Madeira, the Portuguese island about 800 km west of Casablanca, is well known for its overwhelming flowerage. Despite the flowers having been imported from all over the world some hundred years ago, it is a spectacular sight. And goes well together with the steep cliffs, volcanic mountains and misty rainforests. Overall, Madeira feels a bit like Hawaii. Only the great beaches are missing. This is the first part of our Madeira trip – it covers the villages and walks in the southwestern area, in particular: the towns of Calheta, Paul do Mar and Jardim do Mar; Maloeira, the Fajã Quebrada Nova and the area around Ponta do Pargo.
|Destination||Arco de Calheta, Madeira, Portugal|
|How I got there||direct flights from Duesseldorf.|
|Where I stayed and Hotel recommendations||We stayed at a nice flat near Calheta beach: https://www.quinta-golfinho.com/en/
There are hundreds of houses and hotels available on Madeira, and most of them offer sea view. We particularly liked the small apartment complex, as it was very close to the shore (just about 50 meters above) and we could watch dolphins and whales right from our breakfast table on the balcony.
|Restaurants||Restaurant A Poita, Madalena do Mar (https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Portuguese-Restaurant/Restaurante-A-Poita-1461344890780511/)
Restaurant La Parreira (https://www.tripadvisor.de/Restaurant_Review-g676335-d8008280-Reviews-La_Parreira-Ribeira_Brava_Madeira_Madeira_Islands.html), Rua Comandante Camacho de Freitas 517, Ribeira Brava / Campanario
Restaurant Engenho Velho (https://www.tripadvisor.de/Restaurant_Review-g1190953-d19240991-Reviews-Engenho_Velho_Restaurante-Arco_da_Calheta_Calheta_Madeira_Madeira_Islands.html)
Akua by Chefe Julio Pereira (in funchal Old Town)(https://www.tripadvisor.de/Restaurant_Review-g189167-d17706466-Reviews-Akua_by_Chefe_Julio_Pereira-Funchal_Madeira_Madeira_Islands.html)
Moinho at Fajã da Ovelha: Poncha bar
|Things to do||Watch whales and dolphins – we actually saw sperm whales!
Walk along the unique “levadas”, the water channels with (mostly) comfortable walkways alongside
Or for more sporty natures: there are hiking trails of every slope level. And I figures out: hiking downhill can be more strenuous than climbing up.
Enjoy great sea views from almost everywhere.
Visit Funchal, the capital of Madeira, and try the famous Madeira wine, e.g. at Blandy’s (https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g189167-d271927-Reviews-Blandy_s_Wine_Lodge-Funchal_Madeira_Madeira_Islands.html).
And if you’re in the area of Calheta and would like to taste the local Rum, which is still produced during April and May at the local plant from local sugar cane, then you should visit this sugar factory, which is a museum during the rest of the year and have a small, nice rum tasting area, whre you can try new and old ones. (https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g1178726-d4289769-Reviews-Sociedade_dos_Engenhos_da_Calheta-Calheta_Madeira_Madeira_Islands.html). Just down the road, there’s a small bar that also offers the local rum.
|Recommendations in a nutshell||Prepare to climb steep hills up and down – Madeira obviously is of volcanic origin. If you book a car (and you certainly will need it to get around), invest money into a bit more horsepower. As mentioned – the mountains really are rampant, and so are the streets.|
|recipe||Poncha: a cocktail of white rum, honey, orange and lemon juice, and maybe a little bit of passion fruit.|
Madeira – first impressions
Madeira truly is a destination for the entire year: in summer it usually doesn’t get much warmer than 25 degrees during the day, and in winter usually not colder than 20. So, the temperatures are very comfortable throughout the year. And beside the cozy temperatures the weather is rarely too dry or too wet for longer periods of time. On the northern side of the island, clouds and mist are quite frequent which enables the rich vegetation to grow.
On some hiking trail it feels like being on Hawaii – it’s that wet, warm and lush green. You’ll find lots of ferns and even fern trees (which are quite uncommon in Europe).
