Recently I was contacted by Inntravel, a travel company who specialise in “slow holidays”, encouraging people to take the lesser-trodden path and savour the moments of travel. They offer a wide range of trips from walking and cycling holidays, to short breaks and family holidays. Inntravel are currently promoting their holidays to Portugal with the hashtag #JourneyThroughPortugal so they wanted me to share my thoughts on why I love Portugal, my favourite places to visit and reasons to go back!
As I recently got back from an absolute dream of a trip to Madeira (one of Portugal’s islands), I was eager to take part in the campaign and rave about my time there. If you don’t know much about Madeira, don’t worry because I didn’t either. In short, Madeira is a Portuguese island located in the North Atlantic Ocean, southwest of Portugal.
I also wanted to take part in this campaign because back in February I vowed to travel more slowly this year. As we were in Madeira for a whole week (a long time for me/a small island), we took things very slowly, really getting to know the island, the people and the culture.
After spending an entire week exploring every nook and cranny of Madeira, I am now keen to visit mainland Portugal too, in particular, Porto, Lisbon and Sintra. Hopefully, this will happen in the next year or so! I’ve been eyeing up everyone’s Instagram photos of Pena Palace in Sintra in recent months, and I’ve decided I must visit. From the infographic below you can see that there is a whole host of stuff to do on this trip, from wine tasting in Porto to exploring castles in Lisbon.
Madeira isn’t on many people’s radars (unless you’re over 50 and looking for somewhere exotic to retire). And it especially isn’t on many student’s radars. But Madeira is an amazing holiday destination for all ages alike. My dad and I enjoyed it just as much as each other and there are 42 years between us. I don’t know if that says more about him or me… Probably me.
But anyway, if you’ve never thought of visiting Madeira before, please put it straight to the top of your bucket list, and say “hello” to Madeira’s #1 fangirl. (That’s me, in case you were wondering.) I have a whole host of reasons of why you should visit Madeira and I will be sharing just a small number of them with you today!
1. The Price Tag
As a student, money is always at the forefront of my mind. Where can I travel on the cheap? Are there good accommodation deals? What about activities?
If you’re a Brit looking to visit somewhere exotic like Hawaii but can’t afford the flights, visit Madeira. Not only are flights a hell of a lot cheaper (HELLO £60 return flights!) but you can also bag cheap accommodation, and food prices are very reasonable too.
Gaz and I stayed in the gorgeous, modern studio pictured above, which was located right in the centre of Funchal, the island’s capital. This set us back £314 between us for seven nights. For only £157 each, this place was an absolute bargain and couldn’t be more convenient.
If you’re a confident driver, it’s definitely worth hiring a car to explore the island as it is much cheaper than tours and you can travel around at your own pace and by your own rules. Hiring a car will set you back about £140 for five days with Funchal Car Hire, which, if you’re travelling with a group of friends or family, works out very cheap per person.
2. The Views
I think the main reason everyone should visit Madeira is for the views. Heck, just visit for the views alone! Boy are they breath-taking, and I don’t use that word lightly. Madeira, all I’ve got to say is that Mother Nature worked extra hard when creating you.
On the evening we drove above the clouds up to Pico de Ariero, I remember giggling like a kid on Christmas morning. I was almost on the brink of tears of joy guys. Call me lame all you want but I really was speechless and in that moment, I felt truly happy, and those moments don’t come around often.
One of my favourite things about Madeira is that the landscape is vastly varied and beautifully dramatic. Two-thirds of the island is classified as a nature reserve and the volcanic soil means that pretty much anything can grow on the land. Many parts of the island look like Hawaii, while others mirror The Faroe Islands. Similarly, the Japanese botanical gardens will make you feel like you’re in Asia and the crystal blue waters easily transport you to the Caribbean.
The island is so diverse that you’re basically paying for several holidays in one! Visiting Madeira is basically an investment. Or that’s what I like to tell myself anyway… An investment. Yep, that’s right.
