Destination Focus: Madeira

So you've set your heart on the beautiful island of Madeira for your next great escape... take a look and chose which resort you'll explore first

So you’ve set your heart on the beautiful island of Madeira for your next great escape… Take a look and chose which resort you’ll explore first.

Funchal – Europe’s most picturesque and cleanest capital
The Funchal city of today is very different from its fennel growing, pirate days of old. It is in fact a modern, cosmopolitan, rejuvenated city, well known for its many top class restaurants, stunning new 4 & 5-star hotels, warm all year round climate, incomparable natural beauty and, of course, its most famous ‘export’, world-class footballer Cristiano Ronaldo. In short, it is known for its style as well as its substance.

The city itself is nestled in a great natural amphitheatre, facing the blue Atlantic with a backdrop of dramatic mountains. Located in the stunning south of Madeira, on its sunniest coast amidst banana plantations and wonderful gardens where flowers bloom all year round in the shelter of the verdant mountains, it is an extremely lush, green and relaxed city by day, but scratch Funchal’s surface and you will find it to have a vibrant and varied nightlife scene with multiple personalities.

Funchal has also been, for many years, one of the Atlantic cruise-ships’ main ports of call; with the liner harbour right in the middle of the city. The approach to Funchal harbour is well documented as one of the two most spectacular in the world, being on a par with Rio de Janeiro. It has now become a tradition that most European liners, on their maiden voyage, call here; it is quite usual to see upwards of four cruise ships in at any one time. Once ashore, the cafés, restaurants and history that mark this famed capital are just a stroll away.

Tourists in Funchal also roll up to enjoy activities, such as diving in the crystal-clear waters, surfing the waves, boat trips, swimming with dolphins, spending the day at sea ‘whale-watching’, taking daylong excursions along the coast and through the eucalyptus smelling mountain woods, paragliding on the coast, enjoying spectacular rounds of golf on the famous courses or simply just enjoying a snack at the numerous “people watching” cafes and outside garden venues.

Madeira’s first city has a somewhat less obvious nightlife scene than its neighbouring island counterparts, Gran Canaria and Tenerife, in so much that you might be forgiven for thinking that it is just a quiet sleepy city only for walkers and body and mind enthusiasts. But, you would be wrong, in fact ‘night owls beware’ on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, Funchal comes alive after midnight. There are two stages to an evening out in Funchal, one is the bars and clubs that operate between midnight and 4am, and the other is the 4am to 7am clubs. Locals and tourists ‘in the know’ enjoy dinner at the usual time but instead of going straight out from here, they go home and relax for a few hours before setting off again for an all night evening of partying, or they start the night in one of the many bars that exist, with good music and ambiance.

Of course Funchal has not lost any of its well-known charm as both camps of tourists (Day relaxers and Night revellers) work extremely well with each other. Not only does it cater for the mature tourist happy to enjoy their long stunning daytime walks, breathtaking scenery and al fresco evening dining, but it is also the preferred haunt of the new breed of young, trendy and affluent Europeans. Unlike most other European cities, with no crime on the island it’s safe to venture out any time of day or night without any gangs of rowdy drinkers creating binge-drinking ‘no-go’ areas. Funchal is a truly safe city, something which the new bunch of ‘fun loving’ tourists enjoy as well as respect.

Of the many festivals, perhaps the most well known are the world-record New Year’s Eve Firework display, which is one of the largest displays in the world (yes, the world) according to the Guinness World Records. The spectacular Carnival and the colourful Flower Festival, complete with samba beats and colourful costumed parade, are unmissable. During June, the Atlantic Festival International Fireworks Competition, every Saturday evening, is sure to impress.

Christmas is a fantastic fairytale season, with lights and festive decorations lighting up the whole city and night sky. The city centre becomes a wonderland, and the twinkling lights that line the mountain streets look down on Funchal like glimmering stars.

Last but not least, don’t forget the renowned Wine Festival!
The Madeiran people really know how to celebrate and they share it all with you!

Funchal’s history goes back over 5 centuries, when early Portuguese settlers colonised the coast of a bright and sunny bay where fennel (funcho) grew in abundance, giving its name to the new town of Funchal. Over the years the population grew, with international trade attracting the attention of all of Europe. Nowadays, Funchal is a very modern city with over 112.000 inhabitants. It is one of the safest and cleanest cities in Europe and is a place that takes real pride in itself. The perfectly cobbled streets in the centre mixed with the modern shopping areas, cafes, bars, restaurants and, of course, tourists make Funchal an interesting and exciting city.

Calheta Municipality
Simply enchanting! Blessed with rare natural beauty, the region of Calheta includes eight parishes (Arco da Calheta, Calheta Village, Estreito da Calheta, Jardim do Mar, Paul do Mar, Prazeres, Fajã da Ovelha and Ponta do Pargo) spread over a total area of 116 square kilometres.
Whether you walk along by the sea, hike in the steep mountains or descend to the valleys, you will enjoy the many wonders of nature surrounding you.

The sky spreads before you like a canvas in tones of blue, and the beauty of the sea views with its crystal waters attracts your eyes and invites you to take a swim (either on the sandy beach in Calheta village or on the pebble beaches of Jardim do Mar and Paul do Mar) when the heat is felt with greater intensity.

In order to provide you with some knowledge of the history of this area, in the ‘Visit Calheta’ section you will find a few facts related to each of the parishes of the Calheta municipality, the largest of the Archipelago of Madeira, including not only cultural attractions, such as Mudas museum, and traditional places, like Engenho da Calheta, but also local events, as the Limpet Festival, in Paul do Mar.

Machico Municipality
From the historic point of view this is probably the most interesting town on the island, as Machico was the landing point of the discoverers of Madeira.

This peculiar corner of the island boasts Madeira’s oldest church, the ‘Capela dos Milagres’, and two forts still bear witness of the locals’ defence against the many pirate attacks on the village.
Machico has a wonderful beach and good facilities for both swimming and sunbathing.
This tranquil town boasts some excellent guesthouses and restaurants, and is a good starting point for a number of nice ‘levada’ walks.
The banks of Machico’s river are covered with lush vegetation and spotted with whitewashed houses. Apart from the parochial church, there is the small chapel of São Roque on the quay, built in the 16th century, with an interesting exhibition of blue and white tiles telling about the saint’s life.

The municipality of Machico, which comprises five parishes (Água de Pena, Caniçal, Machico, Porto da Cruz and Santo António da Serra), lives from agriculture and fishing. The fishing harbours are located in Machico and Caniçal, where the fishing fleet’s catch consists mainly of tuna and ‘gaiado’ (regional fish to be dried).
Porto da Cruz parish is famous for its vine cultivation, and every year there is a celebration called ‘Vintage Party’.