My favourite non-touristy places on Madeira island
(Listen to the music while reading blog post.)
Mind the Map has never been the blog that tells you 10 thing to do in a place. I truly believe that everybody needs to explore for themselves. This is why I always try to introduce a place through personal stories to make you feel it.
This post is a bit out of pattern, I tried to collect those things and places I liked most or found exciting/weird/interesting/whatever during the three months spent on the island. These ones are probably not that obvious that you can find them on the first page of a travel guide book as a classic must-see tourist attraction.
Please feel free to add your favourites to the list in comments!
Waterfall car wash
If you’re heading to Calheta from Ponta do Sol on the old road, after crossing two tunnels you arrive at a waterfall that falls directly onto the road. (At the beginning of the road from both directions there are signs saying it’s forbidden to enter, but don’t worry, it’s not dangerous at all, just nobody know that.)
On one hand, the Cascate dos Anjos (Angels’ Waterfall) is amazing, on the other hand it’s amazingly useful, ‘cause on the island you’ll rarely find car washes. But you just drive here, stop the car under the waterfall and lazily let nature do the job. Although you need to be careful not to stay under the water for too long: my friend Rui once did that so that the leg space became leg-washing space, because the car leaked somewhere seriously.
(Exceptionally this picture is not mine, I just put it here to introduce the place for you. Photo credit: Allie Caulfield.)
Chill therapy in Ribeira de Janela
This is a place about which is definitely hard to describe why it’s so good to be there unless you are there. Nothing there, just a pebbly beach and a giant rock in the ocean. Although… it has a quite unique chill effect on me, feels amazingly good just to sit there and watch the water. This place became my no1. Chill place on Madeira island: an excellent hideaway with a good book in hand or a good music in the ears. North side so don’t have high expectations for sunshine!
(Linda showed me this lovely place.)
The best lapas (limpets)
Emanuel, my local friend told me once he didn’t like lapas ‘cause it was just the cheap version of oyster. Still, it became my favourite seafood. It looks like a mussel but in fact it’s a marine snail which is cooked in a special pan with a bit of garlic butter. Other advantage is that you get a slice of lemon for the dish with what you can easily spray up all your dinner partners.
It was my mission to find the best lapas on the island, well, a huge sacrifice indeed to test it everywhere, but finally I found the one I like the most in the small hidden village of Prazeres. But going to Caniçal also worth a try: 4-5 excellent fish restaurant are waiting for the hungry hordes.
Sunset, beanbags and cocktails
Well, it’s a fancy program, something that is usually not my cup of tea. Still… it works for me badly. My local friend Jeff showed me this place and it was love at first sight. In Funchal look for the rooftop terrace of The Vine Hotel, entrance is from the mall, take the elevator until the top. Collapse in a beanbag, have something silly in hand and dive deep in hedonism while counting cloud animals on the sky. Cool people there in the staff, they just let you be there even if you don’t consume, I sometimes went up there only for half an hour while waiting for my bus to come.
The weirdest bar with weird dolls and weird drinks
I got a feeling that on Madeira island the number of bars per person is outstanding, even on a global scale. No matter where you go to, that’s for sure that you find yourself a suitable place to grab a drink with your friends. But Nelson’s bar in Fontainhas is still something special. It’s in the middle of nowhere, house on the corner, bus stop, nothing special for first sight. And then you enter the place and you get to understand it. You look around and you get to understand it. You enter the neighbouring grocery store and you get to understand it. You drink a ‘pé de cabra’ and you get to understand it. The place is so weird that you can’t help keep going back. Oh, and the bus stop is also there for a reason. Urban legend that the driver tends to get off to have a quick poncha before going further.
Praia do Garajau
Close to the city of Funchal yet reassuringly isolated, Garajau beach is an amazing place where the cliff ends spectacularly in the waves and you need to drive down on crazy serpentines to reach it, praying for nobody to come from the opposite direction. But somebody always comes.
It’s worth to walk around the big cliff if it’s low tide and to stay until sunset, lights are simply magical there! The only bar of the beach is not necessarily the best option if you are hungry/thirsty, better to go there well prepared for picnic.
