Madeira | A wonderful Christmas trip to the island of levadas

Madeira, is a region of Portugal comprising 4 islands off the northwest coast of Africa. It is known for its namesake wine Madeira and warm, subtropical climate. The main island of Madeira is volcanic, green and rugged, with high cliffs and pebbly beaches and is a favourite tourist destination. 

See below for:
  • How did we get to Madeira?

  • Where did we stay? 

  • A Madeira style Christmas 

  • 6 things not to miss when visiting.

  • Andiamo Amigos recommend restaurants

Madeira
Lush green island of Madeira
explore madeira
The fertile fields of Madeira
How did we get to Madeira?

We flew from Manchester to Funchal Madeira on Easyjet.  Simple, cheap and no frills getting you from A to B.  

For deals on flights then check out Skyscanner here. 

Getting from the airport into Funchal.

The Aerobus leaves from just outside the arrivals area of Funchal airport and heads towards the Foremosa beach with stops at several hotels en route.  The driver takes the name of your hotel when. you board and shouts when he’s there.  What could be simpler.

The bus takes about 30 – 45 mins depending on where your hotel is and costs around €5

Where did we stay?

We chose the Hotel Maderia for 3 reasons.  It was reasonably priced. It had good reviews and it was fairly central. 

Facilities

  • The Rooms were clean, spacious and the bathrooms were excellent with a good shower
  • The concierge/reception area had good information about trips and tours 
  • the wifi was excellent 
  • The breakfast was buffet style with a wide variety of eggs, fruits, meats, breads, yoghurts, cereals, jams and all sorts of other delicious things.
  • The airport bus (detailed above) dropped us off on the adjacent street and it was literally a 2 – 3 min walk to the front of the hotel. 
A Madeira style Christmas  

As I mentioned earlier, it was Christmas time when we visit Funchal.   The town twinkled with fairy lights and there were loads of Christmas festivities going on.

In the park right next to our hotel there was a little Christmas market with stalls selling nuts and pretzels and poncha and ginja.  Now the poncha was new to me but basically its a citrus based drink with loads and loads of white spirit.   The citrus is muddled (yes we bought a poncha muddler home) and then mixed with the white rum and poured into cups which we drank like lemonade.  After a few it was clear that the Christmas spirit was alive and well. 

The Ginja which is a cherry flavoured liqueur was poured into little chocolate cups and that too was delicious. A typical drink from Curral das Freiras “Nun’s valley”. This liqueur consists of cherries, Grape spirit and sugar.  It is much appreciated specially around Christmas along with sugar cane honey cake and biscuits. We loved it. 

The whole town was in a party mood and we really enjoyed the entertainment and festivities that the town had arranged. 

Madeira
Poncha maker
Explore Madeira
A Madeira Christmas
Explore Madeira
Ginga in chocolate cups
A few things we loved about our trip to Madeira 
Vereda do Larano walk.
About the walk

This walk starts in Machico and follows a path that was and still is widely used by local people to travel between the 2 locations of Machico and Porto da Cruz

The Walk takes you thought the rich agricultural fields of Madeira before opening out to the rugged and beautiful outline of the coast and then takes you down to sea level to the beach of Porto da Cruz.

How long does it take?

The tour company mini bus picked us up from our hotel – Hotel Madeira at approx 9am and deposited us back around 4pm.  It is advised to take a packed lunch with you and plenty of water depending on the weather.  There is a cafe at Porto da Cruz at the end of the hike where you can get refreshments. 

How much did it cost?

The tour company we chose charged approx €36 for a full day’s trip which included

  • Transfer from our hotel to the strart point
  • Collection from the finish point back to our hotel
  • Tour guide who was very knowledgable
Who is this tour for?

I would advise anyone with a reasonable level of fitness to do this walk as the views are worth it.  There is a little up and down hill as you make your way through the valleys so anyone that needs assistance then perhaps this is not the walk for you however speak to the tour company and they can advise.  

Madeira
Vereda do Larano walk.
Madeira
Vereda do Larano walk.
Skywalk on the cliffs of Cabo Girao

 

What is the skywalk?

Cabo Girão skywalk is at the top of the second highest sea cliff in the world – 580 metres above sea level. It’s a popular lookout point with spectacular panoramic views and a glass-bottomed platform. 

The skywalk offers incredible views of the coastline all the way back to Funchal.

How did we get there?

Being lovers of public transport we found the bus station in Funchal and took a local city bus – line 27 bus which takes 10 min and costs 1€ – 3€.  Its a short walk up to the cliffs once you alight the bus.  

You can also get there by taxi or if you have a car there is plenty of parking near the cliffs which is easy to reach. 

Some of the hop on /hop off buses of Funchal offer an extended ticket to include this site but times may be limited.  Best to check with the operating company. 

What does it cost and when is it open? 

There is no entrance fee its absolutely free. The skywalk is open 08.30 – 20.00hrs in summer and 08.30 – 18.00hrs in winter.  I would advise to get there as early as possible as it does get pretty busy. 

When we went we arrived just before 08.30 and within an hour there were coaches arriving and the car park was pretty full.  So to get the best experience I’d get there early. 

Facilities 

There is a cafe serving snacks and coffee/tea.  Its reasonably priced.

There are toilets at the site.  Make sure you have some change with you as they are €0.50 to enter.

There is a little tourist train that runs between the cliffs and Camara de Lobos where there are many more restaurants and cafes and some nice quirky little streets to have a wander.  The main bus back to Funchal stops here.   We had a delicious lunch here and spent a pleasant afternoon wandering around. 

Madeira
The glass platform at Cabo Girao
The view back to Funchal at Cabo Girao
The view back to Funchal at Cabo Girao
Pico Arieiro and Pico Ruivo hike 

This trail between Pico do Arieiro and Pico Ruivo, is one of the most spectacular mountain walks I have ever done.  The scenery is breathtaking and it’s like you can see Madeira from end to end. 

