades of the old city.
From the center we descended to the city’s promenade, which offers an unforgettable view of the endless Atlantic. Keep in mind, it can get crowded in the summer because of the tourists, but we were lucky and only met locals. In general, the Funchal promenade is an ideal place for quiet walks. There are green parks with cozy benches, cafes, and restaurants with sea views, and of course, Praça do Povo, the main coastal street of the whole town.
The next destination is the Mercado dos Lavradores. I’ve never liked to shop while on vacation, but there really is a lot to see here. The obvious downside is the slightly inflated prices, but that’s not surprising considering the number of tourists in season. We spent the next hour walking along with the countless shops with spices, sweets, and fruits. What amused me was the countless variety of passion fruit. I always thought that was the name for one fruit, but hundreds, if not thousands, of species.
It didn’t take long before the day flew by, and we headed out for dinner. We decided to stop at Combatentes, a small restaurant in traditional Portuguese style. The food here is pleasant, and the interior is great, so I highly recommend stopping here. Plus, the place is right in the center of town, so it’s easy to get here.
Day 2: Cable cars, houses and gardens.
The next morning we decided to climb higher. There is a funicular to Monta from the old town, formerly a small village and now one of the main districts in the municipality of Funchal. On the way up, we discovered a funny tradition: for some reason, the locals tirelessly wave to everyone who passes by in the neighboring cable car 🙂
The ride itself is worth the price – the views from the cable car are beautiful. Still, the grand prize was waiting for us at the end of the ride. Once we reached the top, we found ourselves between two beautiful gardens, which were spread out right next to the slope. We spent the next hour strolling through the oriental garden and stopping off at a traditional Japanese park. The latter is an amazing place. One wonders where in a European country pond with koi carps, red bridges, and lots of bright blue lilies dotted the glades and slopes come from.
We decided to have lunch at the Local Shop, a small café next to the cable car. If you’re in Monte, be sure to stop by here. You will have a beautiful view, delicious salads, and roasts. The road to it goes through the whole town, so on the way, we can have a look at the local architecture. All the streets are lined with little houses in a traditional Portuguese style, and the atmosphere is really fabulous.
When we reached the botanical garden, our first stop was at a local cafe for the world-famous pastel de nata. They are cooked particularly well here, as I had often read about on the internet, and indeed, we were not disappointed. Seriously, it was the tastiest sweets I have ever seen in Lisbon or Porto. The botanical garden itself is beautiful – such a calming atmosphere and clean air are hard to find. A must-visit this beautiful place if you plan to be in Monte.
On the way back to the cable car, we stopped at Zarcos and tried the poncea, a warming drink that the Madeiran shepherds very much loved. It’s made with rum, lemon juice, and honey. But as wonderful as everything was, time was inexorably running out, so we headed back to the hotel to prepare for the next day.
Day 3: Drive Through West Madeira
The third day had a huge program planned for it. Starting in Funchal, we drove the following route: Camara de Lobos, Cabo Girau, Ribeira Brava, Paul da Serra, Santa, Porto Moniche, Seixal, São Vicente, EncuMeada and back to Funchal. We left the hotel at nine in the morning and returned late in the evening, closer to eight. It would belong to describe everything we saw to describe the most important thing: the heather summit.
I am, of course, talking about Paul da Serra, a huge plateau (17 kilometers long and 6 wide), studded with beautiful flowers, if you are in season. We were there in April so that we couldn’t enjoy this incredible beauty, but even so, it was great. Just look at the view from the top – the vastness of Madeira, the winding river Encumeada, along which stretches two small villages Illa and Encumeada, and, in the distance, the endless blue ocean. Even now, when I remember that day, it takes my breath away. By the way, this same plateau is crowned by the highest peak of Madeira, Pico Ruivo, at 1860 m.
I would like to make a small digression here. Remember I told you about the convenient transportation in Madeira? Well, everywhere we got exactly by bus. The only thing we lost was our guide, provided by all travel agencies in the town. With him, the trip would have been even more interesting.
I’ll tell you about the good cafes and restaurants along the way. Passing Porto Moniz, we noticed that everything around is just dotted with different establishments. That’s where we stopped to check out Conchinha. The food here is delicious, and the terrace offers a wonderful view of the famous grotto.
When we returned to Funchal, we went straight to Mercearia Dona Mécia for dinner. It’s my favorite bar in the whole town so far, thanks largely to the huge selection of drinks, the best Spanish food in town, and the homely interior.
Day 4: Day trip to the valley of the nuns.
The next day we went on a full-day trip to the valley of the nuns, the Curral das Freiras. Let me tell you right away, the bus ride along a serpentine cliff is not easy, but it was definitely worth it.
