Monday, February 2, 2009

10 Don't Miss Activities in Madeira

With it's rugged volcanic peaks, exotic flowers, a network of levadas or level walking paths and a wild virgin forest dating back millions of years, it's no wonder that visitors to Madeira, a small archipelago far out in the Atlantic, describe it as a tiny piece of paradise. Here are 10 of my favorite activities:

1. Take the cable car that sweeps above Funchal's ravine-like valley to the Monte Palace Tropical Garden where the wooded paths are lined with elaborate Portuguese tile work, 17th century coats of arms, ancient stone window frames and many other surprises.

2. In Monte, visitors, seated in a wicker sofa atop wood runners, experience a hair-raising toboggan ride down hairpin turns along steep, narrow cobblestone streets with two men steering and braking using their thick boots

3. The scenic road that twists and turns to the summit of Pico do Areeiro runs through a volcanic land covered in rare flora and provides unparalleled views of valleys laced with streams. It's also a jumping off point for short walks to see the central mountain range rising from a thick cloud cover.

4. Madeira is most noted for its levadas, a network of almost 1,000 miles of irrigation channels that are bordered by a level but often precipitous walking path. Nonetheless, though the reputation of the island's levadas often turn away acrophobic visitors, there are plenty of lovely levada walks coursing through Madeira's unique environment without the fear factor. The walk from Ribeira Frio to Portelo takes walkers through a protected laurisilva forest, Madeira's native woodland that's so precious it's designated a UNESCO World Heritage site

5. Drive to Curral das Freiras, a village isolated by deep abysses and thick woodland has been a haven for 16th century nuns who fled a local convent when pirates ransacked Funchal. At the Nuns's Valley restaurant you can sample the homemade chestnut or almond cakes.

6. Try a glass of poncha -- considered a popular Madeira drink made of sugar cane brandy plus honey and lemon -- at Victor's Bar, a rural restaurant near a trout hatchery with basalt stone pools.

7. Once you've checked out the cozy A-frame thatched cottages in the village of Santana you can have lunch at Quinta do Furao where a wrap-around porch provides views of rugged sea cliffs and giant offshore rocks. When I dined here for lunch, I enjoyed grilled limpets, fresh cheese and bread baked in a wood oven.

8. Visit Funchal's fish market where you can check out the scabbard fish, an island delicacy that looks fierce with a large eel-like body, bulbous eyes and sharp jagged teeth.

9. Whether it's the English-style and tropical gardens, 18-hole par 72 golf course (Perched at 500 feet above sea level, the clubhouse provides panoramic views of the Bay of Funchal), or Casa Velha Do Palheiro, a five-star country house, you’ll find plenty to do at the Palheiro Estate that dates back to the 1800s. This former hunting lodge provides guests with the use of the private yacht. Plus you won’t want to miss a meal at their restaurant, considered one of the island’s best with some select Portuguese wines available. When I was there, they served: pigeon and foie gras with gingered sweet potato puree; blue lobster and avocado with mango in a rice paper wrap. You can have high tea with scones in the afternoon or stop by the teahouse for homemade pastries.

10. Treat yourself at the hilltop Zen-inspired Choupana Hills Resort and Spa. Here, guests are pampered in a tranquil property with almost three dozen bungalows made of teak and basalt stone. (The suites are my preference with their canopy beds and wraparound terraces.) Light streams into the interior, thanks to walls of windows overlooking the lush gardens or the Bay of Funchal far below. Here, you can have aromatherapy, hot stone massage or an algae wrap and soon Reiki treatments.


Anonymous said...

I love this BLOG!!! is that main photo from Iceland?!

J The Travel Authority said...

Yes, that's an Icelandic photo. You must totally know that country. Love it.

Anonymous said...

What's cooler - Madeira or the way you or the way you blog about it?

Love reading . . .
J from Queens

J The Travel Authority said...

Thanks for taking the time to comment. Madeira is one cool place for a brief or extended visit.