Portugal – Madeira

Madeira is a volcanic island located about 1000 km from Portugal. Portuguese sailors discovered the archipelago in 1419 and settled there shortly afterwards. It is often referred to as the “Hawaii of Europe” because of its mountainous landscapes, volcanic features, crystal blue water, dramatic coastlines and lush green hills. Flying to Madeira is quite affordable from Lisbon so it was easy to add this onto our schedule after the Algarve portion of our trip. We timed our visit to coincide with the annual carnival celebration in Funchal and budgeted 8 days to experience the best of what the island had to offer. Basing ourselves out of Funchal, we quickly determined we would be able to do a series of day trips to see the island’s highlights. Renting a car is the best way to explore Madeira but don’t accept an oversized vehicle from the rental agency! We had requested one of their most compact cars but ended up with a behemoth, making it very difficult to find adequate parking and to avoid side swiping other vehicles on the narrow roads. After a couple of frustrating days into our trip, we ended up swapping back out to our originally requested vehicle and were so much happier with our compact car! Our Madeira itinerary included the following highlights: hiking the Ponta de São Lourenço trail which is the easternmost part of the island (just spectacular…don’t miss this), stopping at every miradouro (viewpoint) for fantastic coastal views, driving through Dos Anjos Waterfall (free car wash on the E.R. 101 road), hiking along levadas to the 25 Fontes and Risco Waterfall (one of the island’s most popular hikes so start early to beat the crowds), checking our the lovely seaside village of Porto Moniz and its salt water pools, catching sunrise at Pico do Arieiro Mountain, feeding friendly birds at Vereda dos Balcoes, checking out the colorful traditional homes of Santana, stumbling upon the cute fishing village of Camara de Lobos, admiring the bird’s eye view over Nun’s Valley (Cural das Freiras), visiting the original Christ the King statue at Garajau (Rio erected a larger replica 4 years later), getting lost in the ancient laurel forest of Fanal, taking photos of the 100 colorful doors found on Santa Maria street in Funchal, exploring the gorgeous botanical gardens of Monte Palace with the bonus of enjoying folk dancers performing in traditional clothes during our visit and last but not least, getting a front row vantage point to enjoy the spectacle that is carnival. What an amazing trip we had in Madeira which blew us away with its raw, stunning beauty. This gorgeous Portuguese island has flown under our radar but now that we have discovered it, we are huge fans and would not hesitate for a return trip here.

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