‘Where to go for winter sun?’ It’s a classic question that pops up every year, and one that my readers ask me frequently. Now that we’re well and truly into winter, I thought it was the perfect time to give you a good answer. Let me introduce you to the Portuguese island of Madeira.
I visited Madeira this November with Classic Collection Holidays. Before the opportunity arose I would never have considered going to Madeira, so I am guessing perhaps you haven’t either? With the help of my best friend and favourite travel buddy Nam, I had 3 days to experience everything the island has to offer. Here is my First-Timers Guide to Madeira…
Madeira is a Portuguese island located 400km north of Tenerife. Think sparkling blue ocean, spectacular rugged coastlines and a balmy breeze. Think towns with cobbled streets, al fresco coffee shops and unmistakable European charm (It’s the closest thing you’ll find to the Amalfi Coast without the big price tag).
Because of its Southern location, it’s one of the few European destinations where year-round sunshine is pretty much guaranteed (it’s closer to mainland Morocco than mainland Portugal). Flights from the UK to Madeira take a maximum of 4 hours, and direct flights go from various regional airports. I flew with British Airways from Gatwick Airport.
Things to Do in Madeira
Funchal Old Town
Funchal’s quintessential Old Town has all the right ingredients for a bustling day out. It’s home to narrow alleyways, leafy piazzas, boutique shops and plenty of eateries. You can spend hours just getting lost amongst the streets and people-watching in one of the many cafes. The Central Market is a great place to pick up some local produce (passion-fruit seems to be all the rage) and it’s all a stone’s throw away from Funchal’s main harbour.
The Funchal Cable Car
Funchal is connected to the hilltop town of Monte by the famous Cable Car. Take a ride up the Cable Car for an amazing panoramic view of Funchal and then spend a few hours exploring Monte.
The small town of Monte overlooks Funchal and is best known for its bizarre but novel toboggan run. Before the cable car was built, the wicker toboggan run was a mode of transport to get back down to Funchal, but the tradition has stood the test of time and is now a popular (albeit overpriced) tourist activity. Monte is also popular for its beautiful gardens, including the Jardim do Monte (public gardens) and Jardim do Palacio do Monte (tropical gardens).
The Nun’s Valley
For some breathtaking scenery, venture inland and take a half-day excursion to the Nun’s Valley. This lush green valley acquired its name in the 16th century, when Nuns fled there to escape raiding pirates. The main viewpoint of Eira do Serrado is spectacular, so make sure your tour includes a stop there. You can also visit the villages at the bottom of the valley.
Afternoon Tea at Reid’s Palace
For a break from sightseeing, head to Belmond Reid’s Palace in Madeira to experience the most famous Afternoon Tea on the island. The grand affair takes place on the hotel’s sun terrace, which overlooks the glittering ocean and the town of Funchal. I was lucky enough to sample the Afternoon Tea during my trip. Be sure to read my Belmond Reid’s Palace Review Post next.
Picos dos Barcelos Viewpoint
The perfect place to begin your adventure in Madeira; this viewpoint gives you a panoramic perspective of Funchal and it’s mountainous surroundings. The street entertainers inject some atmosphere and the viewpoint looks over Santo Antonio Parish, the hometown of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Porto Moniz Sea Pools
The geography and volcanic terrain of Madeira means that coastlines are rugged and sandy beaches are non-existent. Some areas of sea can be too rough to swim in, but the sea pools of Porto Moniz allow you to get closer to the ocean. A series of man-made pools allow seawater in and keep the waves out – perfect for a bracing swim. Team up your trip to the sea pools with a wander through Porto Moniz village and lunch at one of the many cafes.
Cabo Girao Glass Floor View Point
In the south west of the Island is the popular Cabo Girao view point, which is best known for its glass bottom and spectaculcar views of the coast line. It’s a popular stop for tour groups, and you can visit independently too with a hire car.
Where to Stay in Madeira
For a luxurious and central stay in Funchal, I can highly recommend Belmond Reid’s Palace. This was my base for 4 nights in Madeira and I was so impressed by the food, service, style and attention to detail in this hotel. Belmond Reid’s Palace is dramatically perched on a rugged cliff face and behind the pink walls the interiors ooze 1920’s glamour and timeless elegance. Stay tuned for a separate hotel review post coming soon. If you’re looking for something a little more contemporary, you can browse other hotels in Funchal.
When to visit Madeira
When I asked this question to our cab driver in Madeira (who was born and bred in Funchal) he told me that April and May are the best times to come. The weather is not too hot (18-20 degrees) and sunshine is guaranteed. However, Madeira really does have beautiful weather all year around and from November to January the temperature ranges between 17-20 degrees. In the height of summer temperatures soar and prices increase too.
The Verdict on Madeira
The main thing that amazed me about Madeira was the weather. We had bright blue skies and sunshine every day, and we visited at the start of November. You could sunbathe, swim in the sea and take a dip in the pool, so for that reason it truly is a winter sun destination. There are beautiful viewpoints, lush gardens, and towns to explore. Hiring a car for mini-road trips would be a great option if you’re visiting for a week or so.
It’s important to know that there are no beaches in Madeira, and the nightlife and clubbing scene is minimal. Because of this, Madeira attracts an older demographic, which is immediately apparent when you travel there. So honestly speaking, if you’re dreaming of nightclubs and sandy beaches then it’s probably not the right destination for you. However, Madeira has so much to offer and if you’re looking for a relaxing, scenic and glamorous getaway with endless European charm, Madeira might just tick all of your boxes.
What did you think of my Island Guide to Madeira? Have you considered going to Madeira before now or are you planning a trip? If you enjoyed this post or found it useful, please leave me a comment in the box below!
This post has been sponsored as part of collaboration with Classic Collection Holidays. All views are my own.