Eat, sleep, explore: 48 hours in mesmerising Madeira | Luxury Lifestyle Magazine

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Words by Olivia Cox

There is something entirely unique about Madeira. Situated between the west coast of Morocco and the northern tip of the Canaries, the sub-tropical island simultaneously offers both hot, dry heats; and cooler, breezier conditions all year round.

In a geographical paradox, the dramatic topography and warm ocean currents have created a wonderfully diverse eco-system – Madeira is rich in every sense of the word. The small island (801 square kilometres) boasts luscious fauna, an abundance of nature spots, and some of the most breath-taking views in Europe. In short, no matter your travel preferences, it is very hard not to fall in love with Madeira.

Food and drink

Carpaccio Cherne e Nori at Akua Restaurant
Carpaccio Cherne e Nori at Akua Restaurant

Typical Madeiran cuisine tends to differ based on area – delicate fish and seafood dishes are more prominent in coastal areas, with heartier meat dishes dominating as you delve inland. But what seems a constant is a desire to make the most of the bountiful local reserves, using traditional methods.

Thanks largely to the mild climate, the range of native ingredients is exceptionally diverse – a quick drive from coast inland will take you past any number of sugar cane farms and exotic fruits. Perhaps the most well-established culinary tradition is Espetada – large chunks of salt-rubbed beef cooked fresh to order on a smouldering grill, served with bay leaves and new potatoes.

Akua is Júlio Pereira’s second restaurant on the island, established one year after his inaugural, Kampo. Akua has a cosy, intimate feel, drawing on chef Júlio’s own experiences growing up in his father’s butcher shop, his grandfather’s gardens and his mother’s kitchen. There is a real feeling of being at the heart of Madeiran methods of preparation and cooking, not least thanks to the decadent aromas of bolo do caco, a typical Madeiran bread baked direct on a hot surface and served with home-made garlic butter.

Aptly named Galaxia Skyfood is the Savoy Palace’s uber-glam top-floor restaurant, decked out to give the experience of dining under the stars

Aptly named Galaxia Skyfood is the Savoy Palace’s uber-glam top-floor restaurant, decked out to give the experience of dining under the stars. Lavishly prepared dishes include Ussuzukuri of fermented fish, freshly caught Madeiran seafood, and black pork tusk.

A Razão at Socalco Nature Hotel has no regular menu per se – chef Octávio Freitas’ team forages for what is abundant on any given day to create culinary masterpieces. With a unique flair for creating fine cuisine out of humble ingredients, highlights can be diverse as pumpkin soup with a twist (no spoilers here) and Iberian Porc ‘Secretos’, so-named because locating the coveted marbled cut is considered to be a butcher’s secret.

Wine in Madeira will need little introduction, but the vineyards are well worth an exploration. Each feels entirely unique, using either horizontal or vertical vines to capture the relevant amount of sun, water, and salt appropriate for the chosen grape and location. And no hillside vista is complete without obligatory roaming goats doubling as unpaid labourers, nibbling away at a vine’s debris.

What to do

Funchal old town
Funchal, the capital of the Madeira archipelago, was declared a city in the 1500s, and became an important point between the old and new worlds

Although relatively small (for reference, the smallest of the Canary Islands – Lanzarote – has an extra 45 square kilometres on Madeira), the unique nooks of Madeira have only become easily accessible in recent history, thanks to an intricate network of 150 tunnels racing through the mountains. Completed circa 2005, the tunnels are a feat of modern engineering reminiscent of the Swiss alps.

Likewise, be prepared for sharp inclines – one of the most iconic roads, Rua da Carreira cuts through the capital of Funchal at an eye-watering 45 per cent gradient. On which note, if heights are your thing, SkyWalk is worth a look. The glass walkway juts out from the cliffs of Cabo Girão, 580 metres above sea level, offering a birds-eye-view of Câmara de Lobos.

As an island, much of Madeira’s tourism naturally focuses on the aquatic. Again offering a plethora of options, the south coast is home to the calmer – often hidden-away – beaches, gently lapped by strikingly transparent waters; whilst hearty Atlantic breakers add drama to the north coast. The easy option, of course, is to explore by boat. In typically Madeiran style, Happy Hour offers private sailing charters around the island with a gastronomy focus. Serving up a series of olfactory treats, a private on-board chef prepares and serves four courses using local products whilst you jump, swim, and snorkel your way around the yacht.

Where to stay

The Savoy Palace bedroom
The Savoy Palace, the leading Madeira hotel, is inspired by all the beauty and uniqueness that the island grows and offers

This is starting to feel old-hat now, but accommodation in Madeira is once again a tale of two opposites. The very plush syncs beautifully alongside more stripped-back, rural hotels. Notably, all seem to share the common goal of sustainability and eco-tourism. The Savoy Palace is every bit as grand as the name would suggest, with a premium floor offering suite residents a dedicated concierge team, private breakfast area, and exquisitely appointed rooftop infinity pool. Prices start from 195 euros per night.

The Socalco Nature hotel is nestled away on the south west coast, with rooms winding their way up the imposing cliffside. The hotel prides itself on simulating the natural patterns of nearby ecosystems, and supporting the hosting environments. Think solar energy, turf-to-table, and responsible furnishings: recycled pine features heavily. Guests are encouraged to get involved with the cooking and wine chores, part of Socalco’s commitment to preserving traditional recipes for future generations. Prices start from 87 euros per night.

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