In the picture below you can see the first glimpse I had of Madeira straight out of the airport upon reaching the capital city Funchal. Madeira is a Portuguese island located nearly 1000 km west of the coastline of Portugal. Although the population is less than 300 thousand and the size of the island comparable to a small province in my homeland Italy, Madeira has an incredible landscape variety… And it is the home town of Cristiano Ronaldo!
Being in Madeira in the summer of 2006 was an extraordinary experience first of all for the football experience. If you haven’t watched an international football game in the home town of a global superstar, put that in your bucket list. The whole town goes absolutely crazy!
Madeira is made of regions that are so diverse within such a short distance. I remember driving from the sea level to the top peak above 1800 meters in less than a hour. From a sunny beach eating seafood to a foggy mountain eating the traditional espetada (beef with garlic and salt, skewered onto a bay leaf swords and cooked over hot charcoal).
The south coast features rocky shores and yellow sandy beaches, while the north beaches of Sao Vincente have pitch black volcanic sand. A few km after Sao Vincente in the round trip of the island, I bumped into Santana, a village built with colourful triangular shaped huts. It looks like the Portuguese version of Hobbit Village.
People in Madeira are incredibly friendly. They welcome foreigners like family members and they offer hospitality to everyone. During my solo drive around the island I came across a funny encounter. I parked my car up on a hill to take a picture of the crazy steep streets. A very fit man with killer look on his eyes and his hands full of blood came out of nowhere and started running towards me. At first I panicked, but then he smiled at me and said: “Atuna?”. He was “slaughtering” (I don’t even know if this is the correct word) a huge tuna and wanted me to try the meet.
I later visited the fish market and the city centre in Funchal. Everywhere I went it was tidy and clean. Restaurants offered a variety of meat and fish for very affordable money. Most of the tourists come from North Europe. And I found quite interesting how most tour operators in Italy were discouraging me to visit Madeira because of the supposedly cold ocean. However I found the sea warm and calm. I recall the clouds being quite crazy. Literally 20 meters behind the beach the sky was cloudy, but on the beach it was sunny pretty much every day.
I also recall dark lizards being everywhere and a multitude of cats along the promenade. Here and there around the city statues are placed to commemorate events of the past, like a statue of the Italian explorer Cristoforo Colombo.
I loved the atmosphere and I am totally planning to get back there sooner than later. Until now is one of the overall best places I have visited and I recommend it as a destination for both single travellers as well as couples.
With the goal of 150 country to be visited before 2025, Stefano Virgilli is an avid traveller and expert connoisseur of the cultures of the world.