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  • Writer's pictureKiah May

Madeira: Canyons, Witch Trees, and Stunning Views

Sam and I in Porto Moniz, Madeira


Hello again friends! 


I know it's been a while since my last post, but I’ve had the opportunity to welcome some amazing people to Europe over the last month. This is the first of 3 planned posts from when my friends and family were out here. Some parts will be slightly out of order for grouping reasons, but I promise all of it will be here!


Madeira began with a long-awaited reunion with Sam! We set out for the Portuguese island, an archipelago in the North Atlantic off the coast of Africa. The landing at the airport in Funchal, known as one of the hardest in the world, was an interesting experience. Kudos to our pilot who did a wonderful job, the landing was only a little bumpy despite the insane crosswind. After checking into the hotel, we started walking around the city a little bit to stretch our legs and because we had a little time to kill before dinner. The coast and the city are really cute. We then headed to dinner at a little restaurant called Franco’s Corner. The food and environment was so cute and really lovely, the perfect start to our trip. 


After some much needed sleep, we spent Friday exploring Funchal more. This included the Funchal Cathedral, Port Tasting at Blandy’s Wine Lodge, The Santa Clara Covenant, and tons of little parks and gardens. We stopped at Mercado dos Lavradores, a beautiful fresh food market. We saw some of the newly caught scabbardfish (a classic Maderian dish which we tried and LOVED) and also got to try some of the dried fruit including dried aloe, which was amazing and I’m a little obsessed (but am having trouble finding, so if you know of any place to get it shipped from, please let me know!). The day was completed with coffee (for Sam and a smoothie for me as I still hate coffee) from a cute local coffee shop called The Studio. Unfortunately, it seems that not a lot of pictures were taken in Funchal because we were so busy exploring, but heres a few pretty flowers.

Santa Clara Covenant

Flowers from Funchal


On Friday afternoon Sam’s parents joined us on Madeira and we headed out to a cute Airbnb in the banana fields on the Southwest part of the island. We had another amazing dinner at a local place called Moreia


On Saturday, we headed to the North of the island. This is really where we began to see the island's multiple microclimates. If you think Colorado weather changes quickly, head to Madeira and you’ll see how fast it can actually change. At one point, we felt a few raindrops and had less than a minute to pull on rain jackets before we were getting poured on. A common theme of Portugal was rain and us getting wet, but sometimes those are the best memories. Anyway, we stopped at Ponta do Pargo in an attempt to do a hike. However, the cable car down to the hike was closed due to high winds (yay microclimates and the Atlantic Ocean!) so we were forced to take in some amazing views instead.

 Overlooking Ponta do Pargo

After another short drive, we made it to the Northwest part of the island called Porto Moniz. Porto Moniz has some beautiful natural pools, gorgeous teal and white water, and some incredible rock formations. If you know me, you know the ocean calls me (not quite as strongly as it calls Moana, but I do really, really love it) and one day this may be my downfall (see the picture below). We also did a small hike back near Ponta do Pargo which was gorgeous until we started to get wet as the microclimates struck again.

Porto Moniz (cliffs and town)

Sam and I overlooking Porto Moniz

I almost got wet (thanks to Evelyn for this great pic!)

Hiking in Ponto do Pargo


On Saturday night we had a wonderful dinner at one of the Michelin-starred restaurants on Madeira, William. The theme of the restaurant was to use the local Madeiran produce to build a menu which I loved. The food was spectacular. My favorite dishes were actually the dessert and the post-dessert (not terribly surprising, I know) but mostly for their presentation. Well fed, we headed for bed, awaiting another amazing day on Sunday!

Dessert and Post-Dessert at William


On Sunday we headed to the North and East parts of the island. We stopped for breakfast at a cute local bakery called Padaria do Calhau in Sāo Vicente where we had some amazing pastries and coffee. The bakery was so good, we went back for lunch on Tuesday! Well fed, we did a short walk next to one of the tunnels on the main highway.

Roadside Waterfall

Walk near the main highway in Sāo Vicente


We then headed to a tiny local vineyard for a wine tasting. Terrabona is owned by a local family and produces Madeira wine. We tried 4 different wines including a very interesting "orange wine". The vineyard is situated in the hills and is simply gorgeous. They were so welcoming and it was a great experience for me as I attempt to maybe learn to like wine.

Terrobona Vineyard


After a lovely time at the vineyard, we headed to the Eastern side of the island. We did a really lovely (and more uphill than anticipated) hike out to the Eastern most point on the island called Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço. We got to see the difference between the windy North facing cliffs and the calm South facing side which was impressive. The cliffs and views were absolutely stunning and the hike was one of my favorite experiences on Madeira.

Ponta de São Lourenço Hike


I, unfortunately, am missing names of restaurants for Sunday and Monday because we were so busy enjoying good food and exploring, but the thing we did learn on Sunday is that anywhere you can make a parking spot is a parking spot on Madeira (even if there's a no parking sign right next to it).


Monday morning held one of the things I was most excited for: Canyoneering. After heading to the middle of the island and suiting up in our wetsuits, we repelled down, jumped into and hiked along a beautiful canyon. After drying off, our guide recommended a local place called Abrigo do Pastor for lunch. It was a great recommendation; the food was fantastic and the view was tremendous.

Pre-Canyoning Photo (feat. Evelyn and Andrew)!

Repelling Down the Cliffs

Sam and I Canyoning


On Tuesday, our last day on Madeira, we headed to the true center of the island and the Fanal forest. This was a really surreal experience because it felt like a scene out of Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit. The trees in the forest have been around for more than 11,000 years because the center of the island wasn't hit by the ice age. They adapt to the windy environment by bending their branches. The other interesting thing about the forest is the high humidity. This creates a fog that truly brings the feel of the environment together. This was another one of my favorite experiences (as you can see, this trip was filled with a lot of favorites).

Fanal Forest

Fanal Forest in the Fog


Our final adventure on Madeira was the Monte Palace Gardens. The gardens, similar to those most near royal residences, are massive and have tons of gorgeous plants. This one in particular had many different types of orchids and a theme of Japanese architecture (the Japanese and the Portuguese had a great relationship). I love gardens and these were some of my favorites. It was the perfect way to end our island adventure.

The First of Many Peacocks

Orchids in the Monte Palace Gardens

Your Resident Human with a (virgin) Pinā Colada


Our final dinner was at yet another cute, local restaurant called Planalto. The chef was very proud of his food and he was absolutely right to be as it was fantastic. The environment was so cute and it was great to spend one last night with Sam's parents and a great place to spend our last night on Madeira. As you can see, a big theme of this trip was amazing food, and there was more in store!


Madeira was an amazing experience and the trip was not over yet! We said goodbye to Sam's parents and parted ways, ready for everything mainland Portugal had in store!


A HUGE thanks to Sam for most of the photos in this post!


I miss all of you and I can't wait to catch up with everyone when I get back!


Com amor (Portuguese this time),

Kiah


Restaurant Recommendations:

William

Padaria do Calhau

Abrigo do Pastor

Planalto


Activity Recommendations:

Terrabona Vineyard

Madeira Canyoneering

Fanal Forest

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