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Madeira

Madeira Itineraries

Funchal in a Day

Year round sunshine and flowers, friendly locals, Portuguese heritage and a wine of its very own

Mountainous Madeira

The beautiful mountainous island of Madeira, surrounded by the warm seas of the North Atlantic, lies about 700 km off the coast of Morocco and about 500km north of the Canary Islands.

An autonomous region of Portugal, Madeira was settled during the 15th century. Its name derives from the wooded nature of the landscape – the Portuguese word for wood is in fact madeira!

Year round warm weather

The year round warm sub-tropical climate ensures a steady stream of visitors because it rarely gets cold in the winter. In the summer its position in the middle of the ocean keeps it relatively cool. Most visitors head for the sheltered south side of the island rather than the more exposed north side. The capital city  Funchal is where many people go.

Following the disastrous flooding of 2010 most of the sea front in Funchal has been rebuilt. A very pleasant promenade has been created and the port extended.

Funchal itself is very Portuguese in character and there is plenty to do and see in the centre. Out of town, the gardens at Monte are magnificent all year round. If you’re looking for excitement the famous toboggan ride back to the centre will certainly take your breath away.

Churchill was here!

Just to the west of Funchal is the famous fishing village of Camara de Lobos with its array of fishing boats lined up on the beach. It was here that Sir Winston Churchill came to paint while staying in the nearby Reids Hotel.

A little further west is one of the highest sea cliffs in the world, Cabo Girao while to the east of Funchal is the magnificent, and typically Portuguese, statue of Christ the Redeemer. Travel east of Funchal, past the old whaling port of Machico, you’ll arrive at Ponto Laurenço where you can enjoy some fabulous walking.

When To Go

Madeira is  year-round island with pleasant mild winters and warm, but never too hot, summers.

How Much Time To Spend

Most visitors spend at least a week on the Island but generally two-three weeks weeks would be the norm. Due to the mild climate many visitors, especially those from Northern Europe, spend the winter months here.

High and Low Season

Peak times for visitors are New Year, Easter and August. There are really two low seasons: late January till late March depending upon when Easter falls and October till early December.

Weather and Climate

Madeira is  year-round island with pleasant mild winters and warm, but never too hot, summers. Rain is more likely in February and March but never lasts long.

Winter Temperature (Funchal) around 20 deg. C.
Summer Temperature (Funchal) around 24 deg. C

Events and Holidays

Local Events include:
Early February (1 week) Carnival Festivities (Funchal)
2nd Week April – Flower Festival
June Every Saturday – Atlantic Festival
End of July – Madeira Wine Rally
End-August – Early September -Wine Festival (Funchal)
Mid-September – Columbus festival – Porto Santo Island
Early October – Madeira Nature Festival
December – Early January – End of Year Madeira Festivities

Madeiran Holidays include:


January 1st New Year’s Day
Good Friday
April 25th Revolution Day
May 1st Labour Day
May 14th   Ascension Day 
June 10th Portugal/Camöes Day
July 1st Madeira Day
August 15th Assumption Day 
October 5th Republic Day
November 1st – All Saints Day
Deceber 1st Independence Day
December 8th – Immaculate Conception Day
December 25th: Christmas Day
December 26th Boxing Day
 

Consult: For further information and Regional Holidays click here.

Time Zone

Madeira, being a Province of Portugal, keeps to GMT or WEST from late October to late March and BST or WET from late March to late October.

What it Costs

Madeira is not expensive – expect to pay much the same as you would elsewhere but bear in mind that Madeira is an island and things have to be imported so expect to pay a little more than you would in mainland Portugal. Admission to sites of interest is often surprisingly cheap and eating out, while not exactly inexpensive, is normally very reasonably priced.

What you can expect is value for money wherever you go. For food shopping try the market in Funchal which is held daily -. not necessarily cheaper than the shops but the fish, for example, is guaranteed to be local sourced and fresh.

Abstract Pricing at a Glance

Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.

Price ranges are quoted in €.

See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
Free
€ => Tickets less than €15 per person
€€ => Tickets €15 – €30 per person
€€€ => Tickets €30 per person

Sleep — Out of town/rural
€ => Rooms less than €60 for a double
€€ => Rooms €60 – €100 for a double
€€€ => Rooms €100 for a double

Sleep — Large Cities
€ => Rooms less than €100 for a double
€€ => Rooms €100 – €150 for a double
€€€ => Rooms €150 for a double

Eat
€=> €5- €10 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
€€ => €10 – €25 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
€€€ => €25 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)

Shop
N/A => Not applicable

Tours
€ => Tickets less than €25 per person
€€ => Tickets €25 – €50 per person
€€€ => Tickets €50 per person

Airfare and Car Rental Prices

Fly the Friendly Skies

Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh. 