The ghost-town which is abandoned even by the ghosts
Heading towards the easternmost end of the island (Ponta do São Lourenço, nice walk, amazing view!) you set eyes on a cute little village which turns to be neither cute nor little village. It’s name is Quinta do Lorde and it’s in fact a hotel complex with own parking lots, promenade, chapel, port, beach and outdoor pool. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a submarine station either. It only lacks people. But even the ghosts went on strike and left for another place to scare people, ‘cause this place is so empty it’s not worth haunting. As for me, it won the doubtfully precious tag of the most surreal place on Madeira island.
In Porto da Cruz right next to the road there is a place plain enough that even we hardly found it although knowing exactly what to search for. In fact it’s a butcher with a not really wide supply: he has cow meat and cow meat. But you can point on the piece of cow meat you want to make close friends with, it will be chopped soon, gets a bit of garlic, salt and pepper, will find itself on a stick cooked over charcoal. Then they hook the sticks up to the ceiling telling you it’s the ‘espetada’, the must-try dish on Madeira. The still bit bloody gravy is dropping everywhere, the table could happily be a horror scene, but the meat is soft and delicious – and this is a big compliment from me who has meat on the plate once in a leap year maybe. OK, this was an exemption. It was not on my plate, but hanging from the ceiling. Oh, and to escort the dinner, you can have some local wine and undeniably original accordion music.
Sunrise over Pico do Arieiro
For mountain lovers it’s almost compulsory to do the walk connecting Pico do Arieiro and Pico Ruivo. It offers breathtaking panorama all along the way and huge crowd on summer days. On the other hand, if you go at sunrise, you’re rewarded of an amazing light show up there (learn more here). It’s a miracle of mother nature you only need to share with two trail runners and a couple of other idiot sunrise watchers. And there are enough room for this many people there.
(it’s not a selfie either, picture taken by Karine Gonçalves)
And here comes a couple of perfectly useless but long gathered information that may be worth sharing:
a) on the island it’s easier to get hash and weed than a proper espresso
b) best thing to do is to sleep outside, listening to the waves’ rhythm, watch the million stars, and realizing that you can identify only two different constellations. Note that chances are your ass will be freezing though.
c) even if you see polar bears dancing with penguins on the north, it’s obvious that it’s beach time on the south side
d) Madeira wine is exactly as weird as famous it is, yet every tourists take it as a souvenir and make the family suffer too
e) there is no better perfume than the scent of the lemon flower you can smell every evening at your front gate
f) the innocent-looking fresh orange juice in the small rounded glasses is only partly fresh orange juice and the least innocent. It’s the poncha, I could write about it for long, but for now enough to say it was invented by the locals to make their undrinkable rum drinkable adding juices and honey
g) the best place to play three-in-a-row with beer bottle caps is in the beachfront little village of Madalena do Mar. The more you drink the less you are worried about victory
h) everybody visits Porto Moniz for the natural lava pools, but hardly anybody goes to the neighbouring Seixal that has the same lava creatures just even more beautiful and peaceful ones
i) you need to climb a couple hundred steps to reach Calhau da Lapa beach and it seems like a bad idea even halfway there, but it’s worth to keep it up, because not a lot are willing to do this and that’s why you can have the beach almost for yourselves
k) a local saying sums up the weather anomalies of the island (and at the same time the source of the locals’ happiness): on the south there is always sunshine, on the north…well, there is strong poncha.
l) most of the times you can get some finger food for your drink, it’s usually peanuts, sometimes tremosos (local yellow beans – don’t eat the skin otherwise you’ll be laughed at), at fancy places some milho frito (fried corn) or a bit of chips, and at the least fancy places, well… something that turns out to be cow tongue only after you’ve eaten it.
Madeira is a perfect place for an active but hedonist holiday. The nature is amazing, there are many levada walks, cute little villages sit in spider net-like shape everywhere, you can swim in the ocean even in December, the air is not polluted, there is an incredible variety of tropical fruits and you always get fresh fish.
So start your journey!