Now, I know a lot of you are curious about my visit to Madeira and it has taken me a while to write this, but here I am with all the info for you! In this article you’ll find my thoughts on Madeira Vs Hawaii, things to do in Madeira, where to stay in Madeira and a few helpful tips for visiting Madeira. Basically, everything you need to know, with lots of pretty photos in between. Now, let’s get started! (FYI – This post contains affiliate links).
Things to do in Madeira and More
Madeira Vs Hawaii
I visited Hawaii (Oahu and Maui) in February 2016 and Madeira in March 2017. I was struck by the similarities between the two. In particular the similarities between Maui and Madeira island. Both are volcanic islands in the middle of an ocean. Both have the soaring, cloud-piercing, mountains covered in bright green foliage with waterfalls flowing down the sides. Both make you want to hum the Jurassic Park theme tune as you drive the winding roads around the islands.
The local people are welcoming and friendly in both of these island paradises and each island has their own traditional dance form (though they’re quite different). In Hawaii you snack on shave ice, in Madeira you have Madeira cake or honey cake. In Maui all tourists drive around in Mustangs and Jeeps. In Madeira tourists drive around in Clios.
Both islands are all about outdoor activities, the sea and have a romantic vibe. Honestly, Madeira is essentially the European version of Hawaii. It’s cheaper (WAY cheaper), closer and a lot less touristy. If you’re dreaming of Hawaii, I’d seriously consider Madeira. Stay anywhere other than the capital of Funchal and you’ll feel like you have the whole island to yourself.
How to get to Madeira
We booked with British Airways in their holiday section. It cost £262/€305 per person for return flights from London Gatwick and 4 nights at a 5* spa hotel including breakfast. I don’t know about you but I think that’s a pretty sweet deal. I just got some cheap Ryanair flights over to London.
There are direct flights from Dublin during the summer but apparently only once a week. Easyjet also provide direct London to Madeira flights. Jet2 also offer Holidays to Madeira from UK airports. If you’re already in Portugal there are flights from Lisbon to Madeira with Easyjet, TAP and Azores Airlines.
Madeira Island Map
In case you’re not familiar with where Madeira is, here’s a map of Madeira island. As you can see it’s a pretty small island. Funchal, the capital is on one side. The gorgeous seaside town of Porto Moniz is on the opposite side and the volcanoes are right in the middle. Have a look around and explore.
Things to do in Madeira
- Swim in Volcanic Pools. Not sure what to do in Madeira? Head to Porto Moniz, a gorgeous town on the northwest of the island which has several natural volcanic swimming pools that are free to use. The water is tremendously clear. Enjoy! The town of Porto Moniz in general is worth spending time in with a couple of cute eateries.
- Walk on a Deserted Beach. Seixal is a tiny town between Porto Moniz and Sao Vicente. It’s slightly off the tourist track as the roads going into it are tiny. Once you make your way down to the bottom a stunning black sand beach awaits. When we went there was nobody else around and the sand was powder-soft. In my opinion it is one of the best beaches in Madeira.
- Levada Walks. The most popular of things to do in Madeira. There are many different walks to choose from with over 2150km of irrigation systems around the island. Not all are steep and strenuous either. There are walks for all abilities and age groups. This is a “must-do” on any list of things to do in Madeira.
- Go Tobogganing. Yep, really. Hop into a two-seater wicker sledge and get ready to be pushed down the steep streets of Monte towards Funchal by men dressed in white cotton suits with straw hats. Do they cordon off roads for this? NOPE! You’ll be racing cars down the steep hills with only the thick rubber soles of your driver’s shoes for brakes. It’s a wild ride and definitely very unique to the island. It’s one of those things you have to do in Madeira.
- The Doors. No, not the band! On Santa Maria Street in the capital of Funchal nearly every single door is painted with a different design. From a “maths” door to one that looks like cracked glass, they’re all unique and totally Instagrammable (important). Definitely one of the most unique things to see in Madeira.
- Food With a View. If you want to dine with a stunning view then Madeira is the perfect island for you. There are two restaurants that I highly recommend. The first is Aqua Natura Hotel Restaurant in Porto Moniz. The view over the volcani swimming pools and ocean in general is incredible. Get a seat on the balcony if you can. I had the cheese risotto with a glass of green wine. My second recommendation is the Beer House restaurant at the marina in Funchal. It’s a seafood lover’s dream, but also has veggie options. You have a great view of the marina and the houses rising up into the mountains. They brew their own beer on the premises, so if you’re a beer conisseur you’ll love it.
