Like I mentioned in my photo diary Madeira island was never a place that I had ever thought about visiting but now I’ve seen it for myself I’m glad it’s an island I’ve enjoyed a holiday on.
Madeira may be a small island (according to the 2011 census it had just under 300,000 people living there) but it’s full of gorgeous little towns and villages that picking my top three was a difficult task!
Ponta Do Sol
This literally translated into English means ‘Sun Point’ and it is the warmest and sunniest place on Madeira island. If you visit you’re almost guaranteed sunshine no matter what time of year it is. I visited this gorgeous little town three days before Christmas and enjoyed drinks outside in a nearby bar watching the sea shimmer under the fierce sun until sunset, with the occasional bit of paddling in the water and sunbathing on the rocky beach. Oh, I even ended up with sun burn (I know, I know, always use sun cream!).
The town itself is situated on a small incline, with a pretty little church nestled in the corner in between a stream and a few cafes.
At Christmas time the main road along the seafront is decorated with festive lights. There’s a nativity scene by the beach which you can walk through and, across the road, was a white winter scene with polar bears and penguins. This was a great addition to a town which has probably never seen a snowflake.
Ponta Do Sol is a fishing town so expect a lot of seafood from the nearby restaurants. The ones that aren’t so seafood-heavy seem to be serving the standard ‘European’ dishes like the rest of Madeira (think pasta and pizza), but there are a few quirky eateries which sets the town apart from the others. There’s The Old Pharmacy, a small tearoom tucked away behind the beachfront, Mare-Alta Bar with it’s open fronted windows which look out over the sea, and Estalagem Restaurant, hotel restaurant with a glass terrace perched on a cliff edge which is perfect for enjoying a special meal.
Monte Palace Tropical Gardens
You can really see why these have been named one of the top 13 most beautiful tropical gardens in the world because they are stunning. I only spent around two hours in the gardens and barely even explored half of it so it would be easy to spend a whole day here. Be sure to pick up a map before you enter the gardens as they show you the several different routes you can take based on what you would most like to see.
The gardens have lots of exotic plants which have been brought from all over the world, and wildlife including koi carp in the lake, swans from around the globe, and gorgeous peacocks wandering around the park. As you walk around the gardens there are ceramic tiles depicting a certain time period in Portuguese history. The gardens also boast impressive garden art, a cute central lake and waterfall, fabulous oriental gardens and stunning views of Funchal and the ocean below.
Of course, the main attraction (aside from the free wine from the café in the centre of the gardens, obviously) is Monte palace itself. The palace was originally bought in the 18th century by a British consul who turned it into an estate, which was then used by some of the wealthiest families in Portugal throughout the 19th Century. After that it was turned into a hotel which boasted stunning views from its rooms. After the hotel owners’ family did not want to continue in the business after he died the hotel became a foundation and part of the tropical gardens so loved by visitors today. You can’t go into the palace but you can walk right up to the front door and enjoy the grounds. Also, in my opinion, the front of the palace is where you’ll find the most breath-taking views.
To get to the Monte Palace Gardens you can take the cable car from the seafront in Funchal up to the top of the mountain. From the cable car station at the top it’s only a short walk to the gardens. The town of Monte is also where Madeira’s famous basket sledge is so, when you’ve finished in the gardens, why not hurtle down the side of a mountain in a wooden basket?
This list wouldn’t be complete without including one of the cutest little capital cities in Europe! The city of Funchal may be small but every street is stunning, from the seafront to the little cobblestone backstreets.
Funchal has everything you could possibly want from a capital city, from high street stores to shop from, quaint streets and old buildings steeped in history, fantastic bars and restaurants and the ocean! It may only be a small capital city but you could easily spend a couple of weeks there and not run out of things to do. No matter where in Funchal you go you are bound to find a secret park or lesser visited back street. It’s the perfect city for just walking and exploring. And, if you get tired or want a break you’re guaranteed to never be too far from a cafe or restaurant with friendly staff and huge portions of great food!
I visited in December over Christmas (you can read Festive in Funchal here) and the seafront had been transformed into a funfair, which was open everyday including in the evening on Christmas day. It was great to walk along the ocean front, hearing the sound of the fair and people having fun, eating roasted chestnuts in the sunshine. In the summer it’s a water lovers paradise apparently, with lots of water sports to partake in or boat trips to nearby islands to take.
It truly is a unique city and it’s not one to be overlooked in favour or bigger, more well known places.
Has anyone been to Madeira island before? What did you think of the places on this list? Any places you would add? Let me know in the comments!
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