Madeira, Portugal- Home Away From Home

If you followed my old blog, you've probably seen some past posts about Madeira, Portugal- a small island located southwest of Portugal and only 310 miles from the African coast.

My dad was actually born on a Dutch island called Curaçao in the caribbean, but is of full Portuguese descent and grew up on Madeira. My brother and I spent a handful of summers going to the island to visit family for weeks or even months at a time, and so, it is a place that is very near and dear to my heart (why I call it my "home" away from home). I absolutely love going back and each time I do, I have an amazing trip spent relaxing on its beaches, eating traditional Madeiran cuisine and catching up with all of my relatives.

Below is a photo diary I compiled of some of my favorite pictures/ things we did from my most recent trip this past August. I went for two weeks and met up with my brother (who had already arrived two weeks prior) after a short study abroad trip in Finland. It was such a great way to end my stay in Europe and a destination I ALWAYS recommend to anyone backpacking/traveling through Portugal or Western Europe.

Ponta Do Sol Beach

Camara de Lobos- a quaint fishing town with colorful boats and a picturesque view. Espada (scabbed fish) is one of the most popular fishes caught in the area

The above and below pictures are of Camara de Lobos

The first couple of days I was there, we took a drive up to Pico de Ariero- the third highest point on the island. Madeira is very mountainous, full of cliffs, heavy vegetation and an array of breathtaking views- making the island a popular destination for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.

We also took a drive to a scenic view overlooking Curral das Freiras, or Nun's Valley. Nun's Valley is a small village nestled in between mountains located in the center of the island. The village received its name from its inception: in 1566, nuns from the Santa Clara convent fled from pirates attacking Funchal (the island's capital) and found safety for themselves (and their treasure) in this area.

Nun's Valley

There is only one road that leads both in and out of the town and it is often closed during the winter season, due to falling rocks from the mountain slopes surrounding the valley. Because the village is so secluded, many residents live off of crops/ agriculture grown themselves.

With my cousin, Carolina, checking out the view

Walking along the mountainside bordering Nun's Valley

On our drive up to see Curral das Freiras

Because Madeira is so mountainous, the island contains an impressive amount of tunnels. Most are updated and modern, however, if you drive through old roads, you will encounter cave-like tunnels (such as the ones pictured above). Many of these natural rock structures were originally carved out of the mountainside in the 19th/ early 20th century.

Some older tunnels are permanently closed (due to erosion or falling rocks) but many remain open. Often times, small waterfalls flow through these tunnels, making the drive through them even more enjoyable.

Picture taken on one of our many exploratory drives

One of my favorite spots to visit in Madeira is Porto Moniz, which has natural swimming pools formed by volcanic lava. These pools are filled with clear sea water that spills over from the ocean. The scenery is breathtaking- I LOVE how blue the ocean is around this area and always admire the cool rock formations that make up the pools. Although the water on this side of the island generally is a bit rougher, it's quite fun relaxing in one of the enclosed pools just to have waves of fresh sea water drench you on an especially warm day.

Madeira Island is actually the top of a massive shield volcano (formed through many volcanic phases) that rises about 6 km from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. Most of the volcanic activity in Madeira is thought to date back more than 5 million years.

Although I did my fair share of exploring, I spent a majority of my trip hanging around Ponta do Sol- the town that my dad grew up in and where my brother and I spent most of our summers here.

It used to be that on this side of the island, you would mainly encounter natives going about their daily business, running errands, etc. But recently, more and more tourism has flourished within this region. With the influx of people, many more cafes/restaurants have opened up to service travelers, making Ponta do Sol a local hot spot with a small but lively "downtown" area (the Villa).

The following are pictures I took while hanging out in (and around) Ponta do Sol.

Looking down at the Villa

The roads throughout the island (aside from in Funchal) are all generally pretty narrow like this- making it an adventure when trying to get around by car

A pic showcasing the traditional orange roofs, green shutters and white buildings that make the homes in Portugal so charming and uniform

My dad and aunt standing on the balcony of their childhood home

Colorful buildings of the Villa

The vegetation that encompasses the island is beautiful- I'm obsessed with how green everything is

We took a day to go to Madeira's capital, Funchal, to eat lunch, do some shopping and walk around the Zona Velha (old town). This area is comprised of a number of cobblestone streets and antiquated buildings (some dating back to the 15th century), making it a popular site for tourists and locals alike to visit and walk through.