How did we get there?

We choose this hike with a tour company recommended by the hotel and they picked us up from our hotel around 9am in the morning and took us to the large parking area at Pico Arieiro.  The trip in the mini bus from our hotel to the start point was about 45 mins so not that long at all.  

The cost?

The tour cost us approx €37.00 and that included 

  • The collection from our hotel
  • The drop off at our hotel after
  • A full day’s hiking with a guide
  • Good knowledge of the route and what we were seeing. 
The Hike 

The walk follows the route PR1 and is spectacular. It takes you through tunnels, up steel staircases, along ledges and up and down steep tracks. Most of the exposed areas where you have a ledge and a drop on the other side has handrails to give you a bit more confidence if you are a bit nervous.   In fact most of the route has handrails at some point or another to help you.  

Suitability?

This hike is for people who have a good level of fitness and have some experience walking in a mountain terrain as its a moderate to hard walk and has some tricky bits.  On the first part of the walk the guide assessed how you coped with the steep ascents and descents and there were a few people that he advised to take a shorter easier route back to the waiting bus.   For the rest of us it was onwards and upwards through this spectacular landscape.

What to take?
  • Walking boots are essential as most of the terrain is rocky so you need some support.   
  • Several layers of clothing as the temperature can vary quite a lot depending if you’re in the sun or shade.  
  • A waterproof incase of inclement weather
  • A packed lunch – we stopped half way to enjoy our lunch in a shaded wooded area, it was really nice. 
  • A good camera, you’re not going to want to miss these views.  Make sure you’re aware of your cameras settings before you set off, there are some dark areas.
  • Water, plenty water !
Madeira
Explore Madeira
Go for a walk to the Levadas 

We chose the Levada do Rei walk at it seemed the prettiest for some reason from the pictures on the brochure in the hotel reception and I think we chose really well.

Levada do Rei, or King’s Levada, is called so because it was built by order or King D. Manuel II (the last king of Portugal).   Levadas are quite unique to Madeira and quite like nothing else we’ve seen.  

How did we get there?

We booked our trip through the hotel reception with a local tour company and they came and collected us from our hotel at around 9am.   The mini bus then took us to the town of Santana to where the walk started.

The walk

Let me start by saying that there are a few stairs to climb at the start of the walk and then its pretty flat the rest of the way.  Our guide was happy to take his time so this walk is really suitable for all ages and abilities really.  Check with the tour operator when booking through the hotel reception for more guidance.

Almost immediately you’re immersed in the most wonderful natural environment.  Its true that most of Madeira is green but this is exceptional.  To be in amongst it, breathing in the scents of eycaluptys and the constant sound of rippling water its so refreshing.  

At one end of the walk there is an area with flattish stones that we spend a little time having our lunch and exploring the nooks and crannies of the rocks and just chilling in the shade of the trees. 

Things to remember 
  • Pack a lunch and snacks as there are no cafe’s or shops on this route and you’ll need refreshments
  • Pack plenty layers as it can get chilly in the shade 
  • Take a waterproof as you can sometimes get an unexpected sharp shower and if the waterfall is full then you’ll be sure to get wet.
  • Wear sturdy footwear.  Even though the route is mainly flat it can still be a bit rocky.
  • If its sunny take a sun hat to avoid getting too hot
Explore Madeira
Teleferico do Funchal or The Funchal Cable Car 

Take a ride up the Monte Parish behind Funchal in the cable car.  

What can you see?

The views are spectacular as you climb from the sea up the steep mountain side.  The landscape changes and you can see the roofs of houses as you climb up past the town. 

When you arrive at the top you’ll be in the town of Monte and here’s a few things you can do whilst up there?

  • Visit The Church of our Lady of the Mount 
  • Visit Monte’s palace and tropical garden
  • Visit the museum of precious stones
  • Spend time chilling in the Monte municipal park.
  • The Monte Sleds – a fantastic bone shattering ride in a wicker basket down the mountain roads (we didn’t do this activity but watched it) 
How much does it cost? 

You can chose to travel on a round trip or just one way.  There is a really nice walk back down the mountain that takes you thorough lots of little villages before you arrive back in Funchal.  

Its quite fun to walk back as you get to see the Monte Sleds set off on their bone rattling ride down the mountain.

 Ticket priceRound-tripOne way
Adult16€11€
Child (7-14)8€5,5€
Child (0-6)FreeFree
Madeira
Funchal cable car to Monte
Madeira
The church at Monte
The Market, Funchal 

Oh my goodness I do believe a town is only as good as its market and this one is fantastic.   Full of beautiful fresh fish, meats, fruits and veg it really is a feast for the eyes. 

Its located fairly centrally and open from 7am to 7pm.   Get there early if you want to see all the lovely fish as the fish market seems to close after midday. 

Madeira
Explore Madeira
Andiamo Amigos Restaurant Recommendations for Madeira

 

  1. Sabor da India – we went here for Christmas dinner and it does what it says on the tin.  Excellent Indian food, excellent service and didn’t cost too much either.  I’d go back anytime

  2. La Vaca Negra – if its steak you’re after then this is the place for you.  Fantastic selection of steaks on the menu and superb service.  We had to get a taxi as its about 10 mins out of town but worth the €6 we paid for the taxi. 

I cant talk about the food without mentioning the fantastic local food we ate as part of the Christmas festivities.  The tradition seemed to focus around this bread and soup which was made in pop up tents by a team of ladies all cooking it from scratch in big stone bread ovens and big cauldrons of soup.  We queued with all the lovely local people and sat at trestle tables and enjoyed this fabulous food. 

Madeira
Explore Madeira
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