I stumbled on Madeira when I was looking for a warm travel destination for our family which we could visit during the cold and wet months of a typical Swiss November.
I wanted something not too far by plane as this was the first flight for the kids. I had the map in front of me and by pure coincidence a little dot off the North-West coast of Africa got my attention. Madeira.
I started web searching and the first few pictures instantly sold me the trip. But most importantly it has a warm, subtropical climate andis often referred to as the ‘island of the eternal spring’ pleasantly warm throughout the entire year. Just perfect and we Packed Again.
Where is Madeira Island?
The most common question from friends when we revealed our next travel destination.
Madeira is a territory of Portugal, which comes as a surprise to many, because it is significantly closer to mainland Africa (800km) than to Lisbon, capital of Portugal (1,200km)
What to expect when travelling to Madeira
With its stunning natural scenery, massive volcanic mountains, jagged cliffs, lush forests and beautiful flowers (especially if you travel during the spring months), Madeira is a multifaceted island packed with surprises.
You can easily drive and visit the whole island in a week’s trip. Be prepared for some of the steepest roads you will have ever driven. We’re used to steep roads in Switzerland, but there were some in Madeira which opened our eyes.
Madeira is a safe destination as crime is virtually non-existent. It also provides European standards coupled with exceptional value for money.
One of the weirdest but most impressive things I ever seen is the runway of the airport is on concrete columns and the motorway is running underneath. Seriously I am not joking!
Due to the powerful waves and strong sea currents, Madeira is not a sandy beach island destination. Which to be honest is probably a good thing to keep it “the little hidden gem” that it is. There are two artificial beaches on the island if sunbathing on sand is desired.
Best is to hire a car – Madeira demands to be explored!
Characteristics of Madeira
Once you start reading about Madeira you soon figure out that it is a hiker’s paradise. The “Levadas” are irrigation waterways crisscrossing the entire island which provide visitors with wonderful walking and hiking routes. Most of them are not really suitable for young children because of their steep drop offs on either side. But there are some that can be walked with young beginner hikers. If not sure ask Madeira tourism or buy one of the many Levada guidebooks.
You may like the Rabacal Walks on the west side of the island. Cascada de Risco, a 50-meter waterfall and the 25 Fontes (25 fountains).
Do them early, before the buses with the cruise ship guests arrive.
The highest accessible peak by car is the Pico do Arieiro. Standing at 1,862m above sea level the summit provides spectacular views over the entire island and its central mountain range. There are several advanced hikes that start from here, on of is the Pico Ruivo, the highest peak on the island.
The Island has a lot of deep and mostly inaccessible valleys. The most famous of these valleys is the Curral das Freiras “Nuns Refuge” which is protected by cliffs on three sides.
When you visit this valley you do ask yourself why on earth did they decide that this is good place to start a village. It is literally in nowhere land. Quite impressive though.
On the south side of the island, in Cabo Girao, are some of the highest cliffs in Europe, with drops of up to 590m. Nice to visit for sunset, but be aware it is quite touristy as it has a fear inducing glass floored skywalk which is not for the fainthearted. We visited late afternoon which was perfect as all the cruise ship guests had already left so we had the views all to ourselves.
On the very north-west edge of the island lies the remote town of Porto Moniz, famed for its natural lava pools that are filled by the high tide. There is a paying one but you can also go to the one on the right of the town which is free and as nice if not nicer.
Make sure to visit Porto Moniz in the morning. We arrived about 10h00 and the whole area was empty. Although all restaurants where open, so we asked ourselves the question; why is everything open when nobody is here?
Ha ha, 2 hours later the place was packed with tour buses from the cruise ships, and our question was answered.
On the front promenade between the two naturals pools you will also find an amazing playground and some outside fitness station which will keep the whole family occupied.
Madeira with Children
The Portuguese locals love children, and families with children are welcomed.
One bizzare but fun activity that you may have come across in a long time is the “wicker toboggan run” in Funchal, the Capital of Madeira.
You sit in a traditional wicker cart that once carried goods up to the higher villages and start your descent. The driver runs alongside the cart slowing and steering the cart with his specially designed shoes. Think of sledging on tarmac, I guess you have to see it to believe it! Find out more here.
If you travel with younger children which are not yet good hikers/walkers but you still like to see the most of the nature that this amazing island has to offer, then try to visit as many viewpoints as possible. Most of them are accessible by car, and require only a minimal effort to reach the actual viewpoint on foot.
I always imagined traveling from viewpoint to viewpoint when I am old and have difficulty to walk, but no, here we are with our twins doing exactly this. How life changes.
There are also some great Playground areas around. On our Madeira itinerary you will find some of them with the location stated.
Where to stay
As a car is best if you want the flexibility to explore the whole island especially when travelling with children, I would recommend a stay anywhere on the south-west side. Statistically this is the sunniest part plus you get to see some stunning sunsets. There are amazing properties for rent, with breathtaking views and perfectly located to explore the whole island. Many have a great garden for the kids and most of them come with a pool, some even heated. Search on Airbnb and Booking.com
I do not recommend staying in Porto Moniz, as this beautiful village is really quite cut off from the rest of the island. Although it is a must for a daytrip.
If you do not want a car then for sure Funchal is the place to stay. It has plenty of hotels and other accommodation to choose from plus public transport links.
We packed for Madeira and stayed one week, during which we…
- Picniced at the beautiful Ponta de São Lourenço viewpoint
- Got lost in Curral das Freiras“Nuns Refuge”
- Got a free spectacle at Eira do Serrado viewpoint
- Bathed in Porto Moniz
- Went high up to Pico do Arieiro
- Wandered around Funchal
- Were impressed with Achadas da Cruz and the deserted village Fajã da Quebrada Nova
Never forget to travel!
Thank you Corina
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