Rua Santa Maria in Funchal- one of the oldest and most colorful streets in the city. The doors throughout the street are painted with all kinds of murals/ art pieces and you can find a large variety of yummy restaurants, bakeries and cafes here.

One of my favorite things we did while in Funchal was visit the Mercado dos Lavradores (farmer's market) located in the city center. The Mercado was inaugurated in 1940 and built with the purpose of providing residents with a central location to buy and sell local products. Inside the market you can find fresh meat and fish, herbs, nuts, a large variety of tropical fruits and veggies, flowers, souvenirs and other artisanal products.

The main entrance is decorated with hand-painted azulejos (tiles). These tiles are commonly utilized in traditional Portuguese design.

Rua Santa Maria

Walking through the Zona Velha

Supporting the fam- in front of Cristiano Ronaldo's new hotel in Funchal


And now a bit about Madeiran cuisine- my favorite!

Portugal's culture is heavily built upon food and Madeira is no exception. It has a rich gastronomy, offering a variety of dishes influenced by the geography and resources of the region.

The Portuguese center much of their lives around the preparation and consumption of delicious food- and are meticulous when putting together a meal. Food brings people together in Portugal- family and friends gather around the table to catch up. It's a time of rest, socializing, and of course, the enjoyment of good food. Details are important when cooking, and only the freshest ingredients are utilized.

Because Madeira is an island, seafood is eaten routinely (scabbed fish- espada, and cod fish- bacalao are popular), but common meat dishes include espetada (chunks of beef smothered in sea salt, bay leaves and garlic and cooked over an open fire) and picado (small pieces of beef seasoned in plenty of garlic, olive oil and white wine and served with french fries).

Espada com mulho da maracuja e banana (scabbed fish with passion fruit sauce and banana- so good!)

My favorite- lapas (Limpits)

My family and I joke that, while still finishing up one meal, we're already planning for the next. I love what Anthony Bourdain said in his book, A Cook's Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal. While traveling through Porto, Portugal, he wrote:

"The Portuguese, if you haven't gathered this already, like to eat. They like it a lot... The word svelte does not come to mind a lot when in Portugal, either as a description or as a desirable goal. One is not shy about second helpings."

I chuckled when I first read this. He hit it right on the nail. The Portuguese love to eat, and one cannot fully understand the country's culture (or even history) without indulging in authentic Portuguese cuisine. Its food and culinary traditions have influenced dishes and menus from around the world.

More Espada !

Fried sardines- very tasty

A delicious cheese and salami/prosciutto spread with house made bread from the Old Pharmacy- one of our favorite cafes

Herbs and spices common in Portuguese cooking include bay leaves, oregano, saffron, parsley, pepper, paprika, piri-piri (chili powder/peppers), olive oil and of course, lots and lots of garlic!

Tuna fish with milho frito (fried cornmeal)

Garoto- A small espresso with milk

Like many Europeans, those residing in Portugal love their coffee- it's serious business for them. In fact, Portugal is one of the top 4 consumers of coffee in the entire European Union-and it shows when you visit! They drink coffee in the morning, in the evening, after work, after dinner, at night... so you can imagine that the quality is superb (esp. compared to what we got here in the States) My favorite drink to order was a garoto (pictured above).

My favorite bakery in Madeira- Miminho- has the best pasteis de nata (custard tarts) and queijadas (Portuguese pasty pictured above)

The island is covered in both grape vines and banana trees- fresh fruit everywhere you turn!

My parents ended up meeting my brother and I in Madeira, and although thier stay and ours only overlapped about 3 days, I really enjoyed hanging out with them on the island. The last time the four of us were all there was about 12 years ago- way too long! Our short but sweet time together ended up being really special.

The below picture is of my family from Madeira (a few are missing) and my brother, parents and I enjoying a poncha. Poncha is a classic, customary Madeiran drink made of either passion fruit, lemon or orange- passion fruit is my favorite, though! So delicious!

Visiting Madeira is consistently a memorable experience for me, and a trip that I am always eager to make.

My heart in writing this post is to share this special place with family and friends back in the USA, in hopes that it will encourage and inspire those reading to one day visit... Or, simply to journey to some place new!

Portugal, especially Madeira, has so much sentimental value to me; it is a country that played such a huge role in shaping me, and I am grateful I can share this part of my heritage with those that happen to stumble upon this blog =).

#madeira #portugal #travel #europe #girlswhotravel #paradise #island #beach #pontadosol #explore #adventure #foodie

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