Since the day I met my Portuguese husband Carlo Neto, he promised me that we will travel to Madeira Island, also known as “the Pearl of the Atlantic” to this island his parents and family originated from. Our adventure began during the July holidays of 2014 when our 2 daughters were old enough to enjoy and appreciate this amazing trip that we were about to experience. All we had to worry about were booking our flights and packing our bags before we could set off to chase the sun to this breathtaking paradise and as a bonus escape the winter here in South Africa.
Carlo’s uncle Fritz Helena and his wife aunty Sue Helena were waiting for our arrival at Madeira’s own International Airport. We were so lucky to have these two special people as our very own personal tour guides during our entire stay. They live nearby Ponta do Sol in a simply enchanting town called Calheta, Calheta is blessed with rare natural beauty and 8 parishes.
Calheta was, in fact, the first town in Madeira to import sand from Morocco. Calheta Village has an artificial yellow sand beach that opened in 2004. We thoroughly enjoyed the days we had on Calheta beach and all it had to offer.
The Ponta do Sol beach is hidden away in a small cove in the village of Ponta do Sol, between the slopes of the valley. One just can’t help but fall in love with this little gem, with its beautiful sunsets and excellent pebble beach. We’ve spent many afternoons with our daughters sunbathing, swimming, relaxing and playing on this beautiful beach.
Madeira is a Portuguese archipelago situated in the north Atlantic Ocean, south-west of Portugal and the main agriculture here is sugar cane, banana and wine production. Historically the sugar cane was worked by slaves owned by a Flemish lord João Esmeraldo, a close friend of Christopher Columbus. There are many religious nature traditions, strongly rooted in the Madeira culture, but also traditions linked to crafts, music, and even the evolution of the island’s economy. We were very blessed to visit a couple of these churches and busy, noisy, colourful covered markets stocked with fresh fish, tropical fruits, spices, beautiful flowers and local crafts.
The Aquaparque de Santa Cruz, close to the airport was definitely the highlight of our Madeira trip for both our daughters Carla, Simoné and me…
It boasts 5 toboggan slides of varying heights and speeds and a fast and slow river. There are 2 leisure pools too as well as play parks for the younger guests.
We also treasured our visit to Machico town and Machico beach, this historic, peaceful town was the landing point of the discoverers and offers a number of good quality guesthouses and restaurants.
Uncle Fritz took us to many little towns and beaches, but the Porto Moniz Natural swimming pools are the highlight of my stay. These natural salt water swimming pools are made up of volcanic rock, into which the sea flows naturally, we also visited the aquarium.
Another must see when visiting Madeira is the Traditional Santana houses close to the Santana Municipal Council. This is a preservation area, expanded by the municipality of Santana, in memory of local heritage.
Other memorable places we visited on the Island were the Ponta do Pargo Light House Viewpoint, the Marina of Funchal, CR7 Museum which tells the story of the Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo and houses all of his individual and team trophies won. Our daughter Carla was totally smitten. Our youngest daughter Simoné was very excited about our visits to the botanical gardens and all our different rides in the cable cars. Don’t let me even start talking about the gardens and flora, it is simply magnificent…….
I really loved our visit to Ponta do Garajau where you’ll find the statue of Cristo Rei de Garajau, carved by Georges Serraz in 1927 and you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy the amazing view over the ocean. I was brave enough to walk all the way down the path… It felt like I was entering the sea what a wonderful feeling.
We also enjoyed every minute of our time spend in Funchal, the biggest city in Madeira. It is modern but at the same time kept an authentic historic centre that will amaze you. We went on an unforgettable Yellow Bus trip around Funchal, very similar to the Red Bus trips in Cape Town….
We had so much fun at the Madeira Theme Park. The Park’s main attractions are the 4 multimedia pavilions; “ Discovery of the islands”, “Future of the Earth”, Fantastic Voyage in Madeira” and “A World of Islands”. A replica of the Monte train, traditional ox carts and nets, a traditional Santana house, a windmill, a maze and even a lake are some of the Park’s attractions.
Uncle Fritz took us to the Cabo Girão Skywalk too. At 589 meters, the Cabo Girão Skywalk is the highest cliff skywalk in Europe and 2nd highest in the world. As I was looking all the way down from the glass deck to the ocean my legs went absolutely numb… what a thrilling experience.
Another very special memory is our visit from Funchal by cable car to the Church of Our Lady of the Monte in Funchal. We climbed to the bell tower terrace and oh my word we experienced the most spectacular view of Funchal.
Monte Village was built in 1565 as a summer refuge for Funchal’s aristocracy. Constructed in 1741, the Church of Our Lady of the Monte is the resting place of Charles 1, the last ruler of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
We had an absolute blast and we just couldn’t get enough of this astonishing Island with its warm friendly people, it’s breath-taking nature, it’s incredible history and it’s wonderful opportunities to go for walks and find so much to see and do. Should you seek a place to stay, away from the hustle and bustle, then Hotel Jardim Atlântico (Jardim Atlantico) is just the place to be. This exquisite Hotel promise for a very memorable stay. Here we had the pleasure of meeting a very stunning lady working at the Hotel, named Rita Santos, we learned that she also stayed in South Africa many years ago…….Although she loved South Africa she loves Madeira more!
Maybe one day if I am fortunate enough I could go and retire in Madeira this magnificent Island that I love to call paradise… But first I want to travel and see the world!
Content by Tanya Neto