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Madeira: Rural tourism showing the key to sustainable travel

Madeira: Rural tourism showing the key to sustainable travel

Madeira has long been popular with the fly and flop generation and the cruise crowd, in particular, fantastic Funchal with its countless exotic gardens and historical monuments.

July 28th, 2022

Madeira has long been popular with the fly and flop generation and the cruise crowd, in particular, fantastic Funchal with its countless exotic gardens and historical monuments. However, there’s so much more to see on the island apart from the capital. With an increasing focus on sustainability, discerning travellers are increasingly opting to visit the more rural parts of Madeira. Boutique hotel options are boundless depending on what you are looking for. Below, we’ll consider options for food lovers, imbibers and environmentalists.

Gastronomic enthusiasts should put the newly opened Socalco Nature Hotel high on their list of places to stay at. It is situated in Calheta with many points of interest like the lighthouse, Ponta do Pargo and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Casa das MUDAS. The latter is a curious architectural entity that looms over Calheta like a bond villain lair. The hotel is owned by renowned chef Octávio Freitas, who is a true champion of Madeiran regional cuisine. There is a vineyard on site and they’ve recently bottled their first vintage. Most of the vegetables and fruits used at their restaurant are grown on-site. You can partake in jam-making, and bread-making masterclasses and you won’t find a menu on their website, as they are printed daily depending on what seasonal ingredients they can find. It has spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean and you won’t fail to be amazed at the ingenuity of Madeirans, who manage to grow countless crops on such steep slopes.

Wine connoisseurs should consider booking into the homely, informal, Quinta das Vinhas. The hotel includes a historic 17th-century house,15 cottages, 2 outdoor swimming pools and an organic vineyard that spreads across most of their 30,000 sq m. They can arrange for a tour of their vineyards where you can learn about the popular Madeiran grape varietals like Verdelho, Malmsey and Bastardo. Their restaurant and wine bar are perfect for conducting wine tastings of Madeira wine or enjoying local specialities like their grilled sea bream. There is a breathtaking view as it is situated on top of the Quinta and you have uninterrupted views of the vineyard and the ocean.

If you are looking for luxury along with sustainability, then the hotel to check out is Quinta da Serra. They proudly proclaim themselves as a bio hotel and you can’t argue with that when you’ve won countless environmental awards such as the green key award. It’s not just about installing solar panels and using wastewater for irrigation but also preserving historic trees, they have monumental eucalyptus trees that are over 200 years old. They also grow plenty of fruit trees and vegetables to ensure there are minimal miles travelled for the ingredients used in the restaurant.

Apart from Madeira wine, the local drink to try is Poncha. It’s a very summery concoction of citrus juice, honey and aguardente. It is typically muddled meticulously in front of you. Most of the aguardente is made with sugar cane from the island which is in abundance along with bananas. The drink is the ideal Dutch courage before you partake in any adrenaline-inducing activity.

In every corner of the island you will encounter dramatic scenery, but none more so than Fajã dos Padres. It is an organic farm and restaurant that is only accessible via cable car. The ride takes you down a 300-metre steep slope where you can admire the beauty of the southern coast of Madeira. Before reaching their restaurant, you will walk through their farmland with countless mango trees (over 20 different varieties), avocado and banana trees. They even grow more tropical fruits which are harder to find in the rest of Europe such as araçá, Suriname cherry and tabaibo.

Their restaurant is all about letting the ingredients speak for themselves. It’s mostly gently grilled local fish like scabbard accompanied by produce from the farm like banana or mango. Tuna fish and octopus are equally popular whilst shellfish lovers will rejoice at the sight of periwinkles and limpets on the menu. The latter items are such a rarity on British menus but they are inexpensive and very much in abundance and should be considered a more sustainable food source.

The cable cars stop operating at 18:00 during the winter and 19:00 during the summer, so if you want to observe the mesmerising sunset, then you should stay at one of their homely cottages. Alternatively, you can hire a sailing boat with the likes of Happy Hour Madeira who can pick you up from the pier and take you on a scenic cruise to Funchal. You will pass the majestic cliffs of Cabo Girao which are some of the highest sea cliffs in Europe.

If you head to the north coast of Madeira, you will come across an even more stupendous landscape which is more reminiscent of scenes from Jurassic Park. One of the most popular beaches on the island is Seixal beach. The fine black scene beach with the lush green surrounding mountains is one of the most photographed beaches on the island. You might spot adventure-seekers learning how to surf there or if you are lucky like us, participate in a yoga class with such a remarkable backdrop. Another must-do activity is to swim in the volcanic, lava-rock tidal pools there. It is a very calming experience, sheltered from the open sea breeze. It is one of the best free experiences on the island especially since there are convenient changing facilities at a nearby bar, Clube Naval do Seixal.

Driving around Madeira sightseeing is one of the true highlights of exploring the rural countryside. With over 44km of tunnels around the island and over 100 tunnels with the longest being 3km, traversing the island is a much speedier process than previously. Whether you want to visit Calheta or Seixal, it takes very little time from Funchal. Increasingly more and more tourists are opting to have a slower pace of holidaying and enjoying the delights of the rural Madeiran countryside.


Baldwin Ho

Baldwin Ho

An intrepid adventurer and foodie, Baldwin is always on the lookout for latest trends on the culinary scene as well as pushing himself out of his comfort zone in trying out new activities. He has a particularly keen interest in food and travel photography.