A long weekend in Madeira: Hungry for discovery in the Atlantic Ocean
There is a lot to discover in terms of cuisine on the Portuguese Atlantic Island – including outstanding restaurants.
After a first overview of the island's specialities, we travel across the Madeira: first to the Green Cauldron and finally to sample the delicious dishes at The Wanderer.
As we look out towards Funchal from the sea, it really does seem as if the white houses are building up in a semi-circle on the mountain behind; it is no wonder that the capital of Madeira, the hub of island life, is often compared to an amphitheatre. For us, too, it provides the stage for our (culinary) discoveries – the starting point of our “Food & Wine” tour.
On our way through the city centre and the lively old town with its alleys full of bars and restaurants, we stop at the Mercado dos Lavradores market, where we are amazed by the opulent and colourful displays of fruit. We also get to know some of Madeira's most important specialities: in the pretty, old-fashioned Fábrica Santo Antonio, we taste the “Bolo de Mel”, the honey cake that has been made there since 1883. In the rustic “Rei da Poncha” bar on the other hand, everything revolves around the favourite drink: “Poncha”, a refreshing mixture of sugar cane brandy, honey and lemon juice.
A few streets away, we also taste the wine named after the island: Madeira Wine, whose fermentation is interrupted by the addition of high-proof alcohol. The result is a seductive fortified wine that has been produced at Blandy's for over 200 years. After the tour of the Wine Lodge and the cellar, we taste our way through different vintages.
For lunch, we have a speciality that has already been seen at the fish market: "Espada preta" (black swordfish), which before its preparation is mainly conspicuous due to its ugly appearance. On the plate in the Vila do Peixe fish restaurant, it loses its terror - white and filleted, perfectly grilled and as simple as it is delicious.
Afterwards, it's time to do some exercise in Madeira's diverse nature. We decide to take one of the many hiking trails along a levada; one of the old, narrow water channels that cover the island like a net. On the jungle-like path to Caldeirão Verde - the Green Cauldron - the water not only flows in the levada. At the first waterfall, it also cascades impressively from a height. Even in the air, the humidity hangs in this tropical laundry. Like an amphibian, you walk in wonder through the lush, green, mysterious forest.
Fittingly, the afternoon is reserved for the evening at The Wanderer. The somewhat hidden restaurant has only one table, where all the evening's guests sit together to enjoy the impressive and extraordinary five-course menu under the motto "Last Days of Gravity". Selim Latrous is in the open kitchen. He curiously and enthusiastically experiments with textures, techniques, flavours and ingredients for his culinary works of art. Selim takes ideas for this from Madeira and all over the world; what an exciting and stimulating evening!
After the excursion to the island’s peaks to observe the sunrise, the day offers countless gourmet highlights - and an unbeatable fireworks display for the finale.
It's hard after the long evening last night but getting up early on New Year's Eve morning (New Year's Eve fell on a Saturday in 2022) is worth it. Shortly after the jeep of “Hit the Road Madeira” reaches the viewpoint in the north, the sun casts its first rays of light over Pico Ruivo, the highest mountain at 1862 metres, and the many other peaks of the volcanic island. The guide also has a small breakfast with him: the day begins with coffee, a fresh smoothie and delicious sandwiches from the Vantastic food truck in Funchal, before we continue the tour with a walk through old, gnarled laurel forests. The beautiful town of Porto Moniz in the sparsely populated north with its sea swimming pool is also worth a visit.
Back in the south in Funchal, we head straight for the harbour. There, the famous son of the island and multiple world cup footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, is immortalised as a life-size statue. Our destination, however, is an old fortress on the harbour wall. The “Design Centre Nini Andrade Silva” has a permanent exhibition of the interior designer Nini Silva, whose work is influenced by the history, culture and nature of Madeira. The extremely tasteful aesthetics are also reflected in the ambience of the restaurant - and in the excellent dishes.
Despite being very British, a must on an island holiday is afternoon tea at Reid's Palace, a time-honoured hotel classic in Funchal. In the elegant setting of the terrace with a sea view, a glass of champagne is followed by fine finger sandwiches, then scones with clotted cream and exquisite patisserie bites. As difficult as it is for us, we hold back, at least a little. Because in the evening, also here in the hotel, we have finally been given a table in the William restaurant, which has been awarded a Michelin star.
“Today we would like to take you on a journey across the island,” the waiter says by way of introduction to the menu, which is a five-course tour of Madeira. It begins with the gourmet version of the typical island cozida with pork and cabbage, continues with a fine chestnut soup and ends with beef fillet, infused with the aromas of the Madeira laurel forest.
From paradisiacal gardens to the rugged north coast, from island rum to down-to-earth cuisine - the last day is full of contrasts and exciting discoveries.
On the last day, we decide to have breakfast on the beautiful terrace of Les Suites at Cliff Bay. There we enjoy the last views of Funchal, because today we leave the capital again - first to the west. We drive through small villages in the heavily built-up coastal area, past banana plantations and through the pretty fishing village of Camara de Lobos, up and down the mountainous landscape until we stop at the Skywalk. On the platform, which is located on a cliff almost 600 metres above the ocean, you can not only look out into the distance, but also dizzyingly steeply down.
A few hairpin bends further on, we want to go to Fajã dos Padres and take a cable car down the cliff. After the short ride, we not only land directly at the sea, but also walk through fruit and vegetable gardens, where we would love to eat the mangos and bananas if we could. The kitchen of the neighbouring restaurant uses what grows here. So, we take a lunch break here and enjoy the tuna steak in this fantastic location.
