Guide to: Madeira

My first impression upon landing in Madeira was that it was like rocking up at a small Caribbean airport. From the 1970s-style buses and yellow taxis to the grandiose Miramar cocktail bar opposite the famous Reid’s hotel, everything felt refreshingly old-school. The place I’d dreamed up in my mind really was every bit as I’d hoped it would be. Even amid the frenetic world of the 21st century, such a place really does still exist.

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Jacaranda season in full bloom, in front of The Ritz, Funchal

Located on a large ocean-facing slope in the south of Madeira – an island in the middle of the Atlantic about 300 miles west of Morocco – Funchal is shaped rather like a natural amphitheatre. It was here that the great Christopher Columbus would seek refuge in winter due to the island’s agreeable tropical climate. Incredible flora and fauna abound, and when I visited in April, vibrantly violet jacaranda was in full bloom. I was struck not only by how adorable Funchal is, but how diverse the whole island happens to be for such a small place of only 286 sq miles. It has everything. No wonder it’s often referred to as the Hawaii of Europe, with its stunning volcanic beaches, lush forestation, otherworldly sunrises, stunning mountain passes, cascading waterfalls and mysterious mist-shrouded highlands, alongside an emerging food and wine scene.

Eat Early

Quinta do Barbusano is not only one of the most beautiful vineyards I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting, but its lunches are downright legendary too. Once you’ve toured the property’s latadas – trellised vines that cascade miraculously down towards the Atlantic Ocean – lunch is served alfresco overlooking the verdant valley below. The miniature white chapel of São Vicente clings to the opposite summit, its pointy spire peeking through the low-lying clouds which penetrate the inkiest of blue skies. Its steeple was built entirely by women dedicated to Our Lady of Fátima. Quinta do Barbusano has no menu as such, but the traditional Madeiran lunch includes espetada: big, juicy grill-seared chunks of beef marinated on laurel skewers and served with boiled potatoes, a simple salad and ample sides of bolo do caco garlic bread, which gets the nod over its Italian counterpart for me. A tasting of the estate’s wines helps to wash it all down. The white wines benefit from the property’s maritime influence, which lends a rather divine salinity. Limited quantities mean that Madeiran wine doesn’t come cheap. Even at the cellar door, entry-level vinho tinto can cost anything from €30-70 a bottle.

Caminho Agrícola do Barbusano 26, 9240-218 São Vicente. Book via winerist.com

Quinta do Barbusano

It may be remote, but you could not wish to find a more relaxed and peaceful lunchtime location than that of beachfront Fajã dos Padres, where you arrive rather spectacularly via cable car. It’s customary to start your meal with a glass of malmsey, the local Madeiran fortified wine, before you deep dive into delicious, traditionally prepared Madeiran cuisine, where freshly caught pesticos such as tuna and scabbardfish are the mainstays, accompanied by local wines. Shellfish fiends are equally well catered for with periwinkles, grilled limpets and stewed octopus on the menu.

Rua Padres António Dinis Henriques 1, 9300-261 Quinta Grande

Fajã dos Padres

You simply cannot come to Madeira and not have afternoon tea at Reid’s Palace, the world-famous five-star grande dame of the archipelago, formerly in the hands of wine magnates Blandy’s before eventually being bought by Belmond. Every once in a while, it’s nice to go somewhere where you’re lulled back to a grander era, and Reid’s delivers just that. Afternoon tea, with a stunning view from the terrace, comes in at a very reasonable €39. What’s more, you can stroll leisurely around the hotel to your heart’s content afterwards and see for yourself why it was one of Sir Winston Churchill’s favourite stays – every time Churchill and his wife entered the dining room they would be given a standing ovation.

Estrada Monumental 139, 9000-098 Funchal

Reids Palace Hotel

Eat Late

With espetada and scabbardfish already under your belt, chicken should be next on your list. To me, Frango da Guia Madeira epitomises what Portuguese cuisine is all about. Situated halfway up a pretty nondescript road that leads from the seafront, it’s a place you can easily walk past without knowing it’s there – particularly as you can be distracted by the pair of snoozing macaws perched on the wall of the restaurant below. The outside, dominated by a large, slightly flickering neon sign of a chicken, gives little indication of what lies in wait up on the second floor. But the place will be rammed full of locals feasting on delicious plates of rotisserie chicken and rice. Some say it’s the simple things in life, and that’s something the Portuguese certainly excel at.

Tv. dr Valente 7, 9000-092 Funchal. 

Galáxia SkyFood not only affords diners one of the finest views over the Bay of Funchal, but has a scintillating menu to match. Be sure to rock up early for a pre-dinner sundowner on the terrace and watch the setting sun cast its artistic magic across the dusky pink horizon, rendering it reminiscent of a pastelly John Singer Sargent watercolour. As darkness falls, the bay is engulfed in a crescendo of twinkly lights that combine seductively with the restaurant’s starry, starry night interior. The highlight of the tasting menu for me was the Wagyu beef skewer, chef César Vieira’s interpretation of the native Madeiran version, served alongside bread and garlic crumble on a bed of flora with a smouldering green leaf still alight. A rather sublime glass of Quinta do Carmo Douro red provided the velvety pièce de résistance.

