We were afraid of how the holiday will turn out, since it was our first time traveling with an agency (package holiday). One of the questions that I asked the agency clerk was: “But what if there aren’t enough people interested for these dates, are we still going?” She said you don’t need to worry about anything, you are on your own. (Party, Party!🎉)
And this is how our “on our own” went.
Day 1 – Airport – Estretio do Camara do Lobos – Funchal
Once we landed the agency representative waited for us and told us our ride number. After a hell of a ride reaching the mountainous streets of Funchal’s Monte, for dropping other vacationers, and seeing the most amazing flowers, we arrived in Estreito de Câmara do Lobos. I was so happy when I saw that we don’t need to “climb the mountains” in order to reach our accommodation. To be honest if the hotel wasn’t in this village, the village for sure wouldn’t end upon our list, even though it has a very nice local farmers market, and one of the most famous espetada restaurants, San Antonio. After accommodating, and soaking the view from our hotel we had a bus ride to Funchal. What an experience, when you think that every moment you will crush into someone, but yet everyone behaves as if the own the road. We did the Funchal’s basics. On a Sunday afternoon the city is pretty empty, almost all the shops are closed except the ice-cream and bolo do caco ones. We needed to eat both of them, plus chestnuts, plus a glass of wine with a sea view. Saw Christiano Ronaldo in every stage of his life (monumental way) and walked down the ocean till the Shopping Mall until it was time for the bus back and another hell of a ride. The night ended at San Antonio’s, with an espetada, bolo do caco, lots of tomatoes, corn cubes and passion fruit pudding. Overstuffed but happy.
Espetada – is the Portuguese term used for the technique of cooking food on skewers, and for the dishes prepared that way. Espetada is a traditional dish in Portuguese cuisine.
Bolo do Caco – flat, circular bread, shaped like a cake (bollo), traditionally cooked on a caco, a flat basalt stone slab. The bread is usually served with garlic butter.
Day 2 – Small Hike Day – Ponta de São Lourenço – Santana
The 3rd bus ride happened and it led us up to the rental car company. Seeing all of those kings of the road, we decided to take full insurance for it. From Funchal we are heading to Pinta de Sao Lourenco to have a small 3-4km hike through the mountains. The views following the whole journey are amazing, especially the so called bridges where you can see the water on both sides. Reaching the end is a small super sustainable (and pricey) cafe, after which it is not recommended to walk, still 80% of the people continued, and the reward is a stunning view of the Cevada island. The way back was reserved for a quick stop with a honey cake and Brisa passion fruit. The opportunity that you go back by boat exists, but since we were by car we had the way back on foot. The last minutes were accompanied by little showers, that made the journey more pleasant. Next stop is Santana, UNESCO heritage site having little traditional farmers houses from the 15th century. The place is super picturesque, and well preserved. Still beside the little houses and an opportunity to start a hike to Pico Ruivo, nothing much happens here, but showers that turned into heavy rain and a sprint to the first restaurant, and ending up with an 8 euros grilled tuna steak. What could possibly go wrong (except overcrowded highway, with several kilometres of stuck cars waiting to enter the capital)?
Brisa – I would say the most popular soft drink in Madeira, something like Fanta, but the most popular flavour is passion fruit
Pico Ruivo – the highest mountain peak in Madeira
Day 3 – Levadas – Jardim do Mar – Calheta – Câmara de Lobos
Levadas are irrigational channels specific for Madeira, serving the needs of the people living to the north and north west part of the island. At the moment there are more than 2000km of levadas, where people can hike. Even though there are a few that are more accessible than others – like the 25 Fontess Falls and the route to the Risco Waterfall. Here is placed a beautiful cafe, probably the most beautiful for me in Madeira. The hike was scenic, and not so intense, including some tunnels (a total must in Madeira no matter if on a highway or on foot). After that we continued to Jardim do Mar, a super small town, where you can forget about cars, and you can enjoy the tiny alleys and thousands, different flowers. This place together with Paul do Mar were the one that I would recommend the most to everyone coming to Madeira. After dining traditional shells – lapas and poncha with a sea view, we are continuing our trip to Calheta. One of the 3 sand beaches in Madeira. Apart from the beaches and the two enormous hotels, nothing much happens here(at least not in this period of the year), and it is the first place where parking is being charged. Even though we had paid parking for over an hour, we did not find a real reason for staying so much, and we continued to Camara de Lobos, which when seeing it from the top, when riding in a bus seemed very chilled and enjoyable, and actually turned out to be a tourist trap (and biggest disappointment for me). Representing itself as the home of poncha, the owners are dragging you into their bars, and the place seems like there are a lot of homeless people. We had such a wish to end the day with dinner by the water, but we decided that supermarket would be a better choice.
