A Weekend on Madeira
Note: I took this trip in February 2020, just about a month before travel came to a standstill in Europe.
Back in July 2019 I was casually browsing the web when I stumbled upon an incredible air fare to Madeira. You know, one of those offers where you actually feel kind of guilty for it being so cheap but at the same time you pull the trigger because even if you can’t make the trip, the sunk costs are not that high. Fast forward to about nine months later and I found myself at the airport ready to board the four hours flight to Funchal on Madeira. After an uneventful flight I found myself at the island’s only airport and once again was thankful for Schengen and its lack of border controls as I was on the road with a rental car just 20 minutes after leaving the plane.
I had opted for an AirBnB right in the city center, a good choice in hindsight. While parking can be difficult (or expensive), having been there off-season, it was nice to be able to choose from a variety of restaurants.
Funchal is the island’s capital and only proper city. The mild climate in winter months draws many visitors and the well-kept historic city center together with the seafront make for some beautiful walks. As the city (and the entire island) is very hilly, there’s a famous cable car that will take you for an obnoxious fee up to the botanic gardens.
As Madeira is famous for its landscape and has attracted lots of trail runners over the past years, that ended up as the main draw for my visit. Each morning I’d use the WikiLoc app to find a trail run in a different part of the island, run for a while and then find a good spot for lunch before heading back to the city for an afternoon stroll, sunset drinks and dinner.
The first day took me to the Northeastern part of the island. Setting off in the village of Porto da Cruz, a beautiful trial took me along the cost to Boca do Risco without a soul in sight. Ah, the joys of traveling off-season.
Porto da Cruz has a nice couple of beachfront restaurants where I enjoyed the island’s signature dish, espada com banana (scabbard fish with banana).
From there it was a short drive to Ponta de São Lourenço where I met up with friends to walk around the Eastern tip of the island which hosts a nature reserve.
The second day took me to the Southwestern part of the island, to 600 meters above sea level at a village called Prazeres. The island’s roads are in a remarkable condition and while the hilly terrain does not make it easy to construct roads, there must have been a lot of investment including tunnels.
On the way back I stopped at the Cabo Girão Skywalk, a glass platform where you get a view straight down to the ocean. One of the few places where I met other tourists during the weekend.
After two relaxing days with lots of sunshine it was time to head back. I guess I got quite lucky with the weather considering the time of the year. But at the same time, I visited at the time when the island is about as empty as it can get. Apparently it gets quite busy from spring onwards. While you can escape to the countless trails in the countryside for hiking, I can imagine it won’t be as pleasant in the cities and villages when it gets busy.