Return flights: £79 (Jet2.com)
Accommodation: £37.92 Hospedaria Pôr do Sol (Hotels.com)
Summary and Highlights:
- Prepare for all weathers – Madeira has several microclimates which can all be experienced all in one day
- Tour the Island – Several tour companies do day trips around different parts of the island, the most popular being to the West of the island.
- Walk the Levadas – Madeira is famous for its irrigation channels and the paths alongside them; the Lavadas that can be walked on extensively across the island
- Funchal – Rua Santa Maria, Parque de Santa Catarina, cable car to Monte Tropical Gardens
- Madeira Peaks – Pico do Arieiro / Pico Ruivo
- West of the Island – Cabo Girão, Serra D’Água, Porto Moniz
Where would you go during a global pandemic? A remote island in the middle of the ocean of course. Naturally, I booked this long before the Rona was on our minds. I had no plans to go but saw a deal come up on Jack’s Flight Club and thought it would be somewhere a bit different. Also after looking at some pictures and seeing it being compared to the Hawaii of Europe, it was a nice alternative to a city break and maybe even catch some sun. Thankfully, it still went ahead as planned, although the second day in, those arriving had to quarantine for 2 weeks and I was only there for 4 days so luckily I was already there.
I didn’t know much about it before I arrived, just that it was a volcanic island and an autonomous region of Portugal. The original Portuguese navigators discovered the nearby island, Porto Santo, first and then followed with Maderia. The volcanic soil is naturally very fertile so was utilised for growing produce which then and now is traded. I’ve never seen so many banana trees before – as far as the eye can see. Sugar cane is also grown widely as well as grapes for making famous Madeira wine. Pretty much any and every fruit or vegetable you can think of there will probably be somebody growing it or selling somewhere.
Funchal is the capital and largest city and is easy to walk around. Most of the sights can be seen within half a day to a day. I didn’t get to go up the cable car to the tropical gardens in Monte because of the escalating COVID-19 situation that seemed to go from quite lapse to pretty intense fairly quickly. Also, my walking tours were cancelled because of it which was disappointing but understandable. Instead, I just made a route for myself for all the places I wanted to see in the city. A really unique thing to see is the painted doors on Rua Santa Maria which are part of a city project that invited artists to paint the doors on this street in their own way – over 200 doors have been painted in total.
My second day I was meant to do a Levada walk up to the highest peaks in Madeira – Pico do Arieiro and Pico Ruivo. I’d organised these tours beforehand using Lido Tours that I found from Google and the tour days fit in well with my plans. However, due to the weather and low cloud, after being 1000 metres up, it was cloudy, raining and the temperature dropped over 10 degrees. The peak walks especially are for the sights so there was no point walking in the rain and cold to not see anything. Instead, the guide took us on an alternative walk on the North coast to walk partially along a Levada there and then along the coastline. I expect they use this backup fairly often and he said they don’t advertise it as a walk to organise as they do use is as the alternative for if the peaks walk isn’t possible. I’m not scared of heights but even looking 300 metres to the sea below flips your stomach a bit. Plus, it meant we did get to see the views by being lower down and by the sea instead of inland.
I did a second tour with Lido tours the following day which was to go to the West of the island which we managed to see everything as well as a few extra stops due to it being a small group. We stopped at the glass bottom lookout at Cabo Girão which has stunning views down the coast followed by the valley at Serra D’Água.
Then up and over the mountains, seeing Madeira’s microclimates in action – dropping over 10 degrees in temperature, from clear to cloudy and back again to the rock pools at Porto Moniz. These volcanic pools have now been utilised to make natural swimming pools that keep the incoming waves largely out but feeding the pools with seawater.
It really is a stunning place in all weathers. Of course, it was sunny on the morning I had to go home but after the constant wind and rain we’d had at home, any bit of sun was nice. Unfortunately, due to the escalating Coronavirus situation, things were closing day by day so I didn’t get to do everything I wanted. Even so, it was a good change to a city break and go somewhere different than I usually would.