Whether you choose to climb the Pico do Arieiro at sunrise or admire the craggy coastline around Achadas da Cruz, these are the must-visit natural wonders on the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira.
You won’t be able to avoid the “breathtaking panorama” cliches when describing Madeira. Here, you’ll find plenty of cobbled streets, mosaic tiling and cute churches overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Rugged volcanic mountains co-exist with lush vegetation, so you’ll discover exotic fruits such as mangos, bananas, passion fruits and papayas blooming in the subtropical climate. Take a walk through the man-made levadas (irrigation channels), which make perfect trekking routes through the forests, or just enjoy the imported yellow sandy beaches.
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Whether you’re on a football pilgrimage (Funchal is the birthplace of Cristiano Ronaldo) or want to check out The Painted Doors Project, an art installation that covers the Old Town, you should visit Funchal. The mountains and banana plantations make a dreamy backdrop for exploring – especially after a night on the Poncha, a local boozy sugar cane rum. Take the cable car to Monte, and slide down on a traditional wicker toboggan – just to say you did it!
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Most visitors will enjoy whale-watching on their vacay to Ponta Delgada, as the cavorting creatures love putting on a performance in the summer months. The pineapple and tea plantations offer a break from the dramatic volcanic landscape, while the Lake of Fire is worth a day trip. Evenings can be spent relaxing at the plentiful low-key bars and restaurants in the quaint Old Town.
Porto Santo Island
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Visitors love the Golden Island for its 9km-long (5.6mi) beach of fine, silky sand and direct access to the Atlantic Ocean. The turquoise waters are ideal for diving and snorkelling, while the beach offers the best sunset in Madeira. Culture vultures will want to check out the museum of Christopher Columbus, who settled here with his Portuguese wife, and fill up on the local speciality, a beef kebab basted with garlic butter, or the famous bolo do caco (bread baked on a hot tile).
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According to local legend, Machico was discovered in the 14th century by a pair of lovestruck teenagers who eloped from the UK and were shipwrecked in the Bay of Machico. Alas, they died, but the crew survived to tell the tale. Historians will enjoy visiting the tranquil 17th-century church on the hilltop, as the 320m-high (1,050ft) observation deck gives extraordinary views of Ponta de São Lourenço. With an imported fine-sand beach and plenty of hiking trails, there is something for everyone.
Miradouro das Neves
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Watch the sunset disappear over the bay as you perch atop a picture postcard hill. It’s no wonder that this spot has been the destination for many question-popping moments. Situated on the old road from Madeira Airport, it’s well worth a trip for a sundowner – but give yourself ample time to climb the wooden stairs, and stay to admire the city’s twinkling lights.
Pico do Arieiro
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With views that warrant you getting up at the crack of dawn, Pico do Arieiro (or Stairs to Heaven) is worth the coffee drip. Join the crowds who flock to the third-largest peak in Portugal to catch the first glimpse of the sunrise as it breaks through the thick sea of clouds. One of the most well-known nature spots, it really feels like you are floating above the valley. If you want more of this stunning scenery, this is also the start of the popular hiking route to Pico Ruivo.
Jardim do Mar
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If you’re looking for a traditional town with big waves, natural beauty and an uncrowded coastline, Jardim do Mar and its three beaches (Portinho, Enseada and Ponta Jardim) should be on your radar. There’s nothing fancy about this beach spot. In fact, up until the 1960s, this remote village could only be reached by boat. Nowadays, those in the know come for the ocean and the mountains. However, you may want to add on a few extra days to recover from the perilous twisty road down!
Achadas da Cruz
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The Achadas da Cruz is one of the hidden gems on the northwestern coast of Madeira. It’s an isolated town, surrounded by a staggering coastline and mountains. Someone clever erected a cable car for visitors to appreciate the view from above. Feeling brave? The cable will take you down the vertiginous 500m (1,640ft) drop to the traditional village below. There’s also a well-maintained 2km (1.2mi) trail if you prefer to walk – however, it’s very steep and not for everyone.