Mad For It
Design hotels, extreme sports and cool bars – could this really be Madeira? This dramatic volcanic island a thousand miles off the west coast of Africa still has its botanical gardens and octogenarians, but it’s a great find for honeymooners in search of a laidback paradise with some funky touches too. It’s also just a three-and-a-half-hour flight and has year-round sunshine; Roger Moore and Zoe Ball both love it, which kind of sums up its old world charm, now mingled with 21st century appeal.
As Far as the Eye Can See
Arriving at the smart airport at Funchal, the island’s capital, first impressions are of a huge mountain rising out of the sea. As you’ll quickly discover, the volcanic island is stunning, with spectacularly steep, lush green hillsides and gravity-defying white houses everywhere. When you can drag yourselves away from lazing around the pool, there’s plenty to do, including a tour into the mountains to explore some of the UNESCO World Heritage sites like Levada Walk; original water courses that brought water to the main town in past centuries.
Where to stay? Madeira’s well known for its quintas – manor houses originally built for wealthy local merchants (many of them British) that have been converted into modern, luxury hotels. One of the hottest on the island is minimalist designer hotel Quinta da Casa Branca (pictured). Think contemporary-Schranger-esque crossed with a funky Seventies architectural vibe and you begin to get the picture. The outdoor pool is fabulous, surrounded by plenty of loungers and soft fluffy towels; there are floor-to-ceiling windows, which made the whole place light and airy; and the gorgeous outdoor Garden Pavilion Restaurant is the perfect place to while away an evening sipping great wine and marvelling at just how warm it is.
Home is Where the Heritage is
For a more traditional experience, check into Jardins do Lago in Funchal (pictured) and enjoy romantic strolls around the stunning botanical gardens, complete with a picturesque lake and swans. Or, if you want to really get away from it all, head to Estalagem do Vale. This homely quinta is ideally located in one of the most beautiful valleys of Madeira – part of the Laurissilva Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and all the rooms look out over a backdrop of soaring mountains.
Wine and Dine
Favourite dining spots on the island include Quinta da Rochina for its amazing views across the Atlantic Ocean. This über-cool design hotel serves up Mediterranean food with a contemporary twist; try the tuna sashimi served in a martini glass or the black scabbard fish. For a guilt-free lunch, combine an energising Levada walk with a bite at Quinta do Furao. Located on the north east of the island, and with sweeping views of the unspoilt coastline, the restaurant serves hearty regional food often using produce that has been grown in the grounds of the quinta. Tuck into a traditional Madeiran barbecue (Espetada), where the meat is cooked on a bay stick and served with a delicious selection of accompaniments such as salad and fried polenta.
For the ultimate romantic meal, spend an evening in the candlelit restaurant at Quinta Casa Velha do Palheiro. Once a traditional hunting lodge, this quinta sits in the hills above Funchal, and offers a fine-dining menu where each dish is beautifully presented and accompanied by an impressive wine list. Being so close to Portugal, you’ll find most of the bars and restaurants of Madeira are well stocked with excellent Portuguese wine – testing them is all part of the honeymoon experience! It’s also a fish lover’s paradise, with delicious fresh sardines appearing on most menus.
No minimoon would be complete without a visit to capital Funchal; you’ll fall in love with the characterful old town, full of tiny, fab bars and cheap but excellent restaurants, as well as a very charming historic flower and food market. If you want a night out in trendy in Funchal, head to Café do Teatro (pictured) for cocktails or the Look Lounge on the harbour with its lounge bar, restaurant and club. For a pleasantly rustic beachside bar with freshly caught fish and the sound of crashing waves, Doca do Cavacas is divine.
When you’re out and about on the island, a must is a visit to Cabo Girao, which at 580m is the second highest cliff in the world. The island’s incredible geography of plunging ravines and steep slopes lends itself to extreme sports and adventure company Terras de Aventura, which arranges mountain biking, jeep safaris, off-road biking, kayaking, canyoning and paragliding.
More traditionally, you can take the Monte Toboggan run – a 20-minute ride in a wicker basket down to Funchal, which can be combined with an equally hair-raising ride up to Monte from Funchal by cable car. For more gentle pursuits, the island is criss-crossed with ‘levadas’, or old irrigation channels, which cut through sheer cliffs or follow aqueducts over deep crevices. The Botanical Gardens Funchal or the Monte Palace Tropical Garden (pictured), with its grottos and koi carp ponds, are perfect for nature lovers. For a partner with a passion for golf, there are two challenging courses and, if you go for a round on the Santo da Serra Golf course, be sure to pop into Quinta Serra Golfe post-game for a hearty afternoon tea.
Life’s a Beach
Madeira is not a beach destination, but the ‘golden isle’ of Porto Santo has a 9km stretch of golden sand, which has been scientifically proven to have therapeutic healing properties – little wonder it’s renowned for its Thalassotherapy Centre at Vila Baleira. It’s also the perfect spot for a romantic horseback ride through the surf.
Come Fly With Me
Quintas Properties (00351 291 203 420) offers a variety of accommodation throughout Madeira from as little as £30 per person per night. TAP (0845 601 0932) operates daily flights to Funchal from London Gatwick airport from £55 one way (including all taxes).
Discover more hot honeymoon destinations here, and then book the getaway of your dreams here.