The Rock Beaches of Madeira
The Rock Beaches of Madeira
Will Ottley discovers a charming rock beach on Madeira’s southern coast.
Approaching the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira felt like a wild adventure as the plane violently swayed in a side wind. The island airport, known to pilots for it’s technical difficulty, has a mountain backdrop jutting up to 1800 meters. Touching down determinedly on the runway that has been cast on concrete stilts, I felt my hands relax.
Driving to the capital city Funchal, on a modern motorway that cuts through the lofty mountainous protuberances was surprisingly fast. The motorway encircles the island. If you stay in Funchal, you don’t need a hire car, but it is useful for seeing the varied island topography. Madeira sits on top of an extinct shield volcano and at times one could almost imagine a pterodactyl flying overhead.
The historic centre of Funchal feels very relaxed and is a good base from which to explore the island. For five star luxury you can stay at the Choupana Hills Resort & Spa (+351291206020; choupanahills.pt). A boutique option would be The Regency Cliff Hotel (+351291710700; regencycliff.com).
Strolling around the historical city you will pass the 15th century Sé Catedral do Funchal with a splendid interior. Close by is the Blandy Wine Lodge, a fortified wine tasting museum that gives you the opportunity to experience the different blends (+351291228978: blandywinelodge). There is a telecabin that runs from Funchal town centre to Monte where you can enjoy the bay view and visit the tropical botanical gardens (+351291210290; telefericojardimbotanico.com).
The island is known for its seafood. The O Calhau restaurant behind Sé Catedral has an excellent signature dish of tuna cooked on hot volcanic rocks. Next-door is the Penha D’Aguila café that is the place to go for breakfast if you enjoy freshly baked croissants.
The beach of Jardin Do Mar
Venturing outside of Funchal, the sunny south coast has natural beaches of black volcanic rock. If you prefer sand you can visit the artificially created beaches at Calheta. For the real thing I would recommend the rocky beach at Jardin Do Mar. This delightful village is a little gem, with the Hotel Jardin Do Mar at its centre, serving tea from an ocean view veranda (+351291822200; hoteljardimdomar.com). The secluded beach is a short walk along the coastal path, and the large pebbles were surprisingly comfortable for sitting in the Sun before a refreshing dip in the sparkling water.
The hiking opportunities in Madeira are exceptional. Not to be missed is the most easterly part of the Island, where a well-maintained coastal path offers spectacular views - a return trip of 8km (approx. 2.5 hours). You can head on to the nearby Piedade Marina for refreshment at the picturesque Hotel Quinta do Lorde (+351291969830; quintadolorde.pt).
Driving into the mountains is not for the faint-hearted, however the adventure is fascinating as you pass through the changing topography and microclimates on the winding roads. You can begin on the south coast by visiting the Cabo Girao, which at 580 meters is the highest cliff on the island, offering stunning Atlantic views from a glass floored viewing platform. The nearby restaurant, Teleférico do Rancho, situated on Estrada Santa Clara, offers panoramic coastal views and excellent seafood pizza.
You can visit the 1818 metre highest point of the island, at the often-foggy Pico do Areeiro. Venturing to the wetter North Coast you will see basalt caves at Sao Vincente, open water pools at Porto Moniz and A-frame thatched houses at Santana.
A day trip to Ilha Porto Santo
To visit the sandy beaches of IIha do Porto Santo you can take the Porto Santo Line ferry from Funchal (+351291210300; portosantoline.pt). It’s possible to arrange diving, snorkelling trips, sailing and fishing on both islands through your hotel concierge.
Madeira’s sunny climate can be appreciated all year round. I would allow a minimum of five days to appreciate this floating garden on the Atlantic.
Getting There and Around
You can travel to Madeira direct from £88 return with Easyjet (08431041000; easyjet.com) and British Airways (0844 493 0775; ba.com).
Will Ottley is a freelance travel writer and author of the inspirational book, “Mountain Garden”, but does not work with or for any of the parties mentioned in this article. Follow Will Ottley on: www.mountaingarden.co.uk