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Portugal & Madeira Organised Trips

25 Fontes Walk

The paths that follow the vast network of irrigation channels known as levadas, created over the centuries by Madeira’s farmers, have rightly become popular with those looking to immerse themselves in the island’s most impressive landscapes. This 11km walk, which takes about four hours, kicks off at Paul da Serra, a high plateau where you’ll find extensive areas of rare subtropical laurel forest that UNESCO describes as of “outstanding universal value”. From here, you’ll head downhill towards Rabaçal guesthouse, a popular pitstop that seems almost lost amid the surrounding scenic grandeur, and on to Risco waterfall. You’ll continue on down to the Levada do 25 Fontes, reaching a small lake at the bottom of a cliff fed by 25 natural cascading springs. Picking up another track towards the finish, you’ll pass through a tunnel that carries water to the south side of the island.

• Departs on Tuesday and Thursday
• Operates year round
• Group experience

Good to know
The 11km walk is graded as moderate. Wear suitable clothing plus walking shoes or boots.

Duration:

Half day

Start time: 8.15am
End time: 12.15pm

A Walk Through Paradise Valley

A walk beside one of the many man-made irrigation channels, or levadas, that crisscross the interior is a quintessential Madeira experience and a great way to explore the island’s spectacular scenery. This gentle morning stroll is the perfect introduction to this unique way of hiking, which takes you along a particularly beautiful stretch of the 100-year-old Serra do Faial. The 5.5km walk starts in Vale do Paraíso - which translates as Paradise Valley - and ends in the pretty village of Rochão. Along the way, you’ll have time to see how generations of farmers have carved out terraced fields from the steep hillsides, admire some glorious gardens and enjoy the panoramic views over Camacha, also known as “the village of basket makers”. It’s a brilliant way to get some exercise without even noticing, and is suitable for all ages.

• Departs on Tuesday and Friday
• Operates year round
• Group experience

Good to know
The 5.5km walk is graded as easy and is suitable for all. Wear suitable clothing plus walking shoes or boots.

Duration:

Half day

Start time: 8.30am
End time: 11am

Afternoon Tea at Belmond Reid's Palace

Afternoon tea at Reid’s Palace has been an island institution almost from the moment the hotel opened its doors in 1891, and it’s a wonderfully indulgent way to celebrate a special occasion or just treat yourself. Sitting on its elegant shady terrace, gazing at the panoramic sea views, you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped back in time to a more leisured era when guests arrived by steamship and stayed for weeks. The effect is enhanced by the meal itself: dainty finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones with cream and jam, and beautifully crafted cakes and pastries served on delicate china plates. The only difficulty will be choosing which tea to have from the 24 on offer, from China Green Sencha to Darjeeling Second Flush. Reid’s house blend is available to buy at its in-house boutique and makes a suitable reminder of a wonderful experience.

• Daily departures
• Operates year round
• Private experience

Good to know
The dress code is smart casual, as befits a five-star hotel: no shorts, no T-shirts and definitely no flip-flops. Transfers are not included.

Duration:

Half day

Start time: 3pm
End time: 5.30pm

Blandy's Wine Tour

Madeira’s namesake fortified wines can trace their development back to the 15th century, and learning about their unique history and ageing process from one of its best-known makers is something that wine lovers are sure to appreciate. At Blandy’s Wine Lodge, the heart of a family-run wine business established in 1811, you’ll get a fascinating insight into the difference between Madeira and other fortified wines as you tour the different areas of the establishment. You’ll tour the warehouse, filled with wooden barrels, where the finest vintages are aged to perfection by the traditional “canteiro” method. You’ll visit the museum, whose collection of artefacts includes letters from Sir Winston Churchill, coins from Blandy’s bank and a 17th-century wooden trough where grapes were once trodden. The visit ends with an enjoyable guided tasting so you can appreciate the end product for yourself.

• Departs on Monday to Saturday
• Operates year round
• Group experience

Good to know
At the tasting, children will be given the choice of a bottle of water or fruit juice.

Duration:

Half day

Embroidery of Madeira

Madeira has a rich tradition of hand embroidery, which brings together influences from across Europe to exquisite effect. One of the most highly regarded makers on the island is Bordal, founded around 60 years ago, at whose small factory you can spend a few hours learning the history and techniques of this exacting craft. You’ll discover how each piece begins with a unique design hand-drawn on tracing paper, and how the design is transferred to the fabric using tiny perforations and a sponge soaked in special blue ink. From here, the marked-up fabric is passed on to the skilled embroiderers to do their delicate stitchwork - satin stitch, pulled thread fillings, appliqué and the like - before the workshop completes the process with cutwork, washing and ironing. You’ll end the session with a real insight into the amount of hard work that goes into creating every beautiful tablecloth, pillowcase and handkerchief.

• Departs on Thursday
• Operates year round
• Group experience

Good to know
This isn’t a hands-on experience, but Bordal makes kits for beginners who want to try doing Madeiran embroidery for themselves.

Duration:

Half day

Explore Southern Madeira

Immerse yourself in the natural beauty of southern Madeira with a memorable trip by open-top 4x4. The day begins with a scenic drive up to Paul da Serra, the largest and highest plateau on the island, from where there are incredible vistas. The plateau is home to extensive areas of laurisilva, the indigenous subtropical laurel forest that’s so special it’s UNESCO-listed. From here, the route continues down to Ponta do Pargo on the westernmost point of Madeira - the ideal place to put a lighthouse - and along the coast to fishing villages such as Paul do Mar and Jardim do Mar, both magnets for intrