It must be over 20 years since my first (and last) visit to Madeira. In that time, the Madeirans have replaced the old, adventurous E101 ring round with a modern highway system and have become the go-to place for the New Year fireworks. I am excited to be back.
Thursday 29.12 warm air of 20°C welcomes us as we step into the Madeiran runway. This is much nicer than the 12°C weather.com had projected. We pick up our car and head to Funchal. I am quickly reminded of the Portuguese driving, which, in contrast to the E101, has not improved substantially. Our hotel, the Pier House is small but perfectly located in the dead city center in a side street between cathedral and harbor.
We use our first day to explore downtown Funchal and to visit the Cathedral. For dinner, we decide to trust our gut and man, are we bad. We pick THE single worst restaurant in all of Funchal. The only good thing to be said about the dinner is that the Tuna could not be more overcooked if you accidentally threw it into the sun. We treat ourselves to a box of fantastic Auto Cacao chocolates to make up for the dinner.
Friday 30.12. Today is the last day before the cruise ships arrive. Therefore, we decide to visit Monte today. We take an early cable car up and arrive at the church early enough to have the outside all to ourselves.
Afterwards, we spend a few minutes in the Monte Palace garden among the first visitors and enjoy peace and quiet.
On the way down, we treat ourselves to a touristy toboggan ride. Not sure if this is really save. Basically, we sit in a woven basket mounted on two pieces of wood while two “drivers” push us down a steep mountain road, where cars drive or are parked, etc. Either we won Russian roulette or the guys knew what they were doing after all. We arrive alive and unharmed.
In the afternoon, we join a food tour. This tour is much more “technical” than Dublin, i.e. less explanations but still nice. We start at the Taberna do Capital with espada and scabbard fish.
Next stop is local tea from Loja do Cha and chocolate from Uao Cacao. We taste Madeiran cake and cookies as well as fruits from the farmers market (Mercado dos Lavradores).
From there, we stroll down Rua de Santa Maria and admire the painted doors. We end the tour with a Puncha, a non drinkable rum drink.
Saturday 31.12. Last day of the old year. We end the year on a high with a dive on Madeira’s south eastern shore and watch barracudas, morays and an octopus as well as a bunch of smaller fish (in addition to a quick refresher exercise).
Back in Funchal, we have to solve a little situation as our restaurant canceled just hours before the New Year. We find a solution and can relax. We have a second breakfast by the harbor with the breakfast basket provided by our hotel every morning. We spend a bit of time strolling through Funchal before it is time to go for dinner.
We are the first to arrive at 18:30 after having been reminded by the crew how important it is to be on time. This is how the evening goes. Atmosphere is nice, food is ok, service is not really organized. We enjoy the evening and leave just before desert to head to our boat for the grand opening of the New Year.
is best The Funchal fireworks seen from the sea (from land you only see one firing platform, from the sea you see all). We had booked a fishing boat just two days ago and where very happy to find a well organized captain with his wive. The guests where less organized. Two did not make it at all because they were surprised that there was traffic and road closures. This left 6 including us. A British gentleman got really seasick but headed inside the boat instead of outside – poor man. His wive and another Brit got seasick. Michi fed some fishes but hel up very well. This basically left me to enjoy the snacks and the fireworks, and they were worth sacrificing my fellow boatmen to the sea… Happy New Year 2023!
Sunday 1.1. We take it slow. I.e we drive up the South East coast with a stop in Santa Cruz. Second stop is the Ponta do Sao Lourenco. It is very crowded but we decide to hike a bit. Michi is not feeling well and turns around after 1h. I cannot get enough and hike all the way to the end. The reward is a beautiful view over the Eastern tip of the island. The punishment is heavy, heavy rain on the way back. I am drenched and covered in mud. The hike is slippery and I am happy to reach the car.
Fortunately, Michi agrees to go back to Funchal and do a pizza and movie night. That is why we are happily married.
Monday 2.1. It’s time to dive again. We planed two dives for the day. The first dive takes us to similar places as the day before yesterday but with more trash, less fish in the sea. We relax a bit and go for dive number two. Like the New Year’s fireworks, the dive delivers with a bang. 5min in we see a giant (marbel?) ray with a 2m or wider wing span glide by. We see big schools of fishes, barracudas, Moray eels, etc.
After the dives, we change hotels. For the second half of the trip, we will be staying at the Escarpa Hideaway in Ponta do Sol. It is a beautiful place. Built into the steep hillside amidst a banana plantation we overlook the ocean from our room or the infinity pool. We enjoy dinner at Magdalena do Mar and watch the sunset and the paragliders coming in.
