We interviewed Joana Dias, an Account Executive at Madeira Promotion Bureau to unearth all of Madeira’s secrets. From its off-the-beaten-track must-visit spots to tasty local dishes and top tips, we’ve got the insider scoop.
If it’s good enough for legends such as Stephen Hawking, the island gets top marks from us! Read below to discover further detail about its most popular events and the best time to visit, all from the experts themselves.
1. What Makes Madeira Unique?
I know I’m biased, but I personally feel that Madeira is very special. It’s not your typical island with your standard sun and beach, it’s so much more than that. The location, just 500 kilometres from the African continent, enables us to have mild temperatures all year round. Not to mention nature has gifted us with an untouched lush forest and impressive landscape.
Even though it’s a short haul destination, you’ll feel like you’re on the other side of the world. Everywhere you go there is a striking viewpoint, a steep mountain or some place with exotic vegetation. Plus, you can do all sorts of activities in any season! I have to say that the energy is very unique, people are very kind and welcoming, you can easily unwind and disconnect. It’s that kind of island. Not forgetting the local food, it’s all healthy calories (laughing). I really can’t point out one single thing, there’s a number of reasons why Madeira is so special.
2. When is the Best Time to Visit?
There’s never a bad time to come to Madeira. However, it really depends what your preferences are and what you like to do. For walking and activities overall, I would recommend shoulder season. Obviously, spring is very popular. If you like flora and fauna that is the best time to visit, as it’s flower season.
The Flower Festival always takes place two weeks after Easter. We have many events throughout the year, there is always something going on, Funchal is very entertaining. One of my favourites, is the wine harvest in September. You can visit the vineyards and participate in the wine making process, it’s fun and open to anyone who would like to join in.
One of the highlights of the year is Christmas and New Year. The whole island is very festive and hundreds of thousands of lights illuminate Funchal. Events and lots of entertainment culminate on New Year’s Eve with firework shows at midnight. In my opinion, it’s one of the best in the world. Madeira is packed on this night, both locals and tourists welcome the New Year in with a bang.
3. What's the Most Popular Island Excursion?
It´s hard to say, because there is so much to do! I recommend you visit all corners of the island starting in Funchal. A trip to the local market and the Old Town is must-do, and don’t forget to climb to Pico do Areeiro, our third highest mountain. The view from up there is breathtaking.
Try a Levada Walk a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and if you have time go to the north coast where we have the lava pools, in Seixal and Porto Moniz, they are unique. Our blog at madeirallyear has some insiders tips as well.
4. Are There Any Off-the-Beaten-Track Secret Spots?
I have a couple of favourites, and normally they are very popular among locals. Fajã dos Padres is definitely a hidden gem, only accessible by boat or cable car. It’s a great place to relax, swim and have some fresh fish while sipping some local wine. This location is one of the main producers of organic fruit like bananas, mangos, papayas and passionfruit to name a few. You can easily spend a day there.
Other off-the-beaten-track places include Achadas da Cruz in the north (accessible by cable car) and the lush environment of Chão da Ribeira in Seixal.
5. What Are Your 5 Top Tips For Anyone Visiting?
Hard to choose but here goes:
- Sunset in Paul do Mar
- Boat trip plus swimming with dolphins
- Trip to the local market – “Mercado dos Lavradores”
- Experience local food and wine, the fruit for example tastes unlike anywhere else
- Trip to Porto Santo island, usually unknown and very popular for its sandy nine-kilometre beach
6. Tell Us a Fun Fact About Madeira
Even though the island is Portuguese, the accent you get here is different from mainland Portugal. It’s not a dialect, just a special accent typical of Madeira.
7. Have Any Celebrities Visited Madeira?
Celebrities seem to love Madeira, and we’ve had many visiting the island over the years. Famous faces such as Sir Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Prince Albert and Princess Stephanie from Monaco, as well as Pope John Paul II and Stephen Hawking, just to name a few.
8. What’s Your Biggest Event?
The most popular events are the Flower Festival alongside the Christmas and New Year festivities.
9. Tell Us More About Porto Santo
Actually, Porto Santo island was discovered before Madeira in 1418. Portuguese navigators discovered the island they called the Holy Port during a huge storm, which is the translation for Porto Santo. It is known as the ‘Golden Island’, due to its fantastic golden sandy beach on the south coast with therapeutic properties and its warm waters.
10. Who Would You Say Madeira Is Best Catered For?
I think Madeira appeals to all segments of the market, but mainly people that are looking for a different experience and not necessarily looking for beaches. If you are into outdoor activities and nature at its purest state Madeira is the perfect place!
11. Which Restaurants Would You Recommend?
It wouldn’t be fair to recommend some and I’m sure I would forget many of them. But the Old Town has a wide variety of restaurants with local dishes. Try some local fish like the espada the scabbard, or the tuna. Our national dish is the espetada (beef), that is served with garlic bread – it’s very popular.
While you’re at it, try the local drink Poncha, made with rum and fruit juices, if you have three you can speak fluent Portuguese. The percentage of alcohol in the local rum ranges from 40 to 50%, it’s a very tricky drink. Our blog has some great hints about our local dishes.
Our Best-Selling Hotels in Madeira
Now you’ve got the low-down on all of Madeira’s biggest attractions and secret spots, what better excuse do you need to visit? And if you’re looking for somewhere to stay, we’ve got the pick of the bunch with our best-selling properties…
- VidaMar Resort Madeira: This swanky 5 star property is situated in the city centre of Funchal with its modern ocean view rooms, infinity edge pools overlooking the Atlantic and four tasty a la carte restaurants.
- Pestana Royal Premium Ocean & Spa Resort: With a raised position above the Atlantic and surrounded by major highlights including Cabo Girao, its location is a real winner. Inside you’ll be tempted in by in its swim-up bar, deluxe suites and endless eating options.
- Quinta Da Bela Vista: Combining 18th century history with luxurious modern facilities, it’s hardly surprising this hotel is a five-time winner of the World Travel Award. Revel in its gourmet eateries to its old manor house bars and jaw-dropping Funchal Bay views.
- Se Boutique Hotel: Moments from the capital’s famous cathedral and with a rooftop bar that provides 360 degree views of the city, the amenities here are stand-out.
- Quinta das Vistas Palace Gardens: This prestigious stay oozes elegance throughout from its premium spa facilities to its exotic gardens and its unmatched views of Funchal.