Some of the best places to experience Mother Nature at her finest in Madeira are the Nun’s Valley, pictured above, and Pico Ruivo, however every inch of the island is beautiful.
3. The Culture
Madeira was discovered in 1419 by Portuguese navigators and was colonised in 1425, and since then many traditions have been formed. One of which is transport via basket ride! Yep, you heard me correctly. Basket ride.
Since around 1850 Madeirans have been travelling in wicker toboggans from the mountain town of Monte down the steep, winding road into Funchal. This traditional method of transport has since turned into a bit of a tourist trap, but it’s a must-do all the same. If you’re a bit of a thrill-seeker like me you may find it a tad underwhelming but some people have found it terrifying, so each to their own.
Madeira is also known for its incredible festivals and I’ve heard down the grapevine that it puts on a pretty good party on New Year’s Eve. Fireworks are set off from more than 50 different spots along Funchal’s bay and in 2006 it held the Guinness World Record for the largest fireworks display in the world. Other festivals it hosts throughout the year include the Flower Festival, the Atlantic Festival and the Wine Festival.
The local cuisine is also a big reason why you must visit Madeira! Because of the geographic location of Madeira in the Atlantic Ocean, the island is big on fish. Espetada is another traditional Portuguese dish that you will find everywhere in Madeira. This dish is usually made of large chunks of beef rubbed in garlic and salt, skewered onto a bay leaf stick and cooked over hot coals. Like Espetada, Bolo do Caco is on pretty much every restaurant’s menu. Bolo do Caco is a chewy flatbread slathered in garlic butter and it is deeee-licious! And of course, you can’t leave without a slice of Madeira Cake and a glass of Madeira wine.
4. The Flowers
Madeira has many nicknames including the “floating garden”, the “island of flowers” and the “island of eternal spring”. Looking at the photo above, it’s certainly not hard to see why. Historians believe that the island of Madeira has been around for more than 15 million years which is why it has such an extensive collection of flora and fauna.
There are plenty of gorgeous botanical gardens to visit, such as Monte Palace Tropical Garden pictured above, but you will also find flowers wherever you look on the island.
5. Outdoor Activities
If you’re still struggling to get over your preconceived image of Madeira as a glorified retirement home, let me tell you now: Madeira is an adventure junkie’s paradise. With such diverse and magnificent natural spaces, there are plenty of opportunities to get out of your comfort zone and awaken your adrenaline.
The terrain of the island offers the perfect setting for mountain biking and hiking, and you really can’t ask for a better backdrop. Hiking enthusiasts rave about the scenic routes and beautiful trails Madeira’s mountains offer. Pro hikers can scale the island’s highest peak, Pico Ruivo, at 1862 metres above sea level, and see waterfalls and lush forests along the way.
But if you aren’t the keenest hiker and don’t have much time on your hands, you can still see the spectacular mountain scenery by driving up to Pico do Arieiro, the island’s third-highest peak at 1818 metres above sea level.
Madeira is also perfect for those who love swimming and diving. Its waters have a temperature range of 19 to 24 degrees Celsius which is ideal for diving, sailing, surfing, kayaking, snorkelling, and many other aquatic activities. Madeira is also a great place to try your hand at canyoning, paragliding, quad biking or horse riding. Basically, the world (read: Madeira) is your oyster.
6. The Weather
The weather in Madeira is amazing. Although it is a Portuguese island, it is actually much closer to North Africa so it enjoys glorious subtropical temperatures and sun all year round! However, if you’re a sad old Brit like me and can’t handle hot weather, don’t worry because it’s not too bad. Thanks to the island’s mountainous relief and the Gulf Stream and Canary Current, it has a surprisingly mild climate. We’re talking around 25 degrees Celsius in the summer and 17 degrees Celsius in the winter.
So have you ever visited Madeira? What did you think? If not, have I persuaded you to put it on your travel bucket list? Let me know in the comments below. Also, keep an eye out for my Ultimate Seven Day Guide to Madeira which I will be publishing in the coming weeks!