Tuesday 3.1. Today’s destination is Porto Moniz. We start driving along the south coast. All the new tunnels make driving a lot faster and easier but also less spectacular. We stop at a view point in Ponta do Pargo and admire the steep South coast. Along the west coast, we seem to be the only explorers. There is no other car in sight.
Michi finds a lone cable car which takes us down a 400m vertical cliff to a farm area by the sea. The Portuguese farmers make use of every piece of land.
We reach Porto Moniz. The tidal pool looks enticing but it is too cold for us to dare to go swimming. The restaurants don’t look great so we decide to drive to Seixal with a small photography stop. Unfortunately, the old costal road is closed for cars. So it’s tunnels again.
But our persistence in driving through tunnel after tunnel after tunnel is rewarded. Up on the cliff sits a small butcher shop that makes espadas on (Lorbeer) sticks. Behind the shop is a communal grill. The butcher is kind enough to grill for us. This must be the best espadas on Madeira.
Now it’s time to go to the mountains. We pass Sao Vincente and drive up to the western high plane. The road is an adventure as I had hoped. A small road winds along the mountain side, upwards over 1000m until we reach the plateau.
From there, we drive back to our hotel, just in time for a warm hottub and a fantastic dinner with a very friendly restaurant manager at the 90°, just below the hotel.
Wednesday 04.01. Another road trip day. We have a fantastic day ahead of us.
Our first stop is the Cabo Girao.
We want to visit the Valley of the Nuns, a secluded valley with a former monastery where nuns would be save from pirates that would raid the shores. Again, they replaced the old road with a tunnel, but the village is beautiful nonetheless. We have the famous chestnuts (trying is enough), while overlooking the valley. There is not much to see in town so we go back to the main viewpoint high above the valley. This is a worthwhile stop which offers a fantastic view over the valley.
In the afternoon we decide to go back to the hotel. We stop at the colorful Camara de Lobos.
We make one more stop on the old ring road close to our hotel.
Back at the hottub is cold but we relax in the sun on the deck. We have dinner at 90° again.
Thursday 05.01. We decided to do two more dives in the Garajau marine park. This is a bit of an endeavor. The dive center has decided not to do a boat dive as waves had been bad, yesterday. We load equipment and tanks in a van and drive to Garajau. There, we load or stuff into the cable car and ride down to the beach. Entry and exit is not fun with stones making it difficult to walk and waves making it challenging to remain on our feet. However, the dives are super.
The first dive takes us straight out to visit Elvis (yes, he is alive). Elvis is a giant Grouper that likes to be petted by the dive guides. We see more giant Groupers, barracudas and big schools of fishes. On the second dive, we explore along the shore. It is fun but I am pretty cold after the second dive. We get out of the water in time to stay well within our flight safety margin. Then we do our initial exercise the other way around: load our stuff into the cable car, then the van.
Since it is our last evening on Madeira, we decide to relax in the hottub and have a last dinner at 90°C.
Friday 06.01. We leave way to early for Madeira airport. This gives us plenty of time to drop of our car and to have breakfast. A short 1:20h hop brings us to Lisbon.
It’s much colder but still nice. For an unknown reason, our taxi driver charges only 13€ for the ride from the airport. We check into our hotel Santa Just an head into town. Our first walk leads us to the Praca do Commercio with the Arco da Rua Augusta and from there to the TimeOut market to lunch.
We visit Pink Street and stop at the BCG office (we get a little tour through the beautiful office).
Next, we pick up Pasteis de Nata at Manteigaria in Bairro Alto and look over the city from the Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara.
The weather is nice so we decide to visit the Castel de Sao Jorge. We arrive in time to watch the sunset from the castle walls.
On our way down, we stop at the Lisbon Cathedral and are the last visitors on that day.
We continue past many “you want marijuana, hash, crack?” Encounters to the restaurant Ramiro. I have been here before but it’s worth it to return. The seafood ia fantastic, the atmosphere is a bit rowdy. We have a great dinner.
We close the evening of with Drinks at Pink Street and memories of a great vacation.
Saturday 7.1. We sleep in and decide to take it slow. It’s raining as we have breakfast in Bairro Alto.
We pick up Pasteis de Nata at Manteigaria and think about taking a tuktuk tour through the city. However, it rains and we do not find any tuktuks of the company we want to take. Therefore, we decide to go back to the TimeOut market. We find a fantastic place and leave thoroughly stuffed. A final cafe at the hotel and we are off to the airport. It was a fantastic, long holiday