Explore Madeira's best known sights and learn why it's known as 'the pearl of the Atlantic' with its dramatic mountainous scenery criss-crossed by levadas and colourful flora. This highlights trip is based in the coastal city of Funchal and has a mix of full and free days. Porto da Cruz - Discover the history of Madeira's sugar and rum industry and sip a potent glass of the local tipple, poncha Levada walk - See the rugged landscapes on an easy walk along a small part of Madeira's vast levada network Afternoon tea - Take in the ocean views, as Churchill once did, at Madeira's colonial Reid's Palace Hotel
Our trip begins in Funchal, which will be our base for the next seven nights from which we will explore Madeira's highlights. Funchal takes its name from 'funcho', meaning fennel and according to local legend, when Zarco landed here in 1419, he named this spot after the abundance of the herb he found. Visiting sailors used to call the city 'Little Lisbon' because of the grandeur of its cathedral and the buildings that line its harbour. For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 6pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Funchal at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Madeira International Airport (FNC), which is about 25 minutes' drive from our hotel . Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up. Tonight you might like to try one of fresh seafood dishes that Madeira is known for, such as tuna with fried maize or black scabbard with fried banana, and for dessert perhaps have a taste of passionfruit pudding.
Today we leave Funchal on a full day tour of the north and north-west of the island including Camara de Lobos, where we see a plaque and statue dedicated to Sir Winston Churchill who used to holiday on the island and would sit at this spot to paint the beautiful coastline scene. We'll also take a look at the street art here created from recycled drink cans. We continue to Pico da Torre viewpoint, which offers stunning views of the traditional buildings in Camara de Lobos lining the bay. The 360 degree panoramic views stretch back as far as Funchal. Our next stop is Cabo Girao, which is second highest cliff face in the world and offers yet more captivating sea views. We drive on to Ribeira Brava and into the mountains to Encumeada. From here there's the chance to take an easy three kilometre walk along Levada Folhadal. Madeira's levadas are a unique series of mini-canals used for irrigation. There are a number of great walking trails on the island that follow these channels. After our walk we journey down through the forested area of Chao dos Louros to the pretty town of Sao Vicente on the north coast. We'll stop to see Pousada dos Vinhaticos, a heritage hotel, which is the last remaining pousada on the island. You'll want to bring your swimming costume and a towel with you today, as on our way back to Funchal we'll stop in Porto Moniz where there are natural pools. We'll have the chance for a refreshing swim, which is the perfect way to relax after a day spent exploring.
This morning we go on a walking tour of the island's capital Funchal. We'll see Mercado dos Lavradores - a fascinating fruit market where there's every fruit and vegetable imaginable and it offers a huge array of colours and sweet smells. Another market well worth seeing is the fish market where the fresh catches of day will be on sale. Next we head for Bordal Embroidery Factory, which produces some of the finest traditional embroidery and tapestries to be found on the island. After time to look around we continue into the historic centre of Funchal's Old Town, where you can find a large selection of restaurants and bars and also a permanent outdoor art gallery displaying over 200 works of art by guest artists that are painted onto the doors of Rua de Santa Maria. We'll have the opportunity to admire the colonial architecture outside Santiago Fort, the Regional Government Palace and the fort and palace of Sao Lourenco. We'll visit the Municipal Theatre and Jardim Municipal - the large garden here is sure to enchant you with its collection of alluring exotic flowers, both endemic and from around the world, and its native ancient trees. After a morning of exploration we have time to relax and soak up the history at Reid's Hotel, where Churchill used to stay in 1950s, and where we'll partake in afternoon tea before returning to our hotel in the late afternoon. For the afternoon tea please wear smart casual clothing and avoid wearing shorts, flip flops or sportswear, such as trainers.
Each part of Madeira has its own character and today we are going to explore the eastern side of the island. We begin at the Cristo Rei Viewpoint, in Garajau, where we can admire the view back over towards Funchal and out into the Atlantic Ocean. We can also see the Christ the King statue, which looks like a smaller version of the Christ the Redeemer statue found in Brazil. We drive on to Camacha village where we'll be able to visit an artisan, who creates a wide variety of objects out of wicker. This is a traditional Madeiran craft that is sadly dying out, so there aren't many places left that produce the chairs, tables and artwork that is created here. Next we continue up into the mountains to Pico do Arieiro, which is at 1,810 metres above sea level. From here we take in the view of rolling green hills and rocky mountain peaks. We continue through Laurissilva Forest to Ribeiro Frio to admire more of the unspoilt nature in this hilly part of the island. When people think of Madeira many picture the traditional and colourful A-framed houses that are found in the northerly Santana area. We'll learn how this relatively flat region was one of the first to be settled for farming centuries ago. See how the locals produce 'pao de Santana' and get to taste this freshly made bread. There's the chance to have lunch in a restaurant overlooking the surrounding vineyards, and the vegetables and flowering gardens. Finally we will visit one of the last remaining original sugar cane mills on the island in the pretty coastal town of Porto da Cruz. Dating back to the 16th century, the mill uses steam power in the traditional way. We'll learn of the importance of sugar cane cultivation or 'white gold' and the production of local rum, with a chance to taste the popular local drink 'poncha', which is made from lemons, honey and rum, and also sample molasses cake. If you're lucky enough to be here between April and mid-May then we should be able to see the mill working, as it'll be sugar harvesting season and production will be in full swing. Before driving back to Funchal we'll make one final stop in Ponta de Sao Lourenco, which is the easternmost point on the island.
