Madeira, an autonomous region of Portugal, is an archipelago comprising 4 islands off the northwest coast of Africa. It is known for its namesake wine and warm, subtropical climate. The main island of Madeira is volcanic, green and rugged, with high cliffs, pebbly beaches and settlements. There are no sandy beaches on Madeira but nearly all hotels have swimming pools. Capital Funchal has botanic gardens and is known for its harbour and a large New Year’s fireworks show. Funchal is set on a steep hillside and you will need to be fit to walk around!
The Madeira archipelago is rich in cultural and religious traditions, strongly rooted in Madeiran culture which include crafts, music, and traditional music.
One of the religious experiences featuring Madeiran people, especially the rural areas, is Christmas. The people live this time with great fervour and fifteen days before Christmas start the party with the delivery masses. The ‘labour’ masses celebrate the nine months of pregnancy of the Virgin Mary and are a uniquely Madeiran tradition. Madeiran masses include typical instruments like Rajão, castanets and the bass drum.
When you arrive in Madeira, take a good look around. The pleasant colours soothe the senses with different shades of green set against an azure sea – the hallmark of the subtropics.
Most people who live here find that Madeira has just about the most perfect climate in the world — it only rains sometimes and it is never too hot. Due to its mountainous topography, the island is full of diverse microclimates. The difference in altitude makes it possible in winter to find snow on the top of the mountains. Madeira was a favourite holiday destination of Winston Churchill who loved to paint here.
Summer is the most popular time of year to visit Madeira thanks to the great weather, which is almost always hot and sunny.
June to September is classed as summer in Madeira, although the months either side can still be very warm and sunny. The average daily high temperatures are around the mid-20s, but temperatures up to and above 30°C are not uncommon, especially if the hot winds from North Africa are blowing. The weather remains warm throughout autumn, although there is an increased chance of rain and storms. October and November still see daily high temperatures averaging around 23°C and daily low temperatures averaging around 17°C significantly warmer than the UK in the height of summer! It’s difficult to describe any period in Madeira as ‘winter’, since daytime temperatures are frequently around 20°C and almost never fall below 10°C. This makes Madeira a popular destination for northern Europeans seeking a bit of winter sun. There is still a healthy average of six sunshine hours every day during winter, which means you’ll definitely be going home with a golden tan, if that’s what you’re after.
The top three things to do/see in Madeira:
Take a hike up to Pico do Arieiro
Pico do Arieiro, at 1,818 m high, is Madeira Island’s third highest peak. Most days, visitors can stand and look down on the clouds. The air is fresh and clear and the sun is very bright.
Visit the 25 Fontes Falls
The 25 Fontes is a group of waterfalls located in Rabaçal, Paul da Serra on Madeira Island. Access is possible via the Levada das 25 Fontes. The waterfall is 30m high, consisting of a group of different water streams coming vertically down the mountainside.
Visit Madeira Botanical Garden
One of the most beautiful gardens in the region, with marvellous views overlooking the city of Funchal, the Madeira Botanical Garden is located on one of the most peculiar estates in the city, the Bom Sucesso Estate. The estate dates from 1881 and was created by the Reid family as their private park.
In Madeira they love their soup, meat and fish dishes. Some of the traditional Madeiran foods are:
Tomato and Onion Soup
This hot soup offers vigorous and comforting flavors. It is made with chopped onions and garlic, fresh tomatoes, oregano and olive oil. In the center of the dish, rests a poached egg; an invitation to dip a slice of toasted bread.
Tuna steak with fried maize
Tuna fish is a valuable resource in the fishing industry of Madeira. In this dish, the tuna is cut into steaks, seasoned with salt and marinated in a sauce called “molho de vilão”. This sauce is made with vinegar, olive oil, garlic, oregano, and pepper. The corn flour is cooked in a pan, cooled in a soup plate and then cut into small cubes. These are fried and served as a side dish, frequently found in the local restaurants.
Black Scabbard fish fillet with Banana
Black Scabbard fish is a fish that is available in few places in the world, such as Madeira, where it is found in the deep sea ( around 1000 meters of depth). Despite its ugly appearance, fish lovers will be delighted with its flavour. The succulent fillets of black scabbard fish are seasoned with garlic, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Peeled bananas and fish fillets are then dipped in egg and flour, fried in oil and sprinkled with fresh parsley. Side dishes include potatoes, lettuce and tomato salad.
Researcher and Writer