Portugal's Madeira Islands Have Hiking, Biking, and Loads of Wine
Portugal's ever-growing popularity is leading in-the-know travelers to look outside the mainland. With a slew of new spots on the horizon, this little archipelago is ready for its close-up.
Portugal’s Madeira Islands are best known for their namesake fortified wine. But there are many other reasons to visit, as a growing number of travelers to the archipelago — a collection of volcanic chunks off the coast of Morocco, about 750 miles southwest of Lisbon — have been discovering. The latest: the main island is undergoing a round of development just as Madeira celebrates 600 years since its discovery.
In the island capital of Funchal, at least three hotels cut the ribbon this spring, including the much-anticipated Savoy Palace, with 352 rooms, five restaurants, six bars, and an 11-room spa. The 16-story property curves toward the sea, so every suite offers a view out to the horizon. Nearby, the popular Cliff Bay has a new sister property, Les Suites at the Cliff Bay, set high on a promontory, with 23 villas and access to the Cliff Bay's Michelin two-starred restaurant, Il Gallo d'Oro, which is helmed by French chef Benoît Sinthon. The 57-room Pestana Churchill Bay is the first retreat in the seaside town of Câmara de Lobos, one of Winston Churchill's cherished painting spots.
If you're not feeling woozy from the wine or marveling at the A-frame straw houses woven into the lush emerald landscape, lace up your hiking boots. There are endless trails to choose from, but if you're game for a moderate challenge, the seven-mile route from Pico do Arieiro will take you over Madeira's three tallest peaks, offering some of the best views of the island. Or visit the Madeira Botanical Garden, a 20-acre plot of land planted with endemic species and vibrant geometric flower beds.
Massachusetts-based Sagres Vacations specializes in crafting singular experiences through all of Madeira's six microclimates. The company can also arrange a private dinner of traditional espetada beef skewers and ponchas, cocktails made with sugarcane liquor, in a 17th-century fortress; a wine tasting with a fifth-generation producer; a bike tour along the levadas (historic water channels that once fed the banana, sugarcane, and grape plantations); or a trek to the Laurisilva forest, a UNESCO World Heritage site within the Madeira Natural Park, some 4,500 feet above sea level.