I can’t believe it’s November already! As much as I enjoy the Fall in the US, my fading tan serves as a reminder of my honeymoon in Madeira a few months ago. So my favorite thing for the month of November is, of course, Madeira. Even though I won’t be going back there this year, I can fondly reminisce about the fun-filled days I had there, and hopefully convince you to book a trip out there too.
From the capital, Funchal, I took a guided tour around the island with tour company Pearl of the Atlantic, who offer guided tours in English, French, German and Spanish. We first went down a steep, winding road in Caniço that led to a small, quiet beach. Along the way, my guide Duarte told me some of the history of the island, facts, and stories that only locals know. We traveled to various places along the island including the first town in Madeira, Machico, which was discovered in 1419. It’s incredible to think that the Portuguese were already settling on this island 73 years before Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas. (Columbus, by the way, lived in the Madeira archipelago in 1478.)
Duarte took me to the wicker factory at Café Relógio. Wicker work/basket-weaving is an important art form on the island. Sadly, it’s also a dying art, with only a handful of artisans still practicing this craft. But more on this for another time.
We then went to one of the highest peaks on the island, Pico do Arieiro. At altitudes of 1,818 m (5,965 ft), it normally has spectacular views, but I happened to go when the clouds had rolled in… so instead of mountaintop sceneries, I marveled at mysterious, foggy mountainsides, which were beautiful in an entirely different way. One of the highlights of the tour (for me, at least) was stumbling upon a herd of sheep that was crossing the road. I loved seeing the animals roam around freely!
On the tour, we passed the beautiful laurel (laurisilva) forest. I especially loved the picnic tables scattered along the roads. Traditionally, families would have picnics on weekends in the mountains and forests. We also went to Ribeiro Frio, a starting point for many of the levada tours (levadas are the typical small aqueducts that you can find all along the island). Make sure to leave enough space in your suitcase to bring back some woolen sweaters that are on sale at little stores in Ribeiro Frio – the prices are very affordable and I was disappointed that I didn’t have enough room in my suitcase to bring one back.
We passed some beautiful valleys with incredible views – it was almost like something out of Jurassic Park! The winding roads up and down the mountains allow you to catch glimpses of the ocean, the villages, and the mountainsides from various angles. Occasionally, you’ll wrap around a bend and see a little waterfall and, before you know it, it’s gone again. We finished the tour by seeing the traditional Madeiran houses, which look like little dollhouses. There are some modern reconstructions where you can pick up souvenirs but in addition to these, Duarte showed me an authentic Madeiran house where I learned all about why the roofs are shaped that way and how the inside was laid out based on the family’s needs.
Curious to visit Madeira yet? I highly recommend booking a trip out there for New Year’s Eve. Funchal’s fireworks display is world renowned! Can you think of a better way to ring in the new year than being on a beautiful, flower-covered island and watching fireworks reflect on the ocean waves?
If you’re interested in taking a tour with Pearl of the Atlantic, have a look on their website. They do customized tours to fit your needs. All the guides are local, so you’ll get the best tips for restaurants and activities. One thing in particular that I loved about this tour is that they open up doors for you every time you get back in the vehicle (maybe chivalry isn’t dead?).