With heavy hearts, we finally leave to drive to the other end of Madeira in the northeast to get to know other faces of the multifaceted island once again. On the hike to Ponta de São Lourenço, the cape that juts out of the island like a narrow tip in the east, Madeira shows its barren and stony side. Nature has carved artistic formations in red, black and sandy beige out of the rocks here. From the wide blue of the Atlantic, the waves rush rhythmically against the steep cliffs and jagged shores. We witness pure ocean drama on the hike, where the destination is the only sign of civilisation: Casa do Sardinha, surrounded by palm trees, reminiscent of an oasis, where we take a break in the shade with a cold beer.
After the excursion, we explore the much rougher north coast and the villages that are dotted along the road. In the small town of Porto da Cruz, we stop at the old rum distillery, Engenhos do Norte. In the hall you can learn about the history of rum on the island and the distillery on your own, before having a tasting in the shop - but only a few sips, then we move on to dinner. After the elegant restaurants of the previous days, it's time for down-to-earth Madeira cuisine: with limpets, mussels and traditional espetada - meat skewer - in the quaint and cosy atmosphere of A Pipa.
Finally, the weekend ends at the Quinta do Furão, with a final cocktail at the hotel surrounded by vineyards - and with the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks at the foot of the cliff.
Tips and addresses
Les Suites at The Cliff Bay *****
- 23 luxurious suites with a sea view in a separate part of the "Cliff Bay" five-star resort. An infinity pool and the highly recommended "Avista" restaurant are also included.
- Estrada Monumental 145, 9004-532 Funchal
- T: +351 291 707 770
Reid's Palace *****
- The classic among the luxury hotels on Madeira. Well over 100 years old, "Reid's Palace" is situated on the cliffs and surrounded by a garden. Afternoon tea with a sea view is a must.
- Estrada Monumental 139, 9000-098 Funchal
- T: +351 291 717 171
Savoy Palace *****
- Large luxury hotel in a curved main building and in a very central location. Among other things, there are several restaurants, two pools and a spa.
- Av. do Infante 25, 9004-542 Funchal
- T: +351 291213000
Quinta Da Casa Branca *****
- Chic boutique hotel set in extensive botanical gardens not far from the centre of Funchal - pool included.
- R. da Casa Branca 7, 9000-088 Funchal
- T: +351 291700770
Quinta Do Furão ****
- Very nice hotel complex on the cliffs in the north with pool and very good restaurant.
- Estrada da Quinta do Furão Nº6, 9230-082 Santana
- T: +351 291570100
Il Gallo D'Oro
- Excellent Mediterranean and Iberian-inspired gourmet cuisine at the "Cliff Bay" resort. The only restaurant in Madeira to be awarded two Michelin stars.
- Estrada Monumental 147, 9004-532 Funchal
- T: +351 291707700
- Located in Reid's Palace, William offers excellent menus in an elegant setting. Chef Luís Pestana places great emphasis on fresh Madeiran ingredients and flavours. Awarded one Michelin star.
- Estrada Monumental 139, 9000-098 Funchal
- T: +351 291 717 171
- Small restaurant with extremely creative menus - and a hidden gem on Madeira! Be sure to book, as there is only one table where all the evening's guests dine together.
- Centro Comercial Olimpo, Av. do Infante, 9000-015 Funchal
- T: +351 915 682 872
Fajã Dos Padres
- Paradisiacal restaurant at the foot of the cliffs, where you can also stroll through a fruit and vegetable garden - only accessible by cable car or boat.
- Estr. Padre António Dinis Henrique 1, 9300-261 Quinta Grande
- T: +351 291 944 538
Vila Do Peixe
- Upscale restaurant in the fishing village of Câmara de Lobos near Funchal, offering a daily changing menu
- Selection of fish and seafood specialities from the market.
- R. Dr. João Abel de Freitas 30A, 9300-048 Câmara de Lobos
- T: +351 291 099 909
Design Centre Nini Andrade Silva
- Stylish design centre in an old harbour fortress with a permanent exhibition on interior designer Nini Silva, as well as an excellent restaurant with magnificent views over Funchal.
- Estrada da Pontinha, Forte de Nossa Senhora da Conceição, 9000-726 Funchal
- T: +351 291 648 780
- Quaint restaurant with genuine island cuisine on the north coast. Cosy and delicious!
- Casas Próximas, Porto da Cruz, 9225 050 Madeira
- T: +351 968 527 400
- Discover the beauty of the island’s nature beyond Funchal in the comfort of a jeep on day or half-day tours. A highlight for early risers: a sunrise drive with a view over Madeira's peaks.
- T: +351 969 466 359
Food & Wine Tour
- There's not only plenty to taste on this tour of Funchal. You also get an entertaining insight into the history of the island and its culinary specialities.
- T: +351 911 911 711
Engenhos Do Norte Rum Distillery
- A visit to the distillery on the north coast with its old production facilities is a journey into the past. Of course, you can also taste it there.
- Rua do Cais, nº 6 - Casas Próximas
- 9225-050 Porto da Cruz
- T: +351 291 563 346
Blandy's Wine Lodge
- Possibly the best-known producer of Madeira Wine. The Wine Lodge offers tastings and tours with a visit to the wine cellar.
- Av. Arriaga 28, 9000-064 Funchal
- T: +351 291 228 978
Dash Cocktail Bar
- Imaginative drinks in a trendy atmosphere at this cocktail bar in the centre of Funchal.
- R. da Alfândega 1B, 9000-059 Funchal
- T: +351 961 014 423
Musa Lounge Bar
- Modern bar offering exciting cocktail creations and a decent selection of craft beer.
- Rua Imperatriz D Amelia 100, 9000-018 Funchal