I’ll be totally honest with you, until a trip to Madeira was suggested to me a couple of months ago, I hadn’t heard too much about the Portuguese Island.
When I mentioned the upcoming trip to my parents, they agreed it was a place synonymous with the older generation or those who want a quiet holiday.
So it’s safe to say I didn’t really know what to expect, other than no wild parties.
But after a 4 hour flight, we touched down in Funchal and were instantly pleasantly surprised.
Our trip was indeed relaxed, but jam packed with activities, incredible food and lots of laughter.
The booking was made with Jet2 Holidays, I text my lovely friend Misha to see whether she was up for a girly trip – and away we went.
So sit back, relax and let me take you through the ULTIMATE guide to a new favourite island of mine.
Madeira: The Ultimate Guide
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Where to stay
Madeira offers the best of both worlds, because you could venture slightly outside of Funchal to one of the all inclusive resorts and have a relaxing trip where the most taxing thing you have to do is turn the page of your book or decide where you’d prefer to dine for dinner.
OR you can indulge in more of a city-break style venture, staying in the heart of the action in Funchal.
We chose the latter. Mostly on the assumption it would be where we could try more of the cities food offerings. Anyone else make big decisions based purely on food? Nope, just me then.
Eventually we settled on the newly renovated SE Boutique Hotel, which came highly recommended on TripAdvisor for its central location and its memorable rooftop terrace.
After being picked up from the airport in a swanky car, complete with suited chauffeur – we arrived at the hotel entrance, to be greeted by an incredible window display complete with flamingos (not real ones, I must add), colourful furnishings and feathers.
It’s safe to say, I knew I was going to like this place.
We were then escorted up to our room, a beautiful twin bedroom with a double sink, a slither of sea view and a splash of blue tiles.
It didn’t take us long to explore the rest of this eclectic hotel, with a bright green breakfast room (it’s certainly a jolly sight to wake up to in the morning with your coffee) and the burnt orange roof terrace, complete with bar, panoramic views of the city and more flamingos.
We spent many evenings admiring the twinkling lights of the city with a cocktail in hand – I personally can recommend the gin, apple and basil concoction which sounded rather strange initially but won me round as it tasted amazing.
The location was amazing – within easy reach of each part of the city and close to main shopping streets AND the artsy old town.
My only suggestion for consideration if you are visiting this hotel with a friend or family member is that the bathroom is actually a transparent glass fixture within the bedroom itself.
There is a curtain you can sweep across to preserve your modesty, however it is very open and so I would suggest that you’d have to be rather comfortable with one another.
Saying that, the service is friendly and helpful, the cocktails are amazing and the rooms are bright, clean and have the best pillows I’ve ever experienced – the HUGE squishy cloud kind that your head can sink into, and take you away to the land of dreams. Where funnily enough, a few flamingos may make an appearance.
Where to eat
Now as you may probably know if you’ve followed me for awhile, I’m not the easiest person to please when it comes to food offerings, largely because I’m allergic to a gazillion things (well namely dairy and eggs, but it can be difficult).
But add Misha into the mix too (who can’t eat dairy either) and we’re a right old pair.
We weren’t sure if we were going to struggle to find places that catered for us, as I do appreciate it’s sometimes difficult to accommodate.
However, we actually found it very easy to find places to dine dairy-free and best of all, they were super cheap too.
On the first afternoon, we found a little place that offered smoothies, salads and wraps and we both ate and drank for €12.
Yep, €12 – altogether. We couldn’t quite believe it.
Most evenings we had two to three courses for less than €40 altogether, so it’s fair to say we never went hungry.
One of our favourite places to eat was O Calhau, which was located just next to our hotel – and somewhere we visited no less than 4 times in 5 days. It’s safe to say, we were big fans.
The food here was absolutely amazing and if you do swing by, I’d highly recommend the grilled vegetable bruschetta (we started off sharing a plate, but towards the end of the trip had one each because it was SO good) and then the Tuna Steak with grilled veggies and wedges.
Misha can recommend the salmon too. Because we both ordered the above four times over.
So the dishes have certainly been tried and tasted.
Venturing into the Old Town, where artsy murals adorn each alley and doorway, there is an abundance of food offerings to choose from – ranging from fresh fish to chicken fajitas.
Can you guess what I went for?
We found a little restaurant tucked away called Copaki which had its own vegan menu – complete with coconut based dessert.
It was the only place we found that had a fully vegan menu – and the service was really good here too!
And then for the pizza lovers among you, head to the Santa Maria restaurant in the Rue de Santa Maria, where you can dine outside and personalise your perfect pizza before it heads into their special pizza oven.
Just bear in mind, it’s closed on Wednesdays. I’m not sure why anyone would close their pizza oven on a Wednesday (we learned the hard way) but it’s worth visiting on any day other than this for a doughy feast.
Finally, if you’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth (hands up, I’m guilty) then make sure to swing by Gelataria Mil Sabores for a churro (or six).
They are €2 for 6, covered in cinnamon sugar AND they’re vegan.
There’s a prize for the person who resists picking up a portion every day of their stay.
What to see
Cristiano Ronaldo fans should be sure to swing by the CR7 museum and hotel, located adjacent to the marina.
It is a largely quite inconspicuous building, but you won’t miss the entrance because it’s adorned by a double height bronze statue of the Madeira man himself.
So if you’ve ever dreamed of getting a selfie with Cristiano Ronaldo, now is your chance gals. Or guys!
If you’re not a football fan, then rest assured – there are still plenty of things on offer to tickle your activity fancy.
One of our favourite experiences was getting the cable car up to the mountain-top village of Monte and then spending the afternoon in the Tropical Gardens.
You can easily spend a couple of hours here wandering from display to display, before the grand finale when you reach the stunning Monte Palace.
Watch the vlog
How to get there
Our entire trip was very kindly covered by Jet2 Holidays, who made the booking on our behalf as part of one of their package offerings.
I’ve only ever had positive experiences with Jet2 and really appreciate their USP being friendly, helpful and welcoming service.
It really does make all the difference when you turn up bleary eyed at 3am in the morning to catch your flight and rather than surly staff, you are greeted by friendly Jet2 representatives wishing you a wonderful holiday, with a big smile on their face.
Plus of course the 22kg included luggage you get with your ticket (no need to pay extra) is a huge bonus when you still haven’t mastered the art of packing lightly.
Have you ever visited Madeira? Is there anything you’d recommend?