Travelling by boat out to the Desertas Islands, we'll hopefully get to spot dolphins and whales along the way. Our boat will be 'Bonita da Madeira', a 23 metre long wooden sailing boat. The Desertas Islands are a group of three uninhabited islands, which lie around 25 kilometres off the coast of Madeira. They have been dedicated as a Natural Reserve to protect the rare species of monk seal, which favours them. Our boat will anchor along Desertas Bay where you'll have time to swim in the clear waters and relax in the secluded bay. Lunch will be served on board and then we will have time to visit the island. The transfer to the shore will be made on a smaller rubber dinghy boat. After the visit we begin our journey back to the mainland. Please note that in the event of poor weather it may be necessary to cancel this boat trip or change the day of operation. If the boat trip isn't possible to do during your stay then we'll go on an excursion to the north of the island instead. Also if there are monk seals in the bay then we won't be able to swim there, as they are a protected species.
Today has been left free for you to further explore Funchal or there'll be the chance to go on a full day excursion to the island of Porto Santo by ferry. The journey takes approximately two and half hours each way. Porto Santo is a popular beach destination with the locals, and with its nine kilometre unspoilt white sand beach stretching all the way from Vila Baleira to Ponta de Calheta, it's easy to understand why. Whilst on the island you may also choose to visit the Columbus House Museum, which is the former home of the legendary explorer Christopher Columbus. If you'd prefer to stay closer to Funchal then there are some great swimming opportunities nearby including the Lido Bathing Complex, Ponta Gorda Complex, Formosa Beach and Barreirinha Beach, which are all easily reachable by public bus. We recommend a visit to Blandy's Wine Lodge to understand more about how the four modern day Madeira wines came about, the island's long association with wine through the centuries and the Estufagem process. Followed by a tasting of this famous export of course! For those who what something more active then there's the chance to walk around the lakes of Madeira. This full day trip is around the Rabacal area. The walk covers around 13 kilometres, takes five to six hours and is graded as moderate. If you'd like to go for a walk, but fancy something that's a bit shorter, then you could take the half day Vale Paraiso walk, which begins in Camacha. The walk covers around six and a half kilometres, takes two and a half hours and is graded as easy. Both walking options include your transfers and a local guide. If you're looking to take things at a more relaxed pace then you may wish to take the cable car to Monte or to the Monte Botanical Gardens. The cable car to Monte takes approximately 15 minutes and then to the gardens it's a further nine minutes each way. The gardens have been open since the 1960s and are one of Madeira's best known tourist attractions. The huge gardens display over 2,500 exotic plants that provide an exuberance of colour and scents. You may decide to return from Monte to Livremento in Funchal (around 15 minutes' walk from our hotel) by a ride on a traditional wicker toboggan. The downhill journey takes about 10 minutes along a two kilometre long road course. The toboggan will be steered by two operators and can reach up to 48kms per hour. Alternatively, you could join the Nun's Valley half day tour to visit the viewpoints at Pico dos Barcelos and Eira do Serrado, and then the Nun's Valley itself, which is located in the heart of the Madeira's mountains.
This morning we drive west to Ribeira Brava where we'll visit the Ethnographic Museum to learn more about Madeira's culture and traditions through the ages such as wine, fishing, transport and much more. Driving further west along the sun-drenched southern coast we reach Madalena do Mar, surrounded by banana plantations. We plan to follow a 2km easy walk along a levada through the plantation and the Leader will explain more about banana cultivation on the island and its importance for Madeira's economy. Continuing along the scenic drive we head to Ponta do Pargo on the westernmost point of the island - an area less-visited by tourists and defined by its dramatic cliffs where the escarpment falls into the sea. The atmospheric setting of the lighthouse here offers a great viewpoint, towering some 290 metres above the sea. Nearby we take a short walk to visit the Garganta Funda waterfall, a fantastic spot surrounded by nature and with amazing views. Most of the inhabitants of the charming, small village of Ponta do Pargo work in agriculture in the surrounding fields. Our next stop is at the Quinta das Vinhas organic vineyard. The main house is a typical Quinta dating from the 17th century - a beautiful and historic place to learn more about Madeira wine, its history and production - where we will be able to sample different types of Madeira wine. Finally, before returning to Funchal we'll make a stop in Jardim do Mar, a beautiful spot between the sea and the mountains. This small parish preserves the calm of days gone by with its narrow streets and low level houses with beautiful gardens.
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Funchal. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Funchal at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Madeira International Airport (FNC), which is about 25 minutes' drive from our hotel.
7 Break Fast(s) 2 Lunch(es)
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