I’m going to throw an idea out there that’s going to sound a little strange. Madeira is like a sub-tropical Iceland. Okay, I can tell you’re pulling a face right now and I know it’s weird, but try and stick with me on this one. When Sunny and I booked our trip to Madeira and researched where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do while we were there, we kept saying that phrase over and over again. And although it sounds really strange to pair two places that are so different when it comes to temperature and scenery, a lot of what we loved about Iceland we saw in Madeira. Obviously they’re both islands, but it’s not that – they’re both islands that are quite unlike anywhere else and rock at being quirky and unique. The locals are lovely, the scenery is stunning and often strange in its own way, and they’re both places that are just made for adventurers. 🙂
We almost didn’t land in Madeira. Two and a half hours into our three hour flight the Captain made an announcement that the winds on the island had gone outside the “safe range” and that if they didn’t drop again we’d have to divert to Lisbon. It was at that moment that Sunny decided to come clean and y’know just casually drop the bomb that Madeira happens to be one of the most dangerous airports in the world to land in. For someone who’s completely terrified of flying, this wasn’t great news. See, the short runway is built on stilts on the side of Madeira’s rocky coastline and susceptible to high winds and turbulence. A lot of the time planes try to land only to pull up at the last minute because they can’t make the landing! Fortunately for us after taxying around for an extra hour the winds dropped into the safe range just in time – and only just! – so we did land, but it was a wobbily one!
We stayed in the capital Funchal for three days, then took a Ferry to Porto Santo for some beach time and then came back (two days late – but that’s another story!) to explore the rest of the island by car. You can do it by going with tour operators who will take you by bus to various tourist spots around the island but for us, doing it by car offered way more freedom – even if driving was really, really scary at times! We got to see far more of Madeira than we would have if we’d resorted to getting around via coach. We climbed mountains and clifftops and stopped for Espresso in tiny cafes in even tinier villages and it was lovely 🙂
Away from Funchal the roads in Madeira are narrow and wind up and down the mountains and along the cliffs. Up to a certain height you’ll see banana trees and Bird of Paradise growing all over the place and when you break through the clouds everything changes and you’ll see Agapanthus and Hydrangia. Because we were there in October a lot of the flowers were finishing, but I bet if you went in the summer they’d all be in bloom at the roadside. There are lots of lizards and we even saw a Monarch Butterfly while walking around Funchal which was amazing… even though it wouldn’t stay still for a photo 😦
In the UK when you see that someone’s painted their bungalow bright pink your first thought is, “Ugh, what were they thinking?” in Madeira it’s weird if you don’t. Not only that, but they build houses and roads in places you’d think it was dangerous/impossible to. There are houses on the edge of cliffs and tunnels that burrow miles into the mountainside so that the highway can get through.
I was surprised how much I loved Madeira and even more surprised that more young people don’t go there. If you like holidays where you can enjoy a bit of everything – sun, adventuring, city culture – then it’s definitely worth a look.