Avenida do Infante 25, 9004-542 Funchal 

Galáxia SkyFood


The place to come to taste Madeiran fortified wine, Blandy’s Wine Lodge is located on Avenida Arriaga, bang in the centre of Funchal. It possesses a rather unique microclimate due to a combination of its exposure to the sun, and its brick roofs, thick stone walls and wooden floors. A trip here is the equivalent of visiting the port cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia or a bodega in Sanlúcar de Barrameda for sherry, and is simply unmissable, particularly if you fancy yourself as a bit of a wine buff. Each of the Lodge’s rooms has its own character, and as a consequence of differing temperatures and humidity, the wines all have variable ageing profiles based on their location. As the great wine writer Richard Mayson once declared: “Madeira is a wine like no other. It is fine wine in extremis. Heat and air, both the sworn enemies of most wines and winemakers, conspire to turn Madeira into one of the most enthralling of the world’s wines, as well as the most resilient.” Book a guided tour and you’ll see what he means. By the time you finish one of these thoroughly insightful introductions to the island’s vinous offerings – several glasses to the wind – you’ll know how to distinguish between your malmseys, sercials and buals. And the wealth of vintage bottles stored behind wire mesh cabinets will have you clamouring to find your birth year… before you’re told the price!

Avenida Arriaga 28, Funchal

Blandy’s Wine Lodge

Secret Tip

Buy your wines in the store at Blandy’s Wine Lodge and utilise its savvy ‘pick it up at the airport’ service – the saving is quite substantial as the markups are considerable once you’re through security. Let’s just say I learnt from experience. Book via winerist.com

If the idea of sampling some Madeiran bubbles (if you knew such a thing existed) appeals, then Terras do Avô in a little corner of Porto Moniz, famous for its lava swimming pools on Madeira’s meteorologically ever-changing north coast, is the place to come. Boasting one of the finest panoramic terraces overlooking Seixal, a swathe of volcanic sand presided over by searing Hawaiian-like verdant mountains and crystalline shore-lapping waters, it’s an enviable spot in which to taste wine alongside a host of delicious local cheeses. Avô is very much a family affair: small and beautiful one might say, headed up by flat-cap-wearing father Duarte Caldeira, an agricultural engineer, alongside his two daughters Sofia and Filipa and son Duarte Junior. The vineyard produces about 15,000 bottles of both reds and whites as well as 1,200 bottles of sparkling wine. The Atlantic’s maritime influence produces a rather curious effect: the sun’s morning rays reflect the light of the sea, causing the vine leaves to double insulate, which is crucial for the formation of sugars. The soils are very stony, of volcanic origin, with high acidity and salinity and rich in minerality.

9270-125 Seixal, Madeira; book via winerist.com.

Terras do Avô

Meanwhile, Vinhos Barbeito, whose vineyards look down on to Baía de Camara de Lobos, offers a more avant-garde approach to Madeiran wine production, including funkily designed wine labels and packaging. Again, prices are rather eye-watering – it’s possible to pick up a bottle of house tinto for €12, but some of the other limited editions fetch shedloads, ranging from €70 to over €300.

Estrada da Ribeira Garcia, Parque Empresarial de Câmara de Lobos – Lote 8, 9300-324 Câmara de Lobos

Vinhos Barbeito

Located on the top floor of the Mercado dos Lavradores (Farmers’ Market), Madeira Beer Lab by Coral is part of a food hall where you can taste local delicacies from the island, such as tropical fruit and cheese platters. Coral happens to be the national beer of Madeira, produced at one of the oldest breweries on the island, Empresa de Cervejas da Madeira. It’s as ubiquitous as Super Bock or Sagres in mainland Portugal, but a damn sight tastier, in my opinion. And this is the best place to try its variants, from an original pale lager to weiss banana, saison passion fruit and tropical porters – to name but a few. A fascinating fact about Coral: the original pale lager is traditionally served in small bottles so it doesn’t overly heat up. Locals would much rather have another bottle than a larger one that’s warm!

Rua Hospital Velho 32, 9060-129 Funchal

Coral Beer



In days gone by, Funchal’s Old Town (Zona Velha) was a rather rundown quarter, which in all honesty was probably best avoided. That was until a band of local artists got their heads together and decided to change all that. With the help of the local government, a restoration project was born, titled ‘The Art of Open Doors’. This showcases eye-popping street art and has been so successful that a plethora of exciting art galleries, artisan stores, coffee shops, poncha bars and restaurants have dovetailed the initiative. The Old Town is a colourful spot too, as the cable cars above, en route to the heights of Monte, make the ascent every few seconds. Praia Formosa, a10-minute drive from downtown Funchal, is the place to be for sundowners at sunset. Arrive in good time and ensure you access the rockpools via the Doca do Cavacas cave tunnel. Once you’ve frolicked around in the natural pools and sunbathed on the volcanic pebble beach, cool off at the On Water Academy bar with a cleansing white sangria – it’s the done thing around these parts. The bar is a great vantage point to watch in awe as the horizon turns into a dreamy orange and yellow hue. 

