Looking for an end of year holiday?
Madeira is one of those Goldilocks vacation destinations. It has good weather almost all year round as it is located in the Atlantic Ocean and is geographically closer to Africa than Europe.
The Portuguese island is sleepy and slow, even in the capital Funchal.
This makes it an ideal retreat for people who put relaxation high on their list of priorities.
In four days we were able to discover many local activities along with one of the best hotels to stay in.
But if you’re flying home direct from the UK, make the journey over five days, as the nearly four-hour flight feels a little too out of reach for a long weekend.
For this reason, we think you should add Madeira to your travel list.
The place to stay is the Savoy Palace – this has nothing to do with Savoy here, but there really is a lot to experience and try.
The rooms are second to none. The suite I stayed in – about £650 a night at this time of year – had two showers and a bath, an extremely comfortable bed, a sea view with a large balcony and sitting area.
I’m never one to spend time in a hotel room eager to explore, but I must admit I was reluctant to leave this peaceful, dreamy place.
In one of the most luxurious suites you have access to a private infinity pool.
I used it early in the morning when no one else was around, swimming up and down peacefully while looking out over the sea and surrounding mountains.
These half-hour quiet sessions couldn’t have been more perfect — and I even snuck in before dawn one morning and basked in the moonlight.
The spa facilities were great too, with all the things you would expect – a sauna, steam room, swimming pool and jacuzzi.
However, the real reason to go is for a massage. I had a forest therapy massage they tried and it was so soothing I eventually fell asleep and was flexible and smooth.
The food here is something to savor and savor – it’s every seafood lover’s dream.
The Savoy Palace has several themed restaurants – from sushi to fine dining – where you can taste authentic Portuguese dishes and dishes with a modern twist.
With all the options, local seafood dishes can change daily and many Madeiran residents will dine in the hotel and simply make the most of what’s on offer without having to stay overnight – which bodes well for a tourist.
A must-try for an authentic experience is bacalhau à brás, which consists of cod, potatoes and eggs, all woven into one versatile, flavorful meal.
Otherwise, in terms of fish, there’s lobster, tuna, black scabbard, and more.
For those with a meatier palate, the fine dining restaurant Galaxia serves Wagyu beef on a bamboo stick, a nod to an old Madeiran tradition, ask the waiter for an explanation.
As for sweets, pastel de natas are a must, along with sampling the sweet dessert wine the island is known for. Also try a poncha, the most famous local fruit cocktail that can be drunk.
There is enough activity here for a short trip.
Look for dolphins and whales first (but be prepared for choppy waters).
We searched for an hour and finally found some baby pilot whales in a group – it was an amazing sight.
Then try the local toboggan run – if you dare.
It is essentially a wooden cart pushed along a winding road that is also used by cars. I was scared but enjoyed the bizarre experience. Adrenaline addicts will love it.
Similar, but more stable, are the cable cars, which offer a beautiful view of the city and green areas as you go up.
Once you’re back on your feet, head to Rua De Santa Maria, a narrow street known for its variety of street art (and bars at night).
Do this before heading to the town’s famous food market (but be sure to go on a market day), where you can buy fresh fruits and vegetables, flowers, raw fish, and other goods.
Even if you’re not there for the shopping, it’s so colorful and vibrant you won’t want to miss it.
Other notable stops include Blandy’s, a British wine company that runs wine tours where you can learn about the local sweet wine, how it’s made, and even smell a vintage (very humid) wine container.
At the end you can taste wines from different years to see how flavors change.
Finally, head to Bordal, just a short walk from the main cathedral, to see Madeira’s embroideries firsthand.
This is a traditional island shop and in addition to buying quality items, visitors can see the women at work here and gain an insight into the steps involved in making household items such as tablecloths.
Like many things in Madeiran culture, the atmosphere seems very free and easygoing, with most people open to tourists if you ask.
Madeira is a relaxing holiday destination – and what a welcome joy that is at the end of the year.