Often called the “floating garden of the Atlantic,” the Portuguese island of Madeira, off the Northwest African coast, enchants visitors with its balmy weather, stunning mountain scenery and remote location. An ideal choice for honeymooners that are eager to celebrate their union, it is a secluded spot awash in fragrant flowers, five-star hotels, gorgeous hiking trails, luscious Mediterranean food and fabulous fortified wine—Madeira.
Slightly larger than Martha’s Vineyard, Madeira lies 540 miles Southwest of Lisbon, which is the departure point for most international visitors. Since wilderness covers much of the island, hiring or renting a car proves the best way to reach quaint villages, like Porto Moniz, famous for its natural rock pools, as well as the picturesque walking paths along the levadas (narrow irrigation channels snaking throughout the island).
Funchal is Madeira’s capital and home to most hotels, museums, galleries, restaurants, fashionable shops and historic buildings, like Se, a grand 15th-century cathedral with an inlaid wood ceiling and choir stalls depicting religious figures in 16th-century costumes. At the covered market, Mercado dos Lavradores, you’ll find glistening fish, tropical flowers and fruits along with lively restaurants and cafés serving local specialties, like grilled tuna, black-scabbard fish filet, and seasoned beef skewers. Plant lovers will enjoy the island’s many botanical gardens, while art enthusiasts will appreciate the Museum of Contemporary Art located inside the newly-restored, 17th-century fortress, Fortaleza de São Tiago.
To sample sweet and dry Madeira wines, visit the Madeira Wine Company with its ancient wine cellars in the center of Funchal. At the Sugar Museum, Núcleo Museológico da Cidade do Açúcar, you can learn how sugarcane production transformed the island. Finally, don’t miss The Monte Toboggan Ride. In the same way that Venice has its romantic gondolas, Funchal has wicker baskets set on wooden runners that whoosh two miles downhill under the professional guidance of toboggan drivers in straw hats.
Although Madeira has few beaches, it brims with gorgeous pools at hotels like Reid’s Palace, which has been sheltering royalty and celebrities since 1891. Surrounded by 10 acres of sub-tropical gardens, the hotel has 163 individually-decorated rooms, three pools (two of which are salt water), two tennis courts, a spa and half-a-dozen restaurants and cafés. A tip for honeymooners: the hotel can arrange a private candlelit dinner overlooking the ocean with your own butler. Wine lovers will relish Hotel The Vine, whose fermented grape theme comes alive in Terra Lounge, designed to evoke a Madeira wine vineyard, and at A Divine Spa with its Madeira wine massage. The hotel has 79 modern rooms, a bar, restaurant, heated pool, Jacuzzi and solarium.
A more intimate choice is Estalagem da Ponta do Sol. A former farmhouse turned design hotel perched on a cliff in the tiny town of Ponta do Sol, the hotel has only 54 rooms, an oceanfront restaurant, spa, bar and several pools with panoramic views.
Madeira is a charming oasis in the ocean. And while it’s off the beaten track, it stands poised to fill every visitor’s whim, including yours.
> Written by Victoria Abbott Riccardi