Praia Formosa
Sundowners, On Water Academy bar, Praia Formosa

You could be forgiven for thinking the capital’s Casino de Madeira looks like something straight out of Brasilia, the futuristic capital of Brazil, and you’d be right. It was designed by legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer and its hyperboloid white concrete structure does bear some similarities to the Cathedral of Brasília itself. Inaugurated back in 1976, it’s the great man’s only work on Portuguese terra firma, would you believe? Niemeyer was a big fan of what he called the sensual curve: “the curve that I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuous course of its rivers, in the body of the beloved woman”. And it is quite beautifully executed here, blending into the surrounding greenery in an uncannily organic way. Avenida do Infante, 9004-513 Funchal. Niemeyer also designed the complex’s neighbouring Casino Park Hotel, now owned by the Pestana Group.

Casino de Madeira, by Oscar Niemeyer
Casino Park Hotel

Beyond Funchal

Only 15km from Funchal along Madeira’s southern shores in Lugar de Baixo, BAM Centro da Banana da Madeira is a cool, quirky museum dedicated to the humble Madeiran banana, a smaller and sweeter cousin of the South American version we’re more accustomed to snacking on. With ultra-hip branding by Lisbon-based design collective Bar Ogilvy, BAM offers a full-on sensory experience, detailing the history and culture of the elongated, edible yellow fruit through the perspective of art, using immersive installations, holograms, interactive experiences and 4D projections. Be sure to snaffle a dad hat from the BAM store before you leave.

Estrada Regional, Túnel do Lugar de Baixo 2, 9360-592 Ponta do Sol  

As unforgettable moments in life go, a trip to Pico do Arieiro ranks pretty high. It’s one of those occasions when you really don’t mind setting your alarm for 05:30 for a 06:00 pick-up from your hotel. Half an hour later, having scaled your way up from Funchal to a height of 1,818m, you might at first wonder what all the fuss is about as it’s still pitch black. But what is about to unfold over the subsequent minutes is utterly breathtaking: you feel like a bird, suspended above waves of clouds resembling cotton wool as the sun filters through the smouldering distant horizon until you’re almost blinded by its intensity. Once the sun is high enough in the sky, you breakfast on Portuguese pastries, divine Madeira sponge and what can best be described as rocket-fuel coffee. The spectacle is weather-dependent and not guaranteed, but the owner of the tour company told me there are very few days throughout the year when the sunrise does not manifest itself spectacularly. Remember to pack a warm jumper, coat and beanie as the high altitude is pretty bracing, even in summer. Book via Charismatic Mountain 

The otherwordly Pico do Arieiro at sunrise
Misty Levada walks


Bringing a touch of Dubai glamour to the hotel scene in Funchal, the vast Savoy Palace is a seriously smart base for your sojourn in the Madeiran capital. Space is certainly not at a premium here, and it’s a joy to be in such cavernous surroundings wherever you are in the hotel. With magnificent indoor and outdoor pools, panoramic terraces, rooftop bars overlooking the Bay of Funchal and high-level dining, what’s not to love about the entire place?Avenida do Infante 25, 9004-542 Funchal. Named after the cathedral that neighbours the property, the 54-room Sé Boutique Hotel occupies a quiet backstreet in the historic centre of Funchal, with an incredible roof terrace where you get up close and personal with Sé’s tower, one of the most emblematic works of the Manueline period on the island. The cathedral’s influence extends throughout the hotel’s natural-light-infused interiors, including bedroom headboards adorned with patchwork prints of the cathedral’s tiles, which date back to 1493.

Travessa do Cabido 17, 9000-715 Funchal

Savoy Palace


You don’t expect to find a chocolate shop of the calibre of Uaucacau in a farmers’ market, but the chocolate on show here is nothing short of artistic perfection. Local businessman and master chocolatier Tony Fernandes is the brains behind it all, launching Uaucacau in 2014. He made a commitment back then to go down the path of artisanal production, aiming for the highest quality achievable by using typical Madeiran ingredients such as fortified wine, ginger, poncha, cane honey, passion fruit, banana, pitanga and mango among a host of others. Uaucacau sources raw materials from local farmers, ensuring the traceability of the entire manufacturing process. The finished pieces are like chocolate renditions of marbled paper in their exterior appearance.

Rua Latino Coelho 38, 9060-155 Funchal

A biscuit emporium like no other, Fábrica Santo António 1893 was established in the Madeiran capital back in 1893, born out of the strong English culture in Portuguese society at the time. Santo António’s biscuits have accompanied pots of tea in homes across the island ever since. It’s also the place to beat a path to for traditional Madeiran sugar-cane-syrup cake. The unique heritage of the place has been carefully preserved by the family owners, now in the sixth generation, with many of the original fixtures and fittings still on display, and products stylishly presented and branded. Travessa do Forno 27-29, 9000-077 Funchal

Lee Osborne is Creative Director of Secret Trips and a frequent traveller to his beloved Portugal

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