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10 days in Madeira: our practical guide

We have just returned from 10 days in Madeira with kids and we have green stars in our eyes! Indeed, it’s crazy how luxuriant the vegetation is on this island! It’s lush! Clearly, for an immersion in green landscapes, this is the ideal place! A natural destination as we like them, perfect for recharging your batteries and also for hiking (which was our primary objective). On the other hand, a warning to all those who prefer beach holidays: Madeira is not the island for you! I will elaborate further below. You also don’t have to be afraid of the rain! And yes, all this vegetation isn’t there by chance ;-). Madeira is located in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Portugal, just above (exactly northwest of) the Canary Islands. But we found Madeira very different from the Canaries, wetter, greener. Perhaps a little resemblance in decor to what I described to you in the north of Tenerife. And in terms of size, it’s similar to Lanzarote but it has absolutely nothing to do in terms of landscape! In short, Madeira is Madeira! And if I continue with the similarities, I rather had the impression of being on Reunion Island, between the vegetation, the mountains, the waterfalls, the hiking possibilities and the rum! But it’s still different (and so much closer!)… Let’s get into the heart of the subject. If you are thinking about Madeira for your next family vacation, I will tell you below what you can do there and you’ll find practical advice for getting organized: accommodation, drop-off points, transport, weather.

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Ages of our children during this trip: Ticoeur, 13 years old and Titpuce 11 years old. Travel period: the first 10 days of April

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What to do in Madeira? 10 activities for the whole family:

Here are 10 things we discovered in Madeira during our stay.

1- Hike along the levadas:

Levadas are the numerous irrigation canals found throughout Madeira. There are more than 2000 km of levadas! These canals were essential for agriculture on this island with its strong reliefs. Many hiking trails allow you to follow these typical Madeiran levadas with the advantage of being level paths! Walking along the levadas is one of the great attractions of the island! We followed the levada of the 25 springs and the levada do Alecrim (both combined), the levada Faja do Rodrigues, the levadas Nova and Moinho (in one combined hike near Ponta do Sol), levada Ribeira da Janela near Porto Moniz . For children, these paths are real little adventures because we come across tunnels, narrow paths and waterfalls. Often, the canals pass through eucalyptus forests to the delight of our nostrils!

10 days in Madeira

10 days in Madeira

2 – Hiking in the mountains

Madeira is a mountainous island. So there are a few peaks to climb on more difficult hikes. In my article on hikes, I will give you the details of the famous hike which goes from Pico Ariero to Pico Ruivo. The very beautiful Pico Ariero can be reached by car.

10 days in Madeira

10 days in Madeira

Madeira with family

3 – The Miradors For the many viewpoints that you will come across on the roads of Madeira, the easiest way to spot them is to look on Google Maps. You will also see the roadside developments. Here are some essentials. Some require a short walk:

  • Mirador Eira do Serrado: come very early or late because it is very popular. Beautiful view of the mountains.
  • Mirador de Sao Cristovao Boaventura: another beautiful panorama by the sea. You can sit at the restaurant and even hike along the coastal path (we did both :-)).

10 days in Madeira

  • Mirador de Sao Lourenço: we pass there during the unmissable hike to Sao Lourenço Point.

10 days in Madeira

  • Mirador des Balcoes: you reach it after 30 minutes of walking. Come early. You will come across many birds there in addition to a very beautiful view of the mountains.

  • Mirador Bica da Cana: very beautiful view. Besides, there was a hike there that would have really tempted us!

Madeira with family

  • Mirador Cabo Girao: I’m mentioning it here because it’s a stop for almost every tourist but frankly it’s the only one we didn’t like, plus it’s the only one that costs money. It’s just popular because there is a glass window that you can walk on just to say that you have been on a very high cliff. But frankly the view isn’t more interesting than that. You can move on.

4 – Observe the primary forest

20% of the island of Madeira is covered in primary forest. You will enjoy this vegetation during your hikes along the levadas in the national park. What beautiful ferns!

10 days in Madeira

A must-see place on the island is the Fanal primary forest. It is a forest classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There we find the last large forest of petrid laurels. This type of forest covered the Mediterranean basin in prehistoric times. You can reach the Fanal by car. Then you can stroll among these mysterious trees which are often covered in mist. We spent a good two hours there and stopped there several times during our stay.

Madeira lantern forest

5 – Admire or be watered by waterfalls!