But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox. 

Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites. 

That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their ‘friend’ or subscribe to their e-mailings. European operators such as easyJet, T.A.P. (Portuguese Airlines), British Airways, Monarch and Lufthansa all offer flights to Madeira.

Have Car, Will Travel

Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping.

Ride-sharing companies, such as Uber, are also ubiquitous in major cities. Through a smart phone app, you can line up rides all over town. It’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab. 

All the major car rental companies such as Avis, Sixt, Hertz and Europcar operate in Madeira.

Insurance

Hopefully, your trip to (or within) Europe goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs? 

Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.

Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:

Trip Cancellation — About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category. 

Medical — Travellers within Europe from European Union member states should obtain an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) card which entitles them to healthcare on the same terms as citizens from the country they are visiting. This is a reciprocal agreement which means for example that EEA visitors to the UK will receive free care in NHS hospitals in the same way that UK residents do.  Some countries e.g. France make a charge known as a patient contribution for GP visits or stays in hospital for both their own citizens and visitors from the EEA. Even so, travellers are well advised to have additional medical insurance to cover for example the cost of repatriation, mountain rescue in ski resorts and other emergencies.

For travellers from outside the European Union the cost of health services in Europe, while not as high as in the US for example, can be relatively expensive for the uninsured. For this reason it is essential to consider purchasing medical insurance. If you have a Health Care Plan back home it may cover you for most situations which arise abroad but you need to check this out and in any case additional medical travel insurance will cover you for private health care or other expenses. 

Some countries outside the European Union have a reciprocal agreement for healthcare with certain European countries.  For example Switzerland has an agreement with all European Union countries and Australia has agreements with the UK, the Netherlands, Italy and others. It pays to check before leaving home.

Trip Interruption — For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to get off the cruise ship or abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.

Travel Delay — Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.

Baggage — Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.

Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travellers.

Do I need travel insurance?

If your trip is expensive it’s essential and even if it isn’t it’s certainly a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. Your English or other European language skills are also crucial because insurance policies often include concierge services with 24-hour hotlines that can connect you quickly with someone who speaks your language. 

How do I choose an insurance provider?

Do your homework — check around.

The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregates like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip. 

Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).

In Europe the largest insurers are Allianz, Axa and Zurich but there are many smaller providers such as insureandgo and Direct Line.

Pre-existing health conditions
— Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition or charge an additional premium related to the condition.  Some companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.

Credit card insurance — If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.

Exchange Rates and Currency

The main currency of Europe is the Euro which is currently used in 25 countries a few of which are not even EU members. Some countries within the European Union have retained their original currency including the UK (Pound), Denmark (Kroner) and Poland (Zloty). Most non-EU countries such as Switzerland (Swiss Franc) and Turkey (Lira) continue to use their own currency. All are decimalised and have 100 ‘pennies’ in each main unit. 

Euros come in €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200 and €500 notes. They vary in size, from 120mm x 62mm (€5) to 160mm x 82mm (500), and colour, so it is easy to differentiate between them. All feature European architecture throughout the ages. (Smaller businesses may not accept the larger notes, so plan to have €20s or smaller notes in hand)

There are eight denominations of euro coin: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent plus a €1 and €2 coin. All have a common side and a national side. Remember to spend all coins before you leave – they can’t be exchanged!

Many travellers like to have a small amount of local currency when they arrive in a country but this is becoming less and less important as ATMs and Bureaux de Change appear everywhere especially in transport terminals.

Tipping and Costs That Add Up

The good news for travellers in Madeira or Europe in general is that you don’t need to get stressed about tipping – you don’t have to do it and when you do it really should reflect good or excellent service rather than be something you are expected to do. On the whole workers in tourism are reasonably well paid and don’t depend upon tips to make up their wages. In some cases over-tipping can be embarrassing for all concerned.

Restaurants
Many restaurants include a ‘service’ charge in the price so check and, if it isn’t mentioned, then a tip of between 5 – 10% is quite enough. Even where it is included but you feel that you’ve had really excellent service then the same amount is adequate but ensure that your server receives this by handing it directly to them. 

Other methods are to add a euro for each member of the party or round up the bill to the nearest 5 or 10 euros.