In addition, Madeira is one of the very few places in the world with original laurel forest, which is a UNESCO world nature heritage. The trees in the mist are quite a mythical view:
We stayed at Arco de Calheta, which means “Arc of Calheta”, and is located a little bit uphill of the small coastal town of Calheta. As mentioned above, there are lots of different options to stay, some (but few) at sea level, and many higher up in the mountains. We prefered to stay close to the sea, as we knew that Calheta is one of the best spot to watch whales and dolphins, and we were not disappointed: we saw dolphins quite often, and sperm whales three times. With the naked eye, you’ll have to know where to search, but with normal binoculars the animals are easy to find and watch. As we did from our wonderful balcony…
on our first floor flat in the small but nice complex “Golfinho”, which is located within a banana plantation, just 50 meters above sea level. The complex consists of three terraced houses, a renovated main house (with our flat on the top floor and a slightly larger flat on the bottom floor), and a beautiful new house of the owners, all placed in a really wonderful garden landscape, and beautifully illuminated by night:
Calheta is a small town, squeezed between two cliffs into a small canyon. At the bottom of the cliffs, there is just enough space for a few hotels, shops, restaurants, a church, an old sugar cane factory, and a small harbor. Some years ago, the harbor area was remodeled and equipped with two sandy beaches – the sand being imported from the Sahara. This is how it looks like nowadays on ground level…
…and from above:
OK – these beaches are not really a substitute for a wide and beautiful natural beach, not to speak of dunes and sandy landscapes as on the Canary Islands. But it’s certainly better than nothing.
Sugar Cane Plant and Rum Tasting at Calheta
Calheta however offers more than just two small stretches of beach: there is an ancient (but every spring still active) sugar cane mill, that produces a fine rum, and can be visited during the rest of the year – rum tasting possible and recommended.
Museum of Modern Art at Calheta
Another must-see (at least for fans of modern art) is the Museum of Modern Art high above Calheta on the cliff.
Between the different buildings there are breathtaking views of Calheta Beach below:
The art exhibition is nice, but also the buidling itself is worth a visit:
Whale and Dolphin Watching
Calheta is Madeira’s “capital of whale watching”. Several companies at the Calheta harbour offer these trips. Costs are about 40-50 Euros, and in general, we recommend the trips. We went with “Lobosonda” and the “Ribeira Brava”, an old fishing boat (they also offer trips with a speedboat). Unfortunately, on our day we did not see anything spectacular, just some flying fish. However, we looked for whales and dolphins every day from out terrace, and on almost every day we saw one or the other, three times in a row even sperm whales! And we also saw that the tourist boats came really close to the animals. So, it was just bad luck for us to chose one of the rare days without any sighting. Nevertheless, we enjoyed three nice hours on the ocean and nice views of the island:
This is a hiking tour quite close to Calheta, our base for our 2 weeks holidays. It is not particularly challenging and thus a good start. During the first part of the trail you’ll walk hafway down from Prazeres to Paul do Mar, and then back up again to Fajã da Ovelha and from there back again to Prazeres. The view from Prazeres down to Paul do Mar is breathtaking
and even more so when going in October, when millions of Amaryllis belladonna flowers at the wayside show their beautiful blossoms:
Another bonus on this hike is the passing of the bar Moinho at Fajã da Ovelha – a good opportunity to try Madeiras “national drink” Poncha.
Fajã Quebrada Nova
Quite close to Calheta is another attraction that you should not miss: the ocean gardens of Fajã Quebrada Nova. Start of this hike (Rother Hiking Guide version 2020, Hike No. 68) is the “Teleferico”, the cable car, at Achadas da Cruz. Already the view down at the top entrance of the cable car is breathtaking:
The way down is very steep and not recommended for people that suffer from vertigo (and who could take the cable car). However, the view on the way is great:
Once you’re at the bottom, there is a nice and easy walkway along the coastline and through the ancient, but obviously still used gardens:
Ponta do Pargo Lighthouse
On the way back xou should suqeeze in a stop at the Ponta do Pargo Lighthouse:
The view of the western coast of Madeira is very nice, and if you’re lucky, the tea house close to the lighthouse (approx. 1 km) is open, providing tea, cakes and a spectacular view of the coast from the terrace.
Jardim do Mar
Jardim do Mar is a small town just west of Calheta. It looks pretty much like all the other coastal towns: a church, a central place, a bit of stony beach and some (in fact very few) restaurants. However, there is a really nice bar/restaurant at the eastern end of the rocky beach, whit good food and a very nice ocean few from the terrace: the Restaurant Portinho.