There are waterfalls everywhere on Madeira! You will come across them along the levadas but also by car along the road! For example, there is the Bridal Veil waterfall on the road along the north coast. At this waterfall, we took a mini walk towards Ponta do Poiso. During the 25 sources hike, the destination of the walk is a beautiful waterfall made up of 25 sources. And then, there are lots of little waterfalls all over the forest!

Madeira with family

The Bridal Veil

10 days in Madeira The 25 sources

6 – Visit natural swimming pools (and potentially swim!)…

Another typical activity in Madeira is swimming in natural pools. They are located in the northeast: in Seixal and Porto Moniz. On the other hand, just like during our stay in Tenerife, we were never able to swim there because the ocean was too rough. The big waves were going over the rocks that are supposed to protect us. This happens regularly so swimming is not a guaranteed activity! Temperature-wise, the sea was 19-20 degrees during our stay. It never goes very high but for me it would have been enough. Most natural pools are very natural and free. Just remember to have protective shoes. There is also a large paid complex of natural but equipped swimming pools in Porto Moniz. It was closed when we visited because of the big waves. In any case, even without swimming, it is worth walking along these natural pools because they are beautiful landscapes.

For calmer swimming, there are a few small beaches. For example, the black beach of Seixal in the north, the artificial beach Praia da Calheta in the south or the Machico beach near the airport (practical before taking the plane and pleasant spot for a coffee). But be careful, these beaches are not essential, it’s just a matter of swimming if you need to cool off. Madeira is not a destination recommended for beach holiday lovers! Also, all the beaches are small so in summer it must be very crowded.

10 days in Madeira Seixal Beach

In fact, for swimming, some tourists go to the island of Porto Santo which actually has very beautiful beaches but we found that it was too far by ferry and we didn’t want to get back on the plane to bathe.

7 – Drink poncha and fresh fruit juices

Lots of delicious fruits grow in Madeira! It’s great for enjoying fresh fruit juice. Plus it’s economical: €2.50 to €3.50 for a large glass. Ticoeur and Titpuce particularly liked the passion fruit and orange juices. Papa Voyage was a fan of tamarillo juice, a kind of small acidic tomato that grows in Madeira. For parents, there is also the fruity version with alcohol. The most famous drink is the poncha. It’s a mixture of orange juice, lemon juice, zest, sugar and island rum! In typical small bars, the poncha is prepared before your eyes, with great care and that makes the difference! The two addresses that we recommend for a top poncha: O rei da Poncha in Funchal and Porto do Abrigo in Sao Vicente. A poncha is strong and a drink costs €2.50 to €3. They are often served with peanuts. We also loved the fresh passion fruit capirinhas from Maktub bar in Paul do Mar (perfect for a drink facing the sea at sunset).

8 – Taste local specialties

When it comes to cuisine, there is something for everyone. We particularly like fish so we took the opportunity to try some seafood specialties like lapas (limpets in English). If you prefer meat, the island’s great specialty is beef skewers grilled on bay leaves. For a quick and economical lunch, we often had the small sandwich typical of the island: the pego no bolo do caco. It is a fresh roll, topped with a thin slice of meat, raw vegetables, egg or other ingredients according to your choice. It costs between €2.50 and €3.50 in the small, simple snack bars found in villages or along the roads. Accompanied by a fresh fruit juice, it’s the perfect and economical lunch! Our good restaurant addresses in Madeira:

  • Caravela in Sao Vicente: fish restaurant with sea view (the most upscale of the restaurants during our stay but very good value for money compared to the cuisine and the location).
  • Mercado do Ribeira just before Sao Vicente: very economical restaurant located at the back of a small supermarket. Very good local cuisine.
  • Snack O Ideal in Paul do Mar: the terrace is small and the restaurant is very popular so come early otherwise there will be a wait! Everything was very good! Lots of seafood.
  • Boca da Encumeada : Very good lunch in this refuge (we only had the small sandwiches but all the dishes seemed very good). We went there after the 25 sources hike.
  • Snack bar Santa Catarina : a small, unpretentious snack bar, on the side of the road but if you pass by there, stop for a super fresh and economical lunch (delicious pego no bolo do caco and juice).

