What to do in Madeira
Rather than give you a day by day rundown of what we did, heres the highlights and some pointers I think would be helpful.
- Transport and Car Hire
- Socalco Nature in Calheta
- NEXT Hotel in Funchal
- Restaurants & Cafes
- Socalco Nature Restaurante
- Gato Legal Coffee Roastery
- Kampo by Chef Julio Pereira
- PR1 – Vereda do Areeiro
- PR6 – Levada das 25 Fontes
- PR8 – Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço
- Wine Tasting
Transport and Car Hire
You could probably get by with taxis, tours, and the local bus services to get around Madeira. But honestly, if you want to get the most out of your trip, you’re going to want to hire a car, especially if you’re planning on hitting the hiking trails.
I don’t really have a recommendation here— theres no such thing as a good car hire company, instead I’ll offer a warning. We had a false start with car hire in Madeira, we’ve found that while most car hire companies in Europe will tell you they only accept credit cards. They usually do end up taking a debit card to hold the funds for a deposit.
Not so in Madeira. The car hire companies here are super wary when it comes to digital banks and card fraud. They plain refused to accept my Monzo card to take the deposit. We ended up having to do this awkward money shuffle onto an old debit card from a high street bank. Luckily we had the old card with us, otherwise we would have been stranded at the airport.
Its a small island, so realistically you could stay anywhere and be able to access the whole island. We split our time between two places— the capital Funchal, and the Beach town of Calheta.
If I was given my time again, I would just skip staying in Funchal and visit on a day trip. My recommendation would be to find nicer accomodation for your budget, further from the capital (theres not much to see in Funchal, you’ll be spending most of your time out exploring the island anyway).
Socalco Nature in Calheta
This hotel is stunning, and I’d give it a huge recommendation!
A great concept for a hotel, a self described “gastronomic studio and farm”. The rooms are spread around the terraced levels of the property, with fruit, vege and herbs being grown just outside your room. All the produce is then used downstairs in the hotels restaurant, which has a suprise set menu that changes every day, and uses whatever is in season or available in the markets that day.
We stayed in one of the standard Verdelho rooms, which had a huge window where we could see beyond the vines out to the ocean. Our room was in great condition; polished concrete, white walls and wooden features— almost scandi-vibes.
As I mentioned, the restaurant is great, we ate breakfast and dinner here both days that we stayed here. The food was delicious and always a surprise, as they don’t publish a menu, the chef just makes it up each days and is incredibly flexible to all dietary requirements.
NEXT Hotel in Funchal
NEXT is part of the Savoy group of hotels that all seem to be grouped on the same hillside on the edge of town.
It was fine, the rooms were clean and modern but nothing special. Its a fully featured hotel, with room service, a couple pools and restaurants/bars, a well equipped and air conditioned gym, and a reception thats staffed 24/7.
But it was nothing special, so i’d find it hard to give you a recommendation to stay here. If you’re set on staying in a more traditional hotel thats nice for the money (it was comparatively affordable when we stayed there), then it’s totally fine and you’ll be happy staying at NEXT, but shop around on booking.com and see what else is around.
I probably would recommend this to people to were travelling with kids, and just wanted somewhere with a kid friendly pool at a more affordable (yet still nice) hotel.
Restaurants & Cafes
There is no shortage of great restaurants in Madeira, and we also stumbled across some great Coffee spots. Here are a few of the highlights.
Socalco Nature Restaurante
Definitely the culinary highlight of our trip. I’d highly recommend dinner here, even if you’re not staying at the hotel.
Simply choose between 3, 4 or 6 courses and nominate any dietary requirements. The chefs handle the rest, making a new menu every night from fresh produce grown onsite, and locally sourced meats. During our stay we had dishes that included octopus, pork belly, chicken breast, seafood linguine, and duck ravioli.
Breakfast is simpler, yet delicious. A mix of fresh fruit, granola, and an egg cooked however you like it.
We ate dinner and breakfast both days that we stayed here, and loved every meal we had. The second night wasn’t planned, but heavy rain made it an easy decision to stay at the hotel and dine here again.
Gato Legal Coffee Roastery
Not much to say here, other than its a great stop for specialty coffee. The coffees were great, and we shared a decent burger for lunch.
We stumbled across it while looking for somewhere to sit and avoid the rain. They roast onsite and sell a range of coffee beans and equipment for v60 and Aeropress.