In the UK many restaurants add an ‘optional’ amount to the bill when you are paying with plastic, but in many cases the servers don’t receive any of this and it simply becomes an extra profit for the owner. The server won’t mind if you decline to do this!

Taxis
With taxis, just round up to the next euro or pound for a short journey or, for a long ride, to the nearest ten. Again 10% is the maximum you should consider unless of course the driver carries your bags into the hotel or airport when a little more will be appreciated.

Hotels
You may wish to give the porter a euro for each bag he carries but, while it will be appreciated, it is not normally expected. Similarly you may wish to leave a small tip for the housekeeping staff, especially if they have been particularly helpful, but this is completely up to you.

Other

Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between €10 and €40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, insect repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery, super/hypermarkets and pharmacies will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.

Transportation

Madeira is easy to get to from mainland Europe and the busy, recently upgraded, airport is just 19 km from Funchal with plenty of taxis and a buses to take you to your final destination. It’s a relatively small island with a good system of roads to all parts but these are often narrow and slow so don’t expect to get anywhere quickly.

Hire Cars and Taxis are the best methods of getting round the Island. In Funchal the local bus service can take you wherever you need to go in the City itself or the suburbs. Check out this link.

Getting There

Since Madeira is in the Atlantic Ocean about 600km (250 miles approx) off the coast of Morocco the most practical way to get there is by air. Flights to Funchal Airport are almost all from European airports (the exception is from Caracas, Venzuela).

Many cruise ships call in at Funchal but generally stay only a few hours.

Getting Around

Buses serve all parts of the island but are geared to the needs of local people so return trips in a day are not always possible. If you plan to explore it is worth considering a hire car and all the main companies operate on the island. You can book trips by coach to the various attractions from various firms in Funchal or online at Madeira Island Tours.

Transportation Hubs

The only transport hub on Madeira is Funchal.

Background

History

Although the existence of the the islands of Madeira and Porto Santo were known in Antiquity it was not until 1418 when Henry the Navigator sent João Gonçalves, or Zarco as he was better known, and Tristão Vaz Teixeira to survey the coast of Africa that Europeans rediscovered them. When the pair were blown of course by storms they came across firstly Porto Santo and later the Ilha da Madeira or Isle of Wood.

Zarco and Teixeira returned in 1419 and gradually Madeira was settled by the Portuguese who made their first capital Machico. They cleared trees and planted sugar beet which proved such a huge success that later in 1478 the soon to be great explorer Christopher Columbus, at that time a sugar trader, settled here to further his business. By this time Funchal had become the capital.

The 16th century brought troubled times with raids by pirates and occupation by the Spanish, whose King Philip II had become Felipe 1st of Portugal, and it was not until 1640 that the Portuguese retained control.  However, the island’s economy went into recession soon after and was saved only by British interest in the wine trade. This relationship was consolidated when Charles II of England married the Portuguese Princess Catherine of Braganza and has remained strong ever since.

During the 18th century Madeira flourished although most of the wealth created went to British merchants while ordinary Madeirans remained poor. During the early 19th century the island suffered a recession due to sugar crop failures and the locals diversified into banana production, embroidery and basket making. By mid-century wealthy tourists began to arrive  and in 1891 the famous Reid’ Hotel opened to cater for this trade.

During WWI the islanders sided with Britain by confiscating German property and as a result Funchal was shelled by the German Navy. With the advent of the Great Depression the world economy went into decline and in 1932 the dictator Dr António Salazar took contol in Portugal. Madeira was left to its own devices and, although there was some tourism particularly from rich Northern Europeans like Winston Churchill, there followed a dark period which lasted till the Carnation Revolution of 1974, so called because people put carnations into the rifles of the soldiers sent to quell the uprising.

The economy began to improve due to increased tourism and following accession to the European Union in 1986 which was  accompanied an injection of much needed European money, Madeira has never looked back.

Language

Being a Province of Portugal the official language of Madeira is Portuguese but English is widely spoken especially in the capital Funchal.

Nevertheless it is polite to try and use a little Portuguese even if it is only to say:

Obrigado
(if you are male) or Obrigada (if you are female) meaning thank you.
Por favor
meaning please
Bom dia (pronounced
bawng deeer) meaning good morning
Boa terde (pronounced boaer tahrder) meaning good afternoon
Boa noite (
pronounced boaer noyter) meaning good night
Sim (
pronounced seeng) meaning yes
Não (
pronounced nahng) meaning no