9 – Visit the gardens in Funchal

In Funchal, we visited the beautiful gardens of the Monte Palace. We really liked it and spent two hours there. In addition to the vegetation, there are collections of minerals and African art. Logistically, we went up by car despite the steep slope because the cable car is too expensive. You can park easily at the cable car arrival point. Still in Funchal, we toured the public gardens and it was very pleasant: Santa Catarina Park and the municipal gardens. On the other hand, we did not visit the botanical garden because in terms of a paid visit we preferred to opt for the Monte Palace gardens. 10 days in Madeira

In the gardens of Monte Palace, you can come across a reconstruction of the traditional houses of Madeira. This avoids going to the village of Santana where there are a few remaining which, it seems, have been transformed into too much of a tourist attraction. Santana is not the most accessible place, so we skipped it and just recreated it for the photo:

10 – Discover the different productions of the island: bananas, wine (from Madeira!) and rum!

Being interested in the history of Madeira means being interested in the different types of agriculture that have evolved over the centuries on the island. In chronological order, the island’s different crops and sources of income have been: wheat, wines, sugar cane and today bananas. Thus, in Porto Da Cruz in the north, you can pass in front of a small artisanal rum factory. It is open free to the public. Of course, you have to taste Madeira wine. If like me you don’t like sweet wines, know that there are dry Madeira wines. In the south, we visited a banana plantation (Banana Museum of Madeira). This museum is new and has potential with a lot of interesting documentation and a modern presentation. However, we found the tour not very lively and we would have preferred to spend time outside observing and understanding the banana trees. However, our guide abandoned us on the way. In short, as it’s not cheap, see if you try your luck or not (perhaps not bad for keeping busy on a rainy day). Tell me about your experience. In the banana plantation, there is a bar where we ordered a banana beer and it was good! And not sweet!

10 days in Madeira Banana plantation

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There are also tourist activities that we did not do:

Go to sea to observe dolphins and whales:

This can be a very nice family outing if you haven’t yet had the opportunity to do this type of outing. For our part, we had done an identical outing in Tenerife so we didn’t do it again. In addition, we had the chance to see a lot of animals so no need to start again but we recommend!

Take cable cars:

There are two cable cars that tourists often use: a very old cable car that goes very steeply down (and back up!) to Achadas da Cruz in the west of the island. This one is not very expensive but I got the impression that tourists come down to this village just for the cable car experience rather than the village which is not that different from the others. As I’m absolutely not a fan of cable cars and I’m scared, we skipped this activity. As for the Funchal cable car, it is used by many people who visit the Monte Palace gardens because it is the easiest way to get up there but it is really very expensive so we tried our luck by car and it went well!

Test the strange basket taxis in Funchal:

It’s very expensive and what’s more it didn’t seem super safe to me (there are no accidents yet I assure you). We just observed this traditional mode of transportation from afar and it was fun like that. Stop by and take a look as you leave the Monte Palace gardens.

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10 days in Madeira with the family: where to sleep?

As we were staying 10 days, I wanted to stay in different corners of the island. The distances nevertheless allow you to choose only one drop-off point if you prefer. I like to immerse myself in varied atmospheres, discover different little places to eat or have a drink in the evening. Also, we wanted not to put our eggs in the same basket in terms of weather since there is very different weather depending on the area, even on such a small island! To put it simply, there is a fair chance of rain in the north and center while the south is almost always sunny. At the same time, there isn’t much to see in the northern half so you have to be prepared to juggle and follow the sun. To do this, you can find images online from webcams located in several places on the island. It is convenient. Afterwards, the weather changes! In short, a trip to Madeira means a lot of weather uncertainty. The island is not so green by chance. We only had one and a half days of rain out of 10 days and it didn’t hinder our program. You just need to be equipped! Here are our three points of contact:

  • 3 nights near Sao Vicente in the north at Granny’s farm (we had the house with 3 bedrooms). A very good address ! Warning: strangely, on Booking, it was written that children were not allowed but it was clearly family accommodation. We contacted the owner by email before booking and it was good for her. I also invite you to check before booking. These are small, very well equipped houses in a very pretty garden. The surrounding valley is very beautiful. Not surprisingly, this is the rain zone and we had some but we really liked this place and this corner of the island! I also encourage you to base yourself in the north for a few days for a very different experience.

  • 5 nights near Paul do Mar in the southwest at Quinta Sao Lourenço (in the house with 2 bedrooms): this is a set of traditional houses run by Philippe, an adorable and super welcoming Frenchman! I always love being able to sleep in homes that have history and personality. In addition, you can admire the sea in the distance and the sunset from the terrace. We were able to use the BBQ for our dinners. There is also an unheated swimming pool (the water was around 20 degrees), shared by the three houses with a beautiful sea view!

