Madeira: Portugal’s Island Paradise

Written by  Stillman Rogers

EUROPE Portugal
It’s impossible not to like Madeira, the Portuguese island that stands alone in the Atlantic, closer to Morocco than to the mainland of Portugal. It has something to please almost every client, whether their passion is hiking, beaches, gardens, sea adventures or food.
What foodie could not love a place that grows more than seven different varieties of passionfruit (each with a different flavor) and is surrounded by fresh seafood. Chefs combine the largess of tropical fruits with the morning’s catch in infinite and creative ways. The island cuisine will surprise (and delight) food-lovers for its fresh and inventive style.

In Madeira’s capital city of Funchal, suggest clients have lunch at the new Babosas Village Restaurant near Monte Palace Gardens, or at Restaurant do Forte (https://en.forte.restaurant), set in an old fort overlooking the sea. Nearby, the narrow Rua de Santa Maria is filled with restaurants, but its main attraction is its painted doorways, decorated by local artists. Clients interested in art and design along with excellent food should reserve a table at Nini Design Center Restaurant (www.niniandradesilva.com/en/design-centre), set in the atelier of the internationally recognized Nini Andrade Silva.
On the coast west of Funchal suggest clients dine at Estalagem Quinta da Ponta do Sol (www.pontadosol.com), accessed by an elevator and sky bridge to its cliff-top setting, where they can look almost straight down into a pretty little village square. The inn, with its relaxing black-and-white rooms, lovely terrace and infinity pool with lofty views, is a good lodging choice outside Funchal for clients who like the intimate air of a small luxury inn.

Where to Stay
Clients will want to spend at least part of their stay in the capital of Funchal, where a number of the prime attractions are located. Perfectly set on the sea but only a 10-minute walk from the center of Funchal Is the beautiful five-star Savoy Royal Hotel (www.madeiraroyalsavoy.com), with ocean views and a broad sea-front terrace of swimming pools (one just for small children), palms, cafes and places to lounge in the sun. Guests can swim in the ocean beneath a little tower that remains from fortifications that once guarded the harbor.
Spacious rooms and suites have all the modern amenities but retain the elegance of a classic grand hotel; an especially attentive staff, from the uniformed doorman to room service, reinforces that impression. The Savoy group is building a brand new 580-room Savoy Palace Hotel, just above the Savoy Royal, opening in the spring of 2019.
About 45 minutes from Funchal, the village of Calheta rises steeply from its little fishing harbor. The impressive Savoy Saccharum (www.savoyresorts.com/savoysaccharum) climbs the wall of rock in layers of terraces that accommodate several swimming pools (one infinity and one just for adults), cafes and an upscale restaurant. Guest rooms overlook the sea in the curving multi-storied hotel, each with a glass-railed balcony for unobstructed ocean views. Premier Rooms include access to the spa’s sauna, Jacuzzi, ice fountain, Turkish bath, sensorial showers, Halotherapy room and heated indoor pool. A good choice for families is the adjacent all-inclusive Hotel Savoy Calheta Beach, with family rooms and suites, pools, a play room, informal dining and kid-friendly activities.

What To See And Do
Clients don’t have to be garden lovers to enjoy Funchal’s three exceptional public gardens. Palheiro Gardens crown a hilltop above the city with an avenue of camellias, a sunken garden, roses and acres of floral beds and borders. The municipal Botanic Gardens cascade down a steep hillside and provide one of Funchal’s iconic views, down on a wide terrace planted in a mosaic of colored blossoms and foliage. An excellent guide for clients especially interested in gardens is Celia Mendonca (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).
Because of its dramatically steep terrain, cable cars take tourists to two of Funchal’s main attractions, and clients can take one directly from the Botanic Garden to the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens. This exceptional park fills a ravine with lush plants, flowers and tropical trees, interspersed with priceless artworks, including walls of tile murals. Be sure they know to look for the cave-like gallery displaying more than 700 gems, crystals and giant geodes. To return to the city center, clients won’t want to miss Funchal’s premier you-can-only-do-it-here experience: descending the stone streets on a wicker sled. This unusual transport has been thrilling visitors for more than a century.
Outdoor and walking enthusiasts will already know about Madeira’s famous levadas, the series of narrow canals that carry water from the mountains to irrigate farms. Footpaths alongside these bring hikers through UNESCO-acclaimed Laurissilva forests to waterfalls, caves, ruined mills, tiny hamlets, rare orchids and spectacular views of the inland mountains. Whether clients want to hike along the levadas or just revel in the (sometimes terrifyingly) vertiginous landscapes of the steep forested interior, Mountain Expedition (www.mountainexpedition.pt) can take them there. Jeep tours of the interior can be combined with guided hiking, and the English-speaking guide (ask for Angello) will tailor the excursion to your clients’ interests.
A jeep trip with Mountain Expedition can also take clients to magnificent viewpoints and coastal towns high above the ocean. A good lunch stop is at Quinta do Furão (www.quintadofurao.com/en-gb), perched atop soaring cliffs in Santana, on the north coast. Along with its excellent restaurant, the inn has double and family-sized rooms and cottages, including one that’s a traditional thatched home typical of the north coast. With a heated indoor/outdoor swimming pool, sauna and other resort facilities, this is a good base for clients who want to explore the island or just luxuriate in beautiful surroundings.
Sitting as it does in mid-ocean, it’s not surprising that Madeira offers a number of marine experiences. The surrounding waters are some of the best for spotting whales and dolphins, and Rota dos Cetaceos (www.rota-dos-cetaceos.pt) offers thrilling zodiac adventures in search of the five species of each that are common here. A marine biologist accompanies each trip to identify them, and spotting is guaranteed; for a real thrill, clients can swim with dolphins on these trips.
For beach lovers, Madeira has an entire island famed for its long golden sand beaches. Porto Santo is reached by a daily ferry from Funchal, and Lazermar (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) can meet clients for a guided jeep tour of the island and/or transport to the beautiful dune-backed beaches at Calheta. The tour includes the best viewpoints, a fascinating columnar rock formation and a stop at a traditional island farmhouse to sample local products. Advise clients to have lunch overlooking the beach, at O Calhetas, where the house specialty, seafood with spaghetti, is outstanding.
Azores Airlines and TAP (Air Portugal) both fly to Madeira, connecting through the Azores or Lisbon. See the following page for information about Azores Airlines’ special Stopover program that includes travel to Madeira. For more information consult
www.visitmadeira.pt/en-gb

 

Developed by Interwave Concepts, Inc.