Looking for an end-of-year getaway?
Madeira is one of those Goldilocks holiday spots. It gets decent weather most of the year, being situated in the Atlantic Ocean and geographically closer to Africa than Europe.
The Portuguese island is sleepy and slow paced, even in Funchal, the capital city.
For this reason, it makes for an ideal short break for those with relaxation at the top of their priority list.
Over four days we got to explore lots of local activities along with one of the top hotels you can stay in.
Though if you’re flying from the UK and straight back home, make the trip five days long, as the near four-hour flight feels a bit too out of reach for a long weekend.
Here’s why we think you should add Madeira to your travel list.
The place to stay is Savoy Palace – while it’s nothing to do with the Savoy here though it’s genuinely filled with plenty to experience and try.
The rooms are second to none. The suite I stayed in – going for around £650 a night at this time of the year – had two showers and a bath, a huge comfy bed, a sea view with a large balcony, and a sitting area.
I’m never one for idling away time in a hotel room, being keen to explore, but I must admit I very reluctantly left this peaceful, dreamy space.
Being in one of the most luxurious of suites offered means access to a private infinity pool.
I made use of it in the early mornings when no one else was there, calmly swimming up and down while looking out onto the sea and the surrounding mountains.
These quiet half hour sessions couldn’t have been more perfect – and I even snuck over there one morning before the sun rose, basking in the moonlight.
The spa facilities were great too, with all the things you’d expect – a sauna, steam room, pool, and jacuzzi.
The real reason to go however is for a massage. I had a forest therapy massage they were trialing and it was so soothing I was asleep by the end and limber in my limbs.
The food here is something to be experienced indulgently and fully – it’s a fish lover’s dream.
At Savoy Palace, there are multiple restaurants with different themes – from sushi to fine dining – which allow you to taste authentic Portuguese food and dishes with modern twists.
Throughout the options, local fish dishes can change daily, and many Madeirans will dine at the hotel, simply making the most of the food on offer without needing to stay the night – which is a good sign as a tourist.
One dish you have to try for an authentic experience is Bacalhau à Brás, which is salt cod, potatoes and eggs, all meshed together for a multi-textured, highly flavoured meal.
Otherwise in the way of fish, there’s lobster, tuna, black scabbard and plenty more.
For those with meatier tastes, at Galaxia, the fine dining restaurant, wagyu beef is served on a bamboo stick, which is a nod to an old Madeiran tradition you should ask the waiter to explain.
In terms of sweet things, pastel de natas are a must, along with trying the sweet dessert wine the island is known for. You can also try a Poncha, the best known local fruity cocktail – which is very drinkable.
There’s enough to keep you occupied for a short trip here.
First, go dolphin and whale watching (though be prepared for choppy waters).
We went searching for an hour and eventually found some baby pilot fin whales in a cluster – it was an incredible sight.
Then try the local toboggan – if you dare.
It’s essentially a wooden cart being pushed down a windy road which cars use too. I was terrified, but enjoyed the bizarre experience. Adrenaline junkies will relish it.
On a similar, but more stable note, there’s the cable cars, which provide a pretty view of the city and its green areas while going up the mountain.
Once you’re back on the ground, walk down Rua De Santa Maria, a narrow road known for having lots of street art (and at night, bars).
Do this before heading to the city’s famous food market (though check you’re going on a market day) where you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers, raw fish and other goods.
Even if you aren’t there to shop, it’s so colourful and vibrant you won’t want to miss it.
Other notable stop offs include Blandy’s, a British owned wine company, which run wine tours where you can learn about the local sweet wine, how it’s made, and even smell a vintage wine container (very boozy).
At the end, you can sample wine from different years to see how the flavour changes.
Then finally, go to Bordal, which is a short walk from the main Cathedral, to see Madeiran embroidery first-hand.
This is a traditional business on the island, and as well as buying high quality items, visitors are allowed to watch the women employed here work, gaining an insight into the steps taken to create household items like table cloths.
Like many things in Madeira culture, the vibe seems to be very free and easy, with most people being open to tourists observing if you simply ask.
Madeira makes for a restful getaway destination – and what a welcome joy that is after the year we’ve had.
You can book to stay at Savoy Palace here.
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