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5 Favourite Excursions in Madeira, Portugal

In the last two years of my life I’ve done more travelling (be it abroad or in the UK) than I have done in all the years before that, and my most recent destination was the little Portuguese island of Madeira. Home of soaring mountains, rich Portuguese culture and Christiano Ronaldo, I had an incredible week away and I was hard pressed to pick my favourite moments of it, but I managed. And so, in no particular order and with an abundance of photos to accompany, I present to you my favourite excursions my boyfriend and I went on in Madeira. 

1. Cable Car and Monte Palace Botanical Gardens

One of the most infamous ways to enjoy the views that the Madeiran mountains provide is to take the Funchal cable car up to the top of the mountain. The 15 minute trip takes you along a 12,198 ft line up the mountainside where you can stare out in trepidation and awe at the hillside greenery and red-roofed houses below. 

While I have to admit my heart was in my throat as I looked through the glass at the seafront we’d left 1,840 ft below while we climbed ever higher up the mountain, it was incredible. If you can stomach the height then I would 100% have to recommend the once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

When we reached the top of the line, and at long last had our feet firmly on the ground, we found ourselves at the gates to the Monte Palace Botanical Gardens. I can’t remember the exact price we paid for the return trip on the cable car, but the gardens cost €12.50 and were definitely worth it. 

The gardens were stunning, and what I can only describe as a photographer’s dream land. Bright colours, waterfalls and endless trees appeared to stretch forever before us. Every time we followed a path or turned a corner or descended some steps there was another stretch of the garden before us, always more breathtaking than the last. There were museums filled with old African sculptures and precious rocks to explore and the Monte Palace buildings that looked as though they came straight out of a painting. The only thing I will say to you is do not wear flat sandals, your feet will not forgive you. 

2. Tour of the West

When we first arrived in Madeira we met with a holiday rep at our hotel who gave us the down low on all the tourist attractions of the island, and following that we booked a tour of the west side of the island for €34 each. We woke up early and boarded a mini bus with five other visitors and our guide, Eric, and set off on our day trip.

One of the first things we realised within a day of being in Madeira was how many locals there were, and how refreshing it was to visit a place that wasn’t full to the brim with rowdy British tourists. Everyone was so lovely, and the island was so full of culture and history that we learnt a lot about on our tour. 

We stopped off in the fishing village where they were having a festival, and the streets were decorated high and low with recycled materials. We visited an extravagant church and several different peaks of interest on the mountain tops. My camera roll was full of photos that I wish I could fit into this blog post (although a lot of the photos were of stray dogs that my boyfriend had to stop me from trying to bring home).

We visited a peak in the centre of Madeira where you can look out at the view and on one side see the north sea of the island, and one side see the south- ‘The Heart of Madeira’ as the locals called it. Our tour guide drove us up and up a mountain side where the cloud was so thick we couldn’t see what was in front of the windscreen and cows appeared to graze through the mist as we drove. That drive was potentially more terrifying than the cable car, but when we finally reached clear air at the top of the mountain and were literally standing above the clouds at an altitude of 1275.23m, nothing could ruin the moment. 

3. Porto Moniz

While on our tour of the west side of the island we stopped off in a bay at the north for our two hour lunch break, however the town of Porto Moniz was so beautiful that I felt like it deserved a point of its own in this blog post.

The natural pools that reside on the north of Madeira enrapture unreal beauty and appear to be full of water with supernatural blueness- although this I discovered was due to the minerals and nutrients in the water that cause it’s hue to change. It cost €1.50 to enter the pools and you were free to sunbathe, swim and explore at your will. 

Although we were a little disappointed that it was so overcast on the day we visited and we deemed the water too cold for our delicate British bodies to swim in, there were plenty of people sucking it up and taking a dip. I can only imagine how beautiful the pools are when the sun is shining, but despite not swimming we still got our money’s worth as we wandered around exploring and taking photos that simply cannot do the blueness of the water justice. 

There were plenty of restaurants and an aquarium we didn’t get to visit, and had we had longer we could’ve easily spent the day there taking photos from every angle and braving the chilly waters of the pools. 

4. Porto Santo Day Cruise

Another excursion we booked through our holiday rep was a day cruise to the tiny beach island of Porto Santo. The proud home of Portugal’s most beautiful sandy beaches, we knew before arriving on holiday that this was a place we wanted to visit, for €65 each, it was another great experience.

We had to get up before the sun to catch a coach to board the boat by 8am, and despite nearly falling asleep on the ship with the sound of the Portuguese lottery draw playing in the background on the TV, we finally docked in the port and got the bus to the city centre for a few euros. 

The beaches looked like they’d been taken straight out of a brochure, and compared to the beaches the UK boasts back home with the sand and sea merely being variations of the colour grey, the stark contrast between the yellow sand and blue ocean was awe inspiring.

The sand was soft on our feet and the water warm enough for a dip and as the day got sunnier the place became more and more picturesque. There were plenty of cute souvenir shops a short walk from the beach and right on the ocean front was a little restaurant called the Porto Santo Beach Club where we sent a large portion of the day sipping coke and eating ice cream whilst admiring the view.

When we finally boarded the ship to go home we were exhausted, slightly sunburnt, but filled with satisfaction at such a beautiful day out.  

5. Restaurante Do Forte 

Before we’d even begun our holiday, we’d found the Restaurante Do Forte online and had set our hearts on it from the beginning. What better way to round off our holiday on the last night than by eating dinner in a fancy castle overlooking the sea? As we researched more we read into the golden package that the Forte provided- where they send a vintage Rolls Royce to pick you up from your hotel- and the dream was solidified. We knew we needed to do this.

Our driver arrived in the Rolls Royce and very kindly took plenty of pictures of us- it felt like prom- only a thousand times more magical! When we arrived at the restaurant they let us up to the top of the castle where we were given champagne and chocolate covered strawberries while they set up our table.

The food was so fancy that even the decoration of the plate looked like it belonged on master chef, and the vegetarian options for a veggie like me were beautiful. Now we aren’t big wine drinkers, and when they gave us a different free wine with every course, we struggled to drink them all- and by the time they bought out our chocolate fondants for desert at the end, we were defeated. 

It certainly was a fairytale evening and the perfect way to end a perfect week, and as we went back to being working class and took the bus back to our hotel, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad that our incredible week had come to an end.

After counting down to our first couple’s holiday for months prior, the week exceeded all of my expectations. We had some incredible experiences and visited some incredible places that neither the streets of Watford nor Wales can offer us back home. Madeira truly is a beautiful little island and after a great week away I can hand on heart say that my only regret is not getting a selfie with the dodgy Ronaldo statue that famously brands the airport there.

Rachel x

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