In Northern Europe, when you say you’re going to Madeira and you’re young, people spontaneously tell you: “Why are you going there? It’s just full of old (German) people!” Well people can continue thinking this as much as they want, good for them, it will mean less people in this gorgeous island with breathtaking landscapes, turquoise waters, great walks in the middle of nowhere and a vibrant capital.
I flew from Brussels to Funchal via Lisbon with TAP. The stopover was not very long (a bit less than 2hours) but it still took over 8hours from my office desk to my hostel bed.
The arrival at my hostel was a bit hectic. My driver was on time to pick me up at 1am from the airport (25€) but when we arrived at the hostel, the owner didn’t hear her alarm and didn’t answer on Whatsapp. She had asked me not to ring the bell not to wake up the other hosts but I had no choice… and they were indeed not very happy! The Madeira Happy Hostel though had a tremendous view on Funchal for a tiny price (12€ for a mixed 4-bed dorm, including breakfast) so I still recommend it!
I walked down and then took a taxi (instead of a bus because everyone apologised to me in the morning) to the Rodoeste bus terminal to take the 80 bus to Porto Moniz (via Calheta). It takes 3 hours to reach the most Northwestern city of the island but it’s an ideal way of seeing the Southern coast when you don’t have much time (and no car!). The bus stops for 10mins in Ribeira Brava and 10mins at the top of a cliff with an amazing view.
I reached Porto Moniz just in time for a quick lunch at Pocas Cafe in the middle of the natural swimming pools. The pools are made of volcanic rocks and the water is completely transparent. I spent long minutes staring at the waves breaking on the rocks.
I stayed in a small hotel with a super nice view and a very comfy room. I wanted to have dinner at the Sea View Restaurante but it was fully booked. I ended up nearly alone at the Restaurante Mar à Vista. Decent food and decent price.
I visited the small aquarium in the morning (tiny but always nice to see fish from very close) and took the 139 bus around midday to go to Seixal. I had to walk down a bit to reach the black beach and have a great lunch (and delicious mojitos!) at the Lounge Bar Clube Naval do Seixal. Go speak with the owner, he’s a very nice guy!
I then walked back up to take the 150 bus to São Vicente (at 14.45) and then a second one to reach my hostel which was a bit more inland and… uphill. The São Vicente Hostel is a big house with a nice lounge area, a large kitchen (with cane sugar cookies) and a big terrace. On a Thursday night, I was actually… the only guest to sleep there!
The owner advised me to have dinner at Lavrador, a modern restaurant with delicious food, and also recommended me to go for a walk in the HP16 Levada Faja do Rodrigues. This walk is not the most famous one but I really enjoyed walking along the levada (a sort of aqueduc bringing water to the driest parts of the country) but was a bit surprised to have to walk under cascades or … in dark tunnels! In fact, I couldn’t reach the end of the trek because I had to walk alone in a tunnel in the dark for more than 1km.
After more than 2 hours walking, I took the 139 bus from São Vicente (at 1pm) to Ribeira Brava, had lunch in the cute city by the sea and took another bus to the Cabo Girão viewpoint, located on the highest skywalk in Europe, at 580 m.
Last bus ride of my trip to go back to Funchal and discover my lovely hostel. The Santa Maria Hostel is located right in the old town of the city, has very nice wide dorms, with a large kitchen and common room and a very nice terrace where you can have breakfast in the morning.
What to do in Funchal?
Funchal is the first city created by Europeans outside of Europe since Roman times!
- Explore the old town: the Zona Velha is a very vibrant zone of Funchal full of bars (loved Barreirinha Bar Café and Venda Velha), restaurants and murals from artists. Many doors have also been painted with nice designs.
- On the hills: take the cable car (quite expensive – 11€) to the Monte Palace Tropical gardens – very pretty but maybe a bit expensive (12,50€) if you are not that much into gardens or if it’s not the full-blossom period. You can then walk to the other cable car (8,25€) to go to the Botanical gardens. Only 5,50€ to explore a very pretty garden full of plants and trees from around the world
- Walk around Sé Cathedral and Praça do Município
- Dolphin and whale watching: I was happy to read in my guide book that there were cetaceans (27 different species apparently) all year round in Madeira! Nevertheless, I kept my fingers crossed for 4 days hoping that the boat trip would be organised off-season and that I would see something! I booked with Ventura but they actually put me on a boat from Rota dos Cetaceos (49,50€) as they did not have enough bookings, very sweet of them! After a 30-minutes boat ride, here they were! Jumping and playing around us! Lovely common dolphins! I was so freaking happy!
There’s much more but I didn’t have more time unfortunately: Old Blandy Wine Lodge for Madeira wine lovers, CR7 museum for football aficionados, Quinta das Cruzas and Convento de Santa Clara for history amateurs, Mercado dos Lavradores for gourmets…
Nice surprise: I was actually there during the Carnival of Madeira, basically a small Rio! Really fun!
So, do you still think Madeira is only for old people?!