Island paradise: Muddy’s mad for Madeira!
Muddy jetted off to the Portuguese island for a long weekend of fun in the sun and discovered a magical mix of great food, luxe hotels and spectacular hikes.
Madeira’s one of those destinations that, once you’ve visited, you’ll wonder why you’ve never been before. Five-hundred miles off West Africa but part of Portugal, this small island’s a sublime mix of subtropical year-round heat, great restaurants and unexpectedly wild, beautiful scenery (a bit like Jurassic Park, though without the dinosaurs). Also, you can reach it in less than a four-hour flight from the UK – little wonder it’s a Brit fave.
Its 2000 miles of levadas (irrigation channels and aqueducts) winding past stunning waterfalls, forests and mountain villages, make spectacular hikes suitable for all fitness levels and most are just a short drive from capital city Funchal. Want to step it up a gear? Join a running tour with Go Trail Madeira.
Muddy recommends setting sail for a glimpse of the dolphins and whales that inhabit the warm(ish) waters surrounding the island year-round. Head to the marina and book a cool catamaran tour with VMT Madeira (there’s a bar aboard for that ‘Rhianna on hols’ vibe).
Anyone wanting a complete change of scene (and digital detox), should visit Fanal’s ancient Laurisilva Forest, a UNESCO world heritage site. Ranked among the most Instagrammable spots in Madeira (and believe me there are a lot). It’s classified as a “reserve for rest and silence”. There’s certainly a unique atmosphere here, the silence is enormous and it’s enveloped in a continuous mist which adds to the mystical character of the place.
Located on the soaring mountain plateau Paul da Serra in the island’s northwest, the only way to reach it is by car but I would highly recommend booking an off-road Jeep Tour. The open roof makes the journey more exciting (though it’s not for the faint-hearted!) and you can fully appreciate the range of scenery.
EAT & DRINK
I stayed at the Savoy Palace, which has a restaurant option for every day of the week spanning everything from Mediterranean to Japanese cuisine, so I was spoilt for choice. Dining at Galáxia, its rooftop signature restaurant and bar, was a highlight of my trip: 360-degree views of Madeira, a sommelier pairing fine wines with each dish and stunning five-course tasting menu with totally unique food like Alentejo pork shoulder blade with pickled vegetable purée, beetroot, cherries and carrots.
There’s also Pau de Lume, the latest concept in the Savoy Signature collection, which offers a contemporary take on Portuguese cuisine, featuring sharing plates, healthy bites and all-day brunches. Future plans Include the introduction of a chef’s table and private, more immersive experience (a valid reason to revisit soon!).
For something a little more relaxed, head to hip NEXT hotel in Funchal, the Savoy Signature Group’s latest concept which has its sights set firmly on the Millennial market – think co-working spaces, door-to-door luggage service so you can travel light to the airport and wide choice of accommodation, from more compact city rooms through to long-stay apartments.
I loved its Recharge Bar & Restaurant where I enjoyed lunch overlooking the ocean and tucked into Hawaiian-inspired dishes like shrimp poke bowl – a must-try is the tuna steak in bolo do caco bread, a Portuguese speciality. And when you want to work off your lunch, there are steps from the restaurant into the sea below for a refreshing swim.
The Cloud Bar on the eleventh floor is a fun place to go for cocktails any time of day but really comes alive in the evenings – the pool has an underwater sound system and there’s a resident DJ every weekend.
If you wanna feel like royalty (the Kate kind, not Prince Andrew, obvs), check into the Savoy Palace. Haute cuisine and high design meet in Madeira’s grandest hotel which is a short walk from Funchal’s gorgeous Old Town.
Its scale is impressive with 350 bedrooms spread across 16 floors, seven restaurants, three bars and six swimming pools, however what really sets it apart and ensures it’s one of the most exclusive hotels on the island are its old school standards of service, stunning grounds and dramatic sea views.
I was lucky enough to land a room on the 16th floor (a sort of boutique-hotel-within-a-hotel) which had Atlantic Ocean and garden views and exclusive access to the Jacaranda Lounge & Club which has its own infinity pool and butler service.
Bedrooms and suites are decorated in muted shades of champagne and off-white and all have sea views with sliding doors onto terraces. Reading areas and spacious open-plan bathrooms with enormous showers plus plentiful products all added to the opulence. It felt as though no detail had been left to chance, right down to the pillow menus to ensure a good night’s sleep.
Want to take the kids? You’ll be pleased to know there’s a family-friendly lagoon on the ground floor plus a children’s pool. Want to escape the kids? Book some time in the Laurea Spa, inspired by the island’s Laurissilva Forest – a dark green, atmospheric space which feels a bit like you’re winding through rainforest/the island’s famous levadas.
As you’d expect from Portugal’s largest spa, there are A LOT of facilities: 11 treatment rooms, Turkish baths, halo therapy room, sensory showers, *pause for breath*, ice fountain, Himalayan salt room, sauna, Jacuzzi, relaxation room, Champagne and nail bar, beauty room and heated indoor pool. I spent several hours of my trip in here and can confirm it was time well spent!
THE LOCAL LOWDOWN
To get a feel for Funchal’s town centre, zona velha (old town) and local life, join a walking food tour with Madeira Food On Foot. I tried traditional delicacies like Espetada (cubes of skewered beef cooked over hot coals) and the particularly potent Poncha, the heady local cocktail made from aguardente or rum, honey, sugar and orange or lemon juice. Cheers!