Green list travel: Madeira is an island paradise of tropical forests and black beaches

Pick a spot in middle of Atlantic Ocean – not far west of Bermuda, but south of Azores. Although it will take some zooming to find this tiny volcanic island, once you do, you won’t want to leave.

Madeira was the most remote place I have ever been. It’s one of the two autonomous regions in Portugal. However, it has its own rich culture as well as a unique landscape with dramatic cliffs.

It wasn’t an easy introduction to this paradise island.

The main airport in Funchal is not recommended for the faint-hearted. It has one of the longest runways in the entire world. Cristiano Ronaldo International Airport (yes Madeira is where Ronaldo was born) is dangerous because its 1,600-metre runway is cut by the high mountains and the ocean.

Pilots must undergo special training to be allowed to land in this area due to the extreme winds.Madeira’s main town, FunchalCanva

After you have cleared security at the airport, grab your bag and open your previously downloaded “Madeira Safe” app. This app has your personal barcode that you can show officials.

This is where you are directed to a queue of people in either light or dark green, marked on the floor to guide you.


Dark green indicates that the app has processed your negative PCR-fit-to-fly (mine was from).QuredIf you are able to see the light green, you can leave. However, if you see the result as not accepted yet, you will need to speak with a team nurse. Before you can leave, they will inspect your passport and request proof of your double vaccination certificate.

Despite the lengthy process, I felt that I had a lot respect for the infrastructure because it helped me feel safe in a foreign country.


“The best hotel in the island”

As we travel into Funchal, a bustling city with lush forests and the smell of eucalyptus, the scent of the eucalyptus is still in the air. We reach theHotel Savoy PalaceLate on Friday night, my taxi driver declared that it was “the best hotel in the island”.

I had a great view of Funchal from the taxi ride – the lights shining up into the hills and valleys with the ocean shimmering under the full moon. It was a great first impression of Madeira.

The Savoy Palace Hotel is elegant, with grand interiors featuring chandeliers and marble staircases. However, it’s also cozy with velvet armchairs.

Henrique Seruca

The Savoy Palace Hotel, MadeiraHenrique Seruca

The hotel was a joint venture of Nini Andrade Silva (the island’s top designer) and RH+ Architects. It tells the story of Madeira’s culture and traditions through striking design.

After enjoying a light dinner overlooking the pool at night, I collapse happily into my king-sized mattress on the 16th floor.

Henrique Seruca

Basking in luxury at the Savoy Palace HotelHenrique Seruca

As I take in the breathtaking views of the ocean, my eyes drift off and I drift off to sleep, ready to explore the island.

Outdoor adventure at its best

Madeira won the World Travel Awards 2020 ‘Europe’s Leading Island Destination 2020’ for its outdoor adventures. It is evident that Madeira is not going to be a holiday destination. Due to its mountainous topography, Madeira doesn’t have many beaches. However, the stunning cliffs make it stand out.

My days are spent trekking around the island, visiting black-sand caves, and swimming in natural pools. Madeira Mountain Expeditions offers a jeep tour to the forest of Serra do Fanal.

Our tour guide will tell us to get up on the back of our jeep and inhale the forest air. He also advises us to duck whenever we come across a branch. It’s thrilling and breathtaking at 1,150m above sea level.


Walking up above the clouds in Fanal, MadeiraCanva

Fanal, as it’s known locally, is home to some of the most ancient trees in the world.

This is the location of the largest surviving laurel forest. It is a haunting sight to see. It is subtropical, and its volcanic microclimates make it often covered in mist. This gives you the impression that you are on a movie set.

Maeve Campbell

View of the mountains from FanalMaeve Campbell

You can see huge, gnarly trees stretching out in front you in the fog. The air is warm and wet.

Forest yoga is done while we are high up with a local instructor. It feels like I am sinking into earth as I maneuver into downward dog.

Cabo Girao is another highlight, which is the second highest cliff in Europe. A suspended glass platform is available at the viewpoint (I tried to not look down). It allows you to stand directly above the ‘fajas de Rancho’ and enjoy a spectacular view of Camara de Lobos, a fishing village.


Cabo Girao glass suspension platform in Camara de LobosAFP

To get rid of the sweat from the day, I’d return from cliffside hikes or waterfall excursions in the evenings and slip into the rooftop pool. One evening, I decided to get a spa massage because why not?

This room is a mirror of the island’s landscape and features cascades, lagoons, and a Himalayan salt room.

Espada y ponchas

There are many delicious Madeiran foods. The classic tuna steak and fried maize dish is a popular choice in many restaurants.

Bolo do Caco, which is a garlic bread that’s as good as it gets, can be served as a starter to almost any meal.

Espada is the island’s signature dish, and I fell in love with it.

Maeve Campbell

Espada (left) and sushi (right) in Madeira

It is also known as ‘Black Scabbardfish’. This is a white, soft fish that is extremely light in the mouth. It comes with a fried banana and maracuja (passionfruit somewhere in between a sweet-savoury dish).

Madeira’s traditional aperitif, the ‘poncha,’ is a cocktail made with honey, fresh lemon juice, and a sugarcane white alcohol.

It works in the same way as a Cognac, or strong whiskey. As you swallow it, it quickly turns into a fuzzy glow that keeps you warm throughout the evening, even after the sun sets.

The restaurants offer a wide selection of options

Henrique Seruca

There are so many options for dining out that you don’t need to leave the hotel to enjoy dinner.

I eat light meals at the Alameda, Jacaranda and Galaxia during the day. On our last night, we have dinner at Galaxia on the roof.

Galaxia, a magnificent restaurant with a stunning view of the island at night and a ceiling adorned with stars, is an elegant choice. The five-course tasting menu features five courses. My favorite dishes are the Wagyu beef skewers, and the fermented fish with mango avocado & chilli.

All of this comes with a wine pairing. This is a mix of white, red, and rose fortified wines. It’s a chance to try real Madeiran produce, from the many vineyards located on the island.

Henrique Seruca / Maeve Campbell

It’s safe to say that I was cloudy the next morning.

After four days of adventure, followed by some great food and unwinding at the hotel, I’m still not ready for my departure.

Madeira is a place I would take many things with me. Amazing service at every restaurant, and the most friendly locals I’ve ever met in Europe. It’s very easy to navigate even if you don’t speak Portuguese. Because the island is heavily dependent on tourism, everyone I met spoke English fluently.

I was able to disconnect from the digital world by being so far away, just west of Morocco and in the middle the Atlantic, and fully immerse myself into nature. This is a magical island and should be on everyone’s bucket list.

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