Experience levada walking, extreme scenic drives, sea-view clifftop dining, a glass spacewalk above the highest sea cliff in Europe, swimming in natural rock pools and visit the capital, Funchal, all in just three action-packed days.
Stay: On the wilder and more beautiful North side of the island in the traditional Madeiran villa of Casa da Piedade, nestled in-between the thickly forested steep mountain slopes and rolling vineyards of the Sao Vincente valley. It is available either on a bed and breakfast basis or for private hire. You will need a hire car to properly visit the island and you need to be a confident driver with a head for heights in order to visit the places described in this article – Madeiran roads are somewhat steep and windy!
Morning: Drive via the south coast (Ribeira Brava) to the Miradouro do Curral das Freiras. This viewpoint overlooks the Valley of the Nuns in the very heart of the island, so called as it was said to have sheltered nuns during an attack on Funchal in the 16th century. Set off early to increase your chances of cloud-free views over the mountains. After visiting the viewpoint, partly retrace the hairpin bends to a terrifying looking turnoff for Pico do Areeiro. This little road starts off very steeply but soon levels out, providing amazing views of the mountains and the lowlands. Continue driving to Ribeiro Frio from where it is a short walk along one of the most popular levada (aqueduct) walks in Madeira to the Balcoes Viewpoint.
Afternoon: After your walk, visit the trout fisheries in Ribeiro Frio before driving down to the North side of the island and having lunch on the clifftop terrace at Quinta Do Furao. After lunch, stroll through the village of Santana with its traditional painted thatched roof cottages. Continue your drive along the stunning North coast descending hairpin bends, passing numerous vineyards, fruit sellers, and overflowing flowering terraced gardens. Spend the late afternoon relaxing in the lush gardens with the villa cats or by the swimming pool.
Evening: Have dinner on the seafront in Sao Vincente at Restaurant Caravela, where you can choose your fish from a platter of the day’s catch. For the starter, try a traditional platter of limpets fried in garlic. You can drive to the restaurant in 5 minutes or walk there in 30-45 minutes.
Morning: Start early and drive along the coast to the natural rock swimming pools in Porto Moniz, stopping on the way to view the stupendous Bridal Veil waterfall, which emerges from a clifftop and crashes over the remains of the old main north coast road and into the Atlantic Ocean far below. Drive up to the largest highland plateau on the island and walk the Levada des 25 fontes. The walk starts by descending through giant heather trees before following an ancient levada which finishes in a natural rock amphitheatre into which numerous waterfalls flow (3 hours round trip).
Afternoon: Descend from the highlands to a cable car on the south coast of the island which will transport you down a steep cliff to the sea. Walk through banana plantations on a thin sliver of land at the foot of the cliff to Fajã dos Padres where you can enjoy a late lunch followed by a swim in the sea. After lunch visit the nearby little fishing village of Camara de Lobos, relax at the villa or climb up to the clock tower and chapel on the hillside above the villa to get a panoramic view of the Sao Vincente valley (be careful of the territorial goats on the way down!).
Evening: Have cocktails at the famous Belmont Reid Hotel in Funchal followed by dinner on the clifftop terrace of the Belmont’s Villa Cipriani (book ahead and ask for a table on the terrace). The hotel was previously frequented by Ernest Hemingway and Winston Churchill. If you are celebrating a special event, you could hire a classic car with a chauffeur to take you there from Madeira Garage. We got a 1980 Rolls-Royce Cornich Cabrio to take us from the villa to Villa Cipriani (Funchal) via the Encumeada and Cabo Girao viewpoints.
Morning: Drive to the capital, Funchal, and leave the car in the multi-storey car park opposite the Funchal Cable Car. Wear comfortable shoes. Take the cable car up to Monte, a district of Funchal located high up on the hillside where you can visit the tropical terraced Monte Palace Gardens and the Church of Our Lady of Monte. You can also take an additional cable car from here to the Madeira Botanic Gardens, but these are not as beautiful or interesting as those in Monte.
Afternoon: Enjoy the traditional toboggan ride in a wicker basket steered by two gentlemen in straw hats and sailoresque outfits (trust me!) from Monte halfway back down the hill to Funchal (this was €30 for two in 2018). After the end of the ride you can keep walking down the hill and back into the city centre in 30 minutes but if you are tired make sure that you negotiate a good price for a taxi as the drivers do try to rip off tourists and rapidly decrease their prices once you start walking away and looking disinterested. Have lunch in Venda da Donna Maria in the old town before joining a 4:30pm tour of Blandy’s Wine Lodge to learn about the production of the island’s famous Madeiran wine (pre-booking is required).
Evening: Cook an evening meal at the villa using the outdoor bbq grill at the back of the property. There is a supermarket 2 minutes’ drive from the villa on the E104 towards Funchal with very good cuts of local beef.