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Travel Portugal Guide: 48 Hours in Madeira

Picture this – you are on a commercial airliner cruising into a vertical mass of land, zigzagging around rugged cliffs covered in green and sprinkled with Bird of Paradise plants. The landscape resembles the island setting of Jurassic Park.

You marvel at the azure coastline as the plane makes its final descent down onto the landing strip – a concrete structure built high over the water’s edge and supported by over 100 beautifully placed pillars. At last, the aircraft has safely landed.

You retrieve your carry-on suitcase and step down the mobile stairway and onto the tarmac. The air is warm with a subtropical moisture that’s kept at bay with the cooling maritime breezes. You have reached your destination – you are on the mystifying island known as Madeira.

One of the greatest things about Madeira is that it’s relatively easy to get to. Daily flights from Porto and Lisbon are operated through Tap Portugal for a duration of approximately two hours. A few other European airlines fly to the island as well. Once you are there, the preferred way to get around is by car and the airport has several rental companies stationed there.

And thanks to the modernized 120-mile road and tunnel network, you can now safely navigate yourself around the island’s volcanic twists and turns. Hotels and resorts can be found all over the island, particularly along the coast surrounding Funchal.

Melia Madeira Mare Resort and Spa is a 5-star coastal hotel just ten minutes out of the city center that offers swanky rooms at very reasonable rates.

Old Town Charm

As both Madeira’s capital and largest city, Funchal may not be the biggest in size, but it will certainly win you over with its charm. Spend an afternoon in Old Town where you can take a stroll along the narrow cobblestone streets and have lunch at one of the many restaurants with outdoor seating.

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The Old Town’s colorful art scene can be viewed in one of the art galleries as well as along the streets with the unique murals painted on the doors. Afterwards, take a short walk over to the city center and visit the Teatro Municipal Baltazar Dias – a gorgeous theater built in the late 19th century by an architect that used the inspiration of the La Scala opera house in Milan.

Top Eats In Funchal Portugal

Experience Madeira

And for those wanting to experience the wild wonders of Madeira, absolutely stunning hikes can be found at just about every corner of the island. If you are on a time crunch, one of the best hikes is only a half hour east of Funchal in Ponta Do Castelo. This eastern tip of the island shows off its distinct juxtaposition of one side resembling the calm aqua waters of the arid Mediterranean and the other side ferociously dramatic with powerful wind gusts and waves crashing into a mixture of trachytes and volcanic tufa soils. For a moderate hike that’s just a quick drive from the city, the majestic scenery certainly over delivers.

The Wine

But what would Madeira be without, well, Madeira? This fortified wine has a long history of being adored by many – from Dutch sailors out at sea to Thomas Jefferson himself. One of the best perks of visiting the island is not only being able to visit these world famous wineries, but also having the rare chance of tasting delightful old vintage bottles that will possibly change your life.

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Centrally located in downtown Funchal is D’Oliveira , Henriques & Henriques , and Blandy’s. Or if you’re up for a little drive, in the nearby outskirts of Funchal are Barbeito and Justino’s. But if you’re not necessarily up for a tour, you can simply stop by any of the local bottle shops where you’ll likely be able to taste old vintage bottlings of Malmsey, Verdelho, Boal, Sercial, Terrantez and even 100% Tinta Negra.

One of the best Madeira’s I tasted on my recent trip was a bottle of 1933 Malmsey from Justino’s – even at its mature age, it was utterly complex and beyond balanced with bright acidity and succulent notes of peach cobbler, black fig, cloves, and butterscotch.



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About The Author
Julie Albin
Julie Albin is a wine and spirits writer based in San Francisco and is currently the Editor-in-Chief for Drink Me Magazine. Her work has also been published in Whisky Advocate, Grape Collective, SOMA Magazine, Wine Geographic, Connoisseur Magazine, 2Paragraphs, etc. She is a Certified Specialist of Wine and has also completed her WSET Diploma. To further her expertise in the industry, Julie has spent much time in Europe meeting with winemakers and distillers to learn about their stories.

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