A low-key, family run restaurant with modern food. Not your average touristy spot. We enjoyed the seafood risotto and lamb shanks, both were big portions and good value.
I wouldn’t rush back for a second booking, but we enjoyed it on the night.
Kampo by Chef Julio Pereira
Fun new place to go, run by what I assume is a local celebrity chef.
The food was inventive and delicious, a mix of dry aged steaks and seafood, balancing local and asian flavours. And the house wine was great too, no need to spend up 👌.
We couldn’t get a booking at a reasonable time online, so we walked past the night before and asked if they could help us book— the staff were happy to slot us in for an earlier seating (~8pm was perfect). We’re glad we got a seat at the bar, rather than standard seating, we had a great view of the dishes being prepared and really enjoyed the atmosphere.
Madeira is known for hiking and therefore people travel here just to hike its many trails. Most of them are busy single-track out-and-back hikes. Yes, you might have to stop and wait for people passing by, but trust me, it’s a small price to pay for the mind-blowing views.
Many of the hikes in Madeira are what is known as Levada trails. They follow irrigation channels of water which orginated from a need to move water about on the island. Its a really cool experience walking next to the channels and following the path of the water from Waterfalls to the farms.
A heads up about the weather in Madeira – it can be unpredictable. For a small island, it’s got a crazy number of microclimates. It could be pouring with in the north-west, while the south-east is basking in sunshine. We got caught out by this – the weather stopped us from doing PR1, but an hour later we were getting sunburned on PR8.
PR1 – Vereda do Areeiro
It’s route #1 for a reason. PR1 is the hike a lot of people come to Madeira for. It’s a peak-to-peak trail between two of the highest points on the island, often above the clouds, offering stunning sunrise views..
Well, that’s what we’d heard, anyway. When we were there, we drove up to the car park at the start in thick fog and never managed to get above the clouds. We had to ditch our plans to do the PR1 trail because of the wind, rain, and poor visibility. But I’ve included it here because of its popularity, and because it’s still on our to-do list for next time.
PR6 – Levada das 25 Fontes
For the PR6 hike, you’ve got two options. We decided to follow the Levada trail down to 25 Fontes (I’m guessing that means 25 waterfalls). It’s a bit longer and steeper than the walk out to the Risco waterfall, which we liked, and it helped us avoid some of the slower walkers on the shorter Risco trail.
We parked at the top car park and walked down to the cafe at the midpoint (great cheese tarts). Annoyingly, the trail from there was taped off as “closed” – no mention of this at the start of the trail, mind you. A ranger said we could continue at our own risk, but he didn’t recommend it because of an incoming storm.
We decided to risk it, and I’m glad we did. We managed to complete the out-and-back before the heavy rain hit, and the views were stunning. Plus, the tree cover kept us dry from the light rain.
PR8 – Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço
Probably the busiest route on the island, PR8 gets packed!
Since it’s an out-and-back hike, you’re constantly stopping to let people pass on the narrow path. We were rushing to try beat some forecast rain, so the frequent stops actually forced us to stop and soak up the views!
The coastline is striking with some steep cliffs, but the walk is pretty easy. There are plenty of stairs and handrails to make the path accessible to all ages. I enjoyed the first half the most. There’s a small shop halfway, but it wasn’t well-stocked the day we went, and the toilet was out of order.
One of Madeiras tourist draws (and biggest exports) is their dessert wine, Madeira. This sweet wine is produced from grapes grown all over the island, you can see the terraces of vines lined right up to the road on every available plot of land.
While you’re visiting, you have to try it. But I wouldn’t recommend over-doing it with lots of tastings at the same place. Instead visit a couple boutique producers who can walk you through their range of Sweet Madeira and likely a range of traditional table wines.
I’d avoid copying us:
On a rainy day, with nothing else planned, we visited the main tourist centre for Madeira wine in Funchal, Blandys wine. Having not pre-booked a tour, we settled for a tasting at the bar, and got talked into getting 2 seperate flights (the 5yo & 10yo) of 4 wines each: Sweet → Dry. Honestly, even as someone who’s done a lot of wine tasting in Australian wine regions before, these were all quite similar. Maybe my pallet just isn’t developed for sweet wines, but this was a lot of the same flavour to drink through.
I did however enjoy the handful of table wines they offered, specifically the red was quite delicious.