This woefully underrated travel destination forms part of the cluster of Portuguese owned islands located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Volcanic in origin with rugged interiors lined with lush vegetarian and exotic flowers, the tourist masses tend to avoid this subtropical paradise leaving its natural beauty to those in the know. Here is our guest writer’s choice for 10 of the most beautiful places to visit in Madeira…
Monte Palace Tropical Garden
One of Madeira’s top attractions, the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens are set in the hills high above Funchal. The gardens feature thousands of exotic plants, along with a host of wildlife, from Koi to Peacocks. José Berardo created the gardens in the early 1990s, and his passion for art and nature is evident everywhere – from the Oriental pagoda and gardens, to the waterfalls and ornamental sculptures. Take the cable car from Funchal early to avoid the crowds, and ride a toboggan back down the hills for an exhilarating end to the day.
Said to be Madeira’s best kept secret this is a beautiful undeveloped island. This is a neighbouring island which forms part of the Portuguese archipelago. Almost like a giant stretch of sand with a bit of an island attached, you’ll find nine km of soft peaceful sands and only a handful of restaurants, hotels and inexpensive holiday villas. It’s volcanic sands are even said to therapeutic and people have been coming here for years to cure all manner of aches and pains.
Pico Ruivo is Madeira’s highest peak – at over 6000 feet – and a favourite for those wanting to experience a little adventure on their break. Walk the the trail from Achada da Teixeira; a 5.6km hike that takes around an hour and a half each way (depending on your fitness levels!) but rewards the hardy with incredible views. Pause for a while to look down on the clouds below before carefully making your descent. Look out for guided walks too – the mountain guides can provide a wealth of information, and often include hotel transfers.
Laurel Forest (Laurisilva)
This beautiful subtropical forest is so historically important is has been declared an UNESCO world heritage site. Easily one of the most beautiful places to visit in Madeira, it’s the largest (and last) refuge of the Eurasian arboreal forest and dates back to prehistoric times. The forest gets it’s name from the evergreen species of tree that resides there and contains unique flora and fauna including the long-toed pigeon and the rare Madeira Firecrest.
Porto Moniz Lava Pools
The lava pools at Porto Moniz may be a long way from Funchal – located at the far north west tip of the island – but are certainly worth the drive. A series of natural pools formed on the rugged coastline, visitors can swim in the cool waters while watching the Atlantic lapping against the rocks around them. There are changing facilities and lockers, and even sun beds for those wanting to relax for the day. On stormy days the pools become mesmerising, as the huge waves crash against the rocks.
Surrounded by rural landscapes, mountains and lush eucalyptus forests, this is one of the prettiest villages in Madeira. It’s a small traditional place with a well preserved local church, a visitor’s farm complete with llamas and pot-bellied pigs and a pretty garden. It also makes a great base for walking as there are many hiking and nature trails located nearby.
Curral das Freiras (Valley of the Nuns)
Set in the heart of Madeira, the Valley of the Nuns is an incredible display of geology, as the steep rocky peaks rise up above the tiny village below. Those with nerves of steel can drive the twisting EN 107 road up through the mountainous terrain to stop at Eira do Serrado and look out on the breathtaking view down into the valley at the Grande Curral – nicknamed the bellybutton of the island. Alternatively, take the 81 bus from central Funchal and let the experienced bus driver navigate the hairpin bends as you wind your way through the lush green hills for less than 4 Euros.
Pico do Arieiro
This is the third highest peak in Madeira with an altitude of 1818 metres. There’s a drivable road to the steep summit and visitors flock here for the incredible views and also to make the trek to neighbouring Pico Ruivo (Madeira’s highest peak) via the footpath located here. If the weather’s good it’s possible to view the island of Porto Santo, located 30 miles to the north.
Ponta de Sol
This pretty village by the sea easily deserves a place on this list. Literally meaning “sun point” it enjoys an idyllic location at the sunniest point of the island and right next to warm azure waters. Although there is only a pebble beach it’s a peaceful, sheltered spot known for its beautiful sunsets. Just offshore divers can explore the local ship wreck which sank during a storm just off the coast.
Ponta de São Lourenço Nature Reserve
This is a protected part of the coastline located at the Eastern end of the island is where rugged volcanic rock formations meet the ocean. The nine kilometre stretch of peninsula is also home to interesting plants and wildlife including monk seals and many species of birds. Visit for the secluded beach, cliff top walks and gorgeous panoramic views of the Atlantic.
Written by Sophie Higgins