Poncha – Madeira’s traditional drink made out of rum and passion fruit
Day 4 – The Big Day – Pico Areiro & Pico Ruivo – Funchal
This was something we were looking forward to the most. Hiking to both summits. We didn’t start very early, but early enough, picking a polish hitchhiking couple on the way. The route is around 8km long from Pico do Areiro to Pico Ruivo and back. The views were more than stunning, the nature as well. I felt as if you are in the neighbours garden, but on the very next level. We were very lucky with the weather, except for the last steps of reaching the summit, where the temperature dropped and instead of having the island in front of us, heavy clouds and a few shower drops it was. My “partner in hike” was very strict and wanted us to complete the hike in under 4 hours, so the way back was challenging as well. Prize was a meal at the farmer’s market in Funchal and a long resting day.
Day 5 – St Vicente – Seixal – Riberia da Janela – Porto Moniz – Ponta do Pargo
The weather on this day was not promising but we anyways started the south west route hoping to see the most outspoken places of the island. We started at St. Vicente, which was not planned but we found out that Black Scabbard fish should be eaten here. After being washed by the heavy rain, we continued to Seixal to watch the surfers, and enjoy the views from the black beach, but this time we were smarter and parked closer to our destination. Nothing much happened here, there was only one open cafe in the whole village. Next stop quick Miradouro in Ribeira da Janela, a point that can easily be skipped, unless you want to stop at literally every stone on the island. The highest expectations were set on Porto Moniz, but it was one of the biggest disappointments in our case. Everything oriented towards tourists, there were even restaurants that were having couvert charge, something that I have never experienced in Portugal or even on the island. This place was on the top of my list before starting, but now I would say better invest your time smarter. After a quick lunch in Ponta do Pargo, we ended our day watching the sunset at the lighthouse in this place that represents the westernmost point of the island.
Black Scabbard fish – local fish served with a banana on top
Day 6 – Calheta – Paul do Mar
Aware that we are not going in the beach season, we were grateful for the temperature and the blue skies, so seeing no rain on the weather app meant we are going to Calheta, because it is the closest sandy beach. The beach is artificially sandy, with sand brought in from Morocco and even though it is kind of a little bay, the water was not really at enjoyable temperature. One minute in, then a couple more minutes beach cleanup, we decided to check out Paul do Mar, another place where you would expect surfers. I think that together with Jardim do Mar this place was my favourite of our trip. You can see real life, few open restaurants, we ate so well, and we walked a lot here, reaching the endpoint of the city, the MakTub Pub – surfers place that is a tiny restaurant that only works with reservations. What we experienced here was a super chilled place with good music and nice staff, right on the beach. I don’t know if we are ever coming back to Madeira, but if ever that would be my first thing to do.
Day 7 – Funchal – Camara de Lobos
This was the day to return the car, buy everything from the list (all types of passion fruit), and check out the parks and the coast side of Fucnhal. First we check out the local market in Estreito de Câmara de Lobos, because who doesn’t want passion fruit 5 times cheaper than on the farmers market in Funchal? Yet the options there were limited, so we anyways went to the market for banana-maracuja, the banana-pineapple, and some more types. I would say, the regular maracuja is the best, but trying one of each is pleasurable. Then we relaxed in the Santa Catarina Park, saw some tiny cafes that were opening later in the evening, and walked along the coastal/hotel side of the city. We ended the night meeting friends, in a restaurant in our not so favourite Camara de Lobos, but having good fish, good people and good wine, is more than enough to stop complaining.
I really liked the island, as well as the fact that even if you are taking the trip slowly, you can still visit so many places on the island, have a full program and enjoy the views and the food while avoiding hurting your wallet.