How to See Madeira in One Day
Madeira looked like it was going to be a beautiful island, so we signed up for a tour from the Regent Explorer that would get us around as much of the island as possible in the one day we had to visit. Boy, were we glad we did. Blessed with an absolutely gorgeous day and, as our guide described, “fresh” cool temperatures, we set off from Funchal to see the western and northern coasts along with the high point and scenes from the interior.
There are no natural beaches on this pile of lava rock, and so the brilliant blue sea and crashing Atlantic waves hit a shore of black rocks and pebbles. Several places we visited had barriers to keep visitors away from vantage points due to aggressive wave action. Our guide was a German native who has spent the last 57 years on the island after marrying a local and raising a family. Her insights and commentary were authentic and very interesting, and I felt we had a good window into what it was like to live on an isolated island (with unreliable air service). She also gave us a very graphic description of how life on the island has evolved, from 10 cars and few hotels when she arrived in the 60s to the thriving tourism industry it is today. As part of Portugal, Madeira’s fortunes have also risen and fallen with changes and political transitions in their home country.
In rural areas, many families are superstitious and place terracotta symbols at the corners of their roofs to protect all within. These might represent a child’s head or dove, and I regret I could never get in position to get a good photo of one. Birds are abundant but there is little other wildlife. Chickens, goats, and pigs have been brought over. Cows are scarce and usually kept in cow sheds so they won’t fall off their owner’s steep property. At the top of the island, we did see a few “lucky” cattle roaming free. This stock is all for meat with most other goods imported to the island. Every inch has been put to good use, with wine trellises elevated and produce growing beneath. Families in the countryside depend of their own production of fresh vegetables for food.
Houses are mandated to have red tile roofs. Most homes are white or light pastels, the landscape is lush and green until you arrive at the coast, which is fringed with black lava rock and the crashing waves. The roads were crazy-curvy, and although a new highway and extensive tunnel system make driving safer, we could see some of the original roads used before the tunnels were built. Since I am not fond of heights, I would probably never have left home.
You can get an idea of our route from the map pictured here. I loved our stop in Porto Moniz, where we had lunch outdoors with views of some of the natural baths that have been created so residents and visitors can swim. It was lovely to walk along the coast and it’s mesmerizing to watch the waves hitting the rocks. We also enjoyed the local specialty, Bolo de Cacao, a local steak sandwich – lots of garlic and very tasty. The villages we saw seemed to appreciate their views and had lots of seaside cafes and restaurants.
It was too brief a visit, but I am glad we were able to see so much. Madeira is a beautiful spot to visit.