- Sao Vicenta Lava Caves. This is different to a lot of cave tours I’ve been on around the world (Slovenia, Ireland, Australia etc). There are no stalactites or stalagmites. Instead there are lava tubes! My boyfriend is a geologist so he loved this. You see the connection with Hawaii a lot on this tour. The tour is around 30mins long and then you can visit the lava information centre and watch a retro 3D film about Madeira and its volcanic history. It’s definitely one of my favourite Madeira points of interest.
- ROAD TRIP. Hire a car (we got ours from DrivingMadeira) and explore the island.Drive up to the 3rd highest peak on the island, pico do areeiro, and take in the expanse of the island from this stunning view point. There’s also a coffee shop and restaurant up there and it’s a great spot to watch the sunet. I do have a few cautionary tips below for driving in Madeira though.
- MADEIRA FLOWER FESTIVAL. If you’re in Madeira in May (2-19th of May, 2019) then make sure to visit the flower festival. There’s a parade with floral floats, costumes, dances and flowers absolutely everywhere. Flowers carpet the streets and shops compete to have the best window display. There’s A LOT to see. It might just be the best time to visit Madeira.
- GOLF IN MADEIRA. Golfing in Madeira is a unique experience. There are several courses on the island. Try Palheiro Golf (18 holes) or Santo da Serra Golf (27 holes).
Where to Stay in Madeira
My boyfriend and I stayed at the stunning, and ludicrously well priced, Savoy Saccharum in Calheta (about 40mins outside Funchal). It is everything that you would expect from a 5* design hotel and MORE. We consciously decided to spend a lot of our time in the hotel, despite only having 3 full days on the island. I honestly have never been so impressed by a hotel in my life and I’ve been very fortunate with the hotels that I’ve stayed in over the past couple of years.
The Savoy Saccharum has 5 pools: one in the spa, one indoor on the roof which is heated, an infinity pool on the roof, a kid’s pool (of the most classy variety) and an outdoor “adults-only” pool on the 2nd floor. The layout of the hotel was something we appreciated in particular. Despite having 243 rooms we always felt as if we had the entire hotel to ourselves, the only evidence that we didn’t was the full dining room at breakfast.
By the way, sparkling wine at breakfast, 11%, PERFECTION! Rates start at €98 per room per night for a standard double (seriously). You can get packages with spa access included. Otherwise spa-access costs €20 per person per day for hotel residents, or is free if you have booked a treatment.
Turn down service brings a different sweet treat every night. We were also greeted with a fruit basket upon our arrival. Our room had a gorgeous balcony seating area with a view over the ocean, perfect for a glass of sangria and watching the sun set.
If you’re a lover and critic of hotel bathrooms (like me) then you’ll fall in love with Savoy Saccharum. I estimate that you could fit at least 8 people comfortably in the shower. Wifi is great too, so no worries for any of you that are as digitally addicted as I am. In fact, there’s so much to say about this hotel that I could nearly write another article! I’ll add it to the to-do list.
Anyway, I’ll definitely be returning to this hotel. It was a pleasure staying there and I would recommend it to anyone that enjoys luxurious comfort (so that’s everyone). Definitely one of the best hotels in Madeira.
Important Tips For Visiting Madeira
Just a few things I learnt during my stay in Madeira! Hopefully they can help you with your visit.
- Ignore the weather forecast. Based on what the various forecast sites were telling us my boyfriend and I packed minimal beachwear and maximal rainwear. Fortunately (or unfortunately) the weather was absolutely stunning. Just pack light layers and a warm coat or jumper if you’re not going to be hiking. It does get a bit breezy, but even in the evenings I only needed a jumper (and this was in March).
- If driving you NEED to be comfortable with winding roads, steep hills and tunnels. It’s a mountainous, volcanic island, of course it will have some crazy roads. So just be prepared. It’s not so bad since the tunnels have been built, however, in some parts of the island, particularly going up into the mountains, you will be faced with a lot of hairpin turns with steep drops on one side. Not for nervous drivers. A LOT like the “Road to Hana” in Hawai.
- Try Bola de Caco, the local flatbread. We had it covered in garlic butter a couple of times at the local beachfront restaurant, but it’s sold by street vendors with different fillings as well. It’s cheap and delicious. Definitely a must taste in Madeira. Eating this local dish with a great pizza was definitely one of my favourite things to do in Madeira.
There you have it, you now know all the best things to do in Madeira, where to stay and you have a cheaper, equally beautiful, alternative to Hawaii to visit! What are you waiting for?! Get researching your future trip to Madeira now.
If you have any questions just let me know in the comments, I’ll help as much as I can.
** Visit Madeira provided me with a couple of complimentary activities and meals. However, as always, all opinions and views remain my own (and maybe those of my boyfriend, SOMETIMES, if he’s lucky).
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