The small town itself is not really spectacular and offers nothing special beside the chady square and a church:
Paul do Mar
Paul do Mar is a small town west of Calheta and of Jardim do Mar, at the bottom of the cliffs. It is well-known for its surfer community, and it is in fact almost impossible to get a seat in the famous surfer cafe “Maktub” at the western end of the rocky beach of Paul do Mar. However, the town itself is cute and worth a visit:
At the beach road there’s a small restaurant that offers traditional food like the “Picado Traditional”, a beef stew, served with French Fries and available at almost every Restaurant of Madeira, and for comparably small money (the one on the picture is the “medium size” for 11 Euros). You’ll find the recipe at the bottom of our Madeira Part 2 Blog Post.
Ponta da Sol
East of Calheta there are some smaller towns like Madalena do Mar and – considerably larger – Ponta do Sol. Beside a nice, but short beach promenade there’s a small town center, offering some restaurants, bars and cafes and a church:
At the eastern end of the promenade there is a stone bridge, arching over the impressive surf of this coastal part:
Between Ponta do Sol and Calheta, located at the base of hoge cliffs, there is the small town of Madalena do Mar, that you will not notice at all, if you just follow the main road. Madalena do Mar is nothing to speak of, just a coastal promenade, a few houses and three restaurants, nestled along the small flat coastal strip and the end of the gorge. However, we enjoyed a cafe at the end of the promenade, and visited the “Poita” restaurant several times (see below).
Food, Drinks and Restaurants
And now I’m coming to one of my favorite vacation items: dining out. Generally, this is quite cheap on Madeira, compared to central European standards. You can easily get fresh fish, a side dish and wine for around 15 Euros, e.g. here:
Restaurant A Poita
Restaurant at Madalena do Mar, this is a place where the locals go!
The famous beef skewers are a bit more expensive, but for about 25-30 Euros per person you will get more than you will be able to eat., e.g. here:
Restaurant La Parreira
Adress (use of a navigation app recommended): Rua Comandante Camacho de Freitas 517, Ribeira Brava / Campanario. This is a special place: first you enter the butcher shop and select your items for the barbeque (be careful to say no to some items – otherwise it’s way too much!), then you order the drinks at the bar and pay. Then you cross the street and look for a table in the open-space restaurant, where you finally get your food. The skewers will be fixed to a metal rope above and dangle over the table.
Restaurant Engenho Velho
Great view from the terrace, skewer comes standing in a device:
And finally two recommendations less “traditionally”: an Italian restaurant at the Calheta harbour:
Manifattura Di Gelato
Yes, sounds like an ice cream parlour and in fact, they do make their own, great ice cream. But they also make great pizza, pasta and all the other Italian dishes that you really appreciate after days of fish or beef skewers…
And finally a small restaurant in the heart of the Funchal old town:
Akua by Chefe Julio Pereira
Great fish dishes, the vegetarian salad was OK, but the best was the simple, crispy, home-made bread with garlic butter. Together with a good red wine, you probably don’t need anything else.
Last but not least two recommendations for drinks: one for a Poncha bar, the small bar
at Fajã da Ovelha – Poncha being the iconic drink of Madeira (see recipe below). And if you’re in the area of Calheta and would like to taste the local Rum, which is still produced during April and May at the local plant from local sugar cane, then you should visit this sugar factory, which is a museum during the rest of the year and have a small, nice rum tasting area, whre you can try new and old ones. Just down the road, there’s a small bar that also offers the local rum.
Madeira – our Trip in three Parts:
|This page is Part 1 of our Madeira trip; you’ll find the Parts 2 and 3 here:||Part 2: northern and central areas & “Picado Traditional” recipe||Part 3: eastern areas and Funchal – coming soon
- 4 cl Aguardente (or white rum of 40%)
- 4 cl fresh orange juice
- 2 cl fresh lemon juice
- A little bit of passion fruit juice
- 2 cl Honey (preferably a more liquid variety)
Serve either warm or with some ice cubes (I started with ice, but then preferred the warm version of the locals). The ratio of these ingredients varies from recipe to recipe – so you can just try our favorite mix.
Greetings from Madeira!
*According to a German Court decision, all texts containing links to commercial pages (e.g. links to Tripadvisor, Airline, hotel or restaurant websites) have to be identified as “commercial” (in German “Anzeige”). As my texts do contain links like that, I therefore identify each post and page containing a link as “Anzeige”. However (and referring to the “About Me” page) I would like to point out that I do NOT post any sponsored content in my texts. I pay for all my trips myself.