Sorbet writer Lindsey packs her trusty Sorbet hammam towels and travels to the island of trees, Madeira, exploring the bountiful things this lush land has to offer.
The archipelago islands of Madeira lay in the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of Africa. This Portuguese territory is famous for its sweet Madeiran wine and cake exports, but there's a lot more to this tiny island than that.
With its breathtaking scenery, heart-stopping heights, and fragrant flowers, you can also witness some of the most beautiful sunsets on its endless deep blue horizon. I headed to the island with my Sorbet towels in early May to see what else there was to discover.
The old town of the capital is strikingly beautiful with its old colonial architecture and elaborate mosaic pavements. What struck me most was the soft purples of the fragrant jacaranda trees that lined the streets, scattering the floor with lilac petals.
First port of call should undoubtedly be one of the many wineries based in the city, Blandys being the oldest. Take a tour of a wine lodge where you can learn about the winemaking processes, and enjoy a sample or two!
2. Botanical Gardens Galore
Madeira boasts some of the most extravagant tropical gardens in the world. Take the cable car from Funchal up the steep incline to Monte, for both the Monte Palace gardens and vast Jardim Botânico, which boast amazing views back over the city.
It got a little chilly up here in the mountains, exploring the shady trees and lush greenery, so I fashioned a shrug from one of my hammam towels using this simple tying technique:
Not only did it keep the chill at bay, it was also great for keeping the baking sun off your shoulders!
For a perfect picnic spot, grab a couple of Sorbet towels and head just a little further out from the Jardim Botânico to the Palheiro gardens, well worth a visit for its beautifully arranged gardens and sense of absolute tranquility.
It had a distinctively English Country Garden feel with its rows of neat roses, clipped hedges, rippling stream and pretty tea house.
Picture ℅ Madeira-Web
By the way, if you’re looking for a route down from Monte that’s more exhilarating than the cable car, look no further than the famous Monte toboggans. Allow gents in boater hats to steer you on a thrilling ride through the mountain roads on these unique wicker chairs on wheels.
Madeira is a real hiker’s dream, offering loads of adventurous places to sightsee and get back to nature. A popular pastime is to walk along the levadas, or man-made irrigation channels, found all over the island.
Setting out enthusiastically to take on the Levada das 25 Fontes e Risco
(a very popular route that boasts a swimming lake, tunnels and waterfalls), we took a steep drive to one of the highest points on the island near Rabaçal, only to be met by some rather dense cloud..!
I was so glad I packed a couple of Sorbet towels in the car, which I pulled round tight in the cold and wet atmosphere.
The take home advice is to check the weather before leaving! On clearer days, details of other trails can be found here at WalkMe
Madeira where they give good details on some spectacular routes.
4. Get driving!
Driving around the island is an adventure in itself, where you get to witness some of the most breathtaking and surprising scenery from one side of the island to another. Climb mountainous inclines and sweep back down them all at once, taking in secret miradouros (viewpoints) along the way.
It’s thrilling to drive the pockmarked, mountainside roads for the vivid scenery, picturesque villages, surprise waterfalls and sea views.
Around every corner you are treated to a mesmerising contrast of tropical greens against fiery orange nasturtium and bird of paradise flowers, set off by the deep blue sky and ocean.
Stop at Ponta do Sol, a very pretty seaside resort town, with some decent bars and restaurants to boot. We enjoyed wandering through the old town, with its original 1930s cinema and bell tower.
As the name suggests, it got quite hot in this little part of the island, but luckily my hammam towel was on hand to wrap over my shoulders.
In pure contrast, the far eastern point of the island at Ponta do Furado boasts a huge grassland meadow, surrounded by craggy coast.
The hikers were out in force again, as it was possible to cross to the furthest tip of the island, Ilhéu da Cevada, for spectacular views out to the Ilhas Desertas.
We picked a nice spot to lay our Sorbet towels down, crack open a beer and admire the view as the sun was setting.
5. Lava Pools
Up in the north-west of the island lies Porto Moniz, famous for its natural lava pools. It’s possible to swim there, exploring the nooks and crannies of these mighty rock formations.
The day we visited, the site was at the mercy of the Atlantic, so we could only stand back and admire the drama of the crashing waves against the stillness of the pools. However, on a good day this would be high on my list of things to do!
That concludes this must-see Madeira list. Don't forget to bring back a bottle or two of Madeiran wine, the perfect souvenir for the trip!