  • 2 nights in Funchal: I got there a little late for Funchal so I didn’t have much choice and I booked a fairly expensive villa (fortunately only for 2 nights). In fact, it is possible to share it with another family because it is suitable for 8 people. In this case, the price becomes attractive again. Here is the link here. We liked the location overlooking the sea and away from the historic center. Beautiful services (small swimming pool, balcony, billiards, complete equipment…). For only 4 people, I initially wanted to book this accommodation (Granny’s House) in the heights of Funchal but it passed under my nose within a few hours.

If you prefer to have only one accommodation for your entire stay, it is entirely possible and in this case, I recommend Quinta Sao Lourenço (our second accommodation). In any case, I do not recommend spending more than two nights in Funchal as it is the least wild part of the island. For us, if we had to do it again, I would keep our first accommodation near Sao Vicente for the northern experience (2 nights was good) and I would book the rest near Paul do Mar. The south coast in general attracts tourists: this is where there is the most accommodation and it is a good guarantee of sunshine for the end of the day, even if you have made wetter excursions in the north.

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Our 10-day program in Madeira:

How long to stay in Madeira? I would say that one week is a great classic. It’s very good for discovering Madeira. We really wanted to do a lot of hiking so we chose to stay for 10 days and it was perfect for us. If you’re not that big of a walker, then a week is great to go around and enjoy the different scenery and activities. As an indication, here is our program. I put hearts on what we preferred:

  • Day 0: arrival at the end of the day – we land in the corner of Sao Vicente where we will have dinner before a good night’s rest.

  • Day 1: we follow the north coast stopping at waterfalls and natural pools (night near Sao Vicente)
  • Day 2: hiking the levada da Faja do Rodrigues in the morning – hiking Camino Real near the Mirador Sao Cristovao Boa Aventura in the afternoon (night near Sao Vicente).

  • Day 3: big hike from Pico Ariera to Pico Ruivo (night near Paul do Mar)
  • Day 4: big loop hike near Paul do Mar (night near Paul do Mar)
  • Day 5: Lombada da Ponta do Sol hike in the morning – visit to the banana plantation in the afternoon and tour to Calheta (night near Paul do Mar)
  • Day 6: hike to the 25 sources in the morning – Bica da Cana viewpoint – walk to Fanal – walk to Ponta do Porgo (night near Paul do Mar)

  • Day 7: Ribeira da Janela hike in the morning – Porto Moniz – again the Fanal and again the Ponta do Porgo (night near Paul do Mar)

  • Day 8: we follow the south coast. Stop at Cabo Girao and Mirador Eira do Serrado . Monte Palace gardens in Funchal in the early afternoon – hike to Pointe Sao Laurenço at the end of the day (night in Funchal).
  • Day 9: Balcoes hike in the morning then we follow the east coast (Faial, Porto da Cruz). Verada do Lorano hike in the afternoon, along the coast.

  • Day 10: long walk in Funchal (market, gardens) then Machico beach and last snack in Santa Cruz before reaching the airport around 5 p.m. Photos of Funchal:

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10 days in Madeira: transport

On site, we rented a small hybrid car. It was perfect ! As an indication, the budget was €300 for the 10 days. To get to Madeira, it’s about a 3.5 hour flight and it’s in the time zone of England and Portugal, so one hour less than France. If like me you are not relaxed on a plane, know that the famous Madeira airstrip is more reassuring than I imagined. It is very technical, on stilts, known for its difficulty but the pilots are trained for this landing. And the track itself is really solid :-).

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Other practical information:

  • Madeira travel guides: we used a travel guide book for general information, a brochure from the Tourist Office with a selection of hikes and also the Rother guide, THE reference for hikes in Madeira.
  • Organic Maps: this is the app that Papa Voyage always likes to use when we hike. You can see the trails there and sometimes find shortcuts or detours!
  • Language: in preparation for this trip, I started learning Portuguese last January, on Duolingo, every day without exception. Obviously, I don’t yet claim to speak it truly but I had sufficient basics for our trip. Finally, the inhabitants almost all spoke French or English! Fortunately, I was still able to practice my skills in certain small villages.
  • Soon a complete article on all our hikes!

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SO ? Do you think Madeira is a destination for your little family?

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Europe, hiking in Madeira, Madeira, Madeira with kids, Portugal

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