Curral das Freiras is a small village located almost in the center of Madeira, on the slope of two mountains in a place that is considered the crater of an extinct volcano. Legend has it that nuns fled here to escape the pirates who had settled on the coast. The nuns are long gone, but the village and the old temple remain. It’s worth noting that they definitely chose a place with a great view 🙂
There’s not much to do in the village, the main beauties will be around you. Besides, there are a few tourist stores and an ancient cemetery (not as scary as it seems).
If you are going to go to Curral das Freiras, it is better to leave near lunch and return late in the evening: early in the morning many establishments and stores are still closed.
A little surprise awaits you for lunch – at Curral das Freiras you can order chestnuts in a sweet sauce somewhat similar to maple syrup. Honestly, the dish is an acquired taste, but my husband really liked it. In any case, they will not leave you indifferent. And, of course, they serve other dishes here as well, so don’t worry. The best place we found in the valley of the nuns was Sabores do Curral.
Day 5: Camara de Lobos and afternoon tea at the Reida Palace.
Well, we’ve been to the mountains, so it was time to visit the coast. On the fifth day, we decided to unwind and go to Câmara de Lobos, a fishing village 20 minutes from Funchal. The day before yesterday, we were here, but we couldn’t stay long because of a jam-packed program for that day, so it’s time to catch up. A little historical fact – this is the same cove depicted in Winston Churchill’s famous painting. A lot has changed since he lived here, but the peculiar 19th century flavor still hangs in the air
While strolling along the quiet waterfront and eating the freshest seafood at a local family restaurant, we decided to head back to the capital. On the way home, we happened to stumble upon a huge pink Victorian-style castle just off the coast. Needless to say, we couldn’t drive past it and decided to check it out. It turned out that the enormity was just a stylized hotel, which amazed us even more. It is hard to imagine how much work was put in to achieve such historical authenticity. We walked for an hour in circles around this hotel and even stopped for a cup of tea. Only after that we continued our journey.
When we returned to Funchal, we planned to go the other way and visit Caniça, but frankly, we didn’t have enough energy. We needed to stop and rest for at least one evening – the disadvantages of active tourism. We spent the rest of the day walking around the city’s old neighborhoods and chatting with the locals over coffee.
Day 6: Day Trip to Porto da Cruz.
The last day in Madeira meant only one thing to us – it was time to depart on our last trip away from Funchal. We decided to go to Porto da Cruz, a popular seaside resort town in the southeast of Madeira. The highlight of the place is the best beaches and sea on the whole island. This may beg the legitimate question, “What do you forget at a beach resort in April?” Undoubtedly, it is better to go here in summer, but even so, there is a lot to see here.
The main impression I got for our whole trip was here. Standing on the edge of the seven-meter cliff that juts out over the ocean and knowing that if the wind were a little stronger, the waves would have no problem reaching us, you feel like you’re on the edge of the world. I know I already said this, but I highly suggest you visit this wonderful place. Believe me; you won’t regret it.
Let’s get back to things simpler, but no less fascinating. We finally decided to go to the museum!
I know it sounds strange, considering we had deliberately avoided all the museums and art galleries on the island before, but you have to start sometime. Especially since it was a rum and sugar cane museum, and what could be more fascinating 🙂 No kidding, the tour was just great. An excellent guide was able to explain a thousand years of history in 15 minutes, what takes talent to do that interestingly and engagingly.
When we returned to Funchal, we could not take it in, we had to go back to the hotel, and tomorrow we would pack our things and say goodbye to this wonderful place. In the end, we wanted to see all the places that we had liked during the week, but we could have walked there till morning, so we decided to leave everything for the last day.
Day 7: Last Day Activities.
Your last day is always directly related to our departure time. Our flight was for noon, which left us to have breakfast at the hotel, pack up, and head out for one last walk. We walked through our favorite streets, went to the Mercearia Dona Mécia for the last time, and went to the cable car to look at the city from above. And then it was the train to the airport, coffee while waiting for the flight and a short flight to Lisbon.
And then we were home again. My conclusions about the trip are unambiguous: I will definitely go back there. Having been to the island on my own, I perfectly understood the idea I described initially: in Madeira, you are always short of time. Every time you walk down a familiar street, you suddenly find a new museum, restaurant, or gallery that you want to go to. All the cities on the island are unique, each with its own unique atmosphere and so distinctive that you forget that it takes 20 minutes by bus between them. If you have never been to Madeira, you must visit this unique island. And if you have already been, you know firsthand the wonders of this place without me.
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*The material reflects the story of the hero of the article as interpreted by the author; concerning the described methods and processes of obtaining a residence permit – they may not coincide with the actual opinion of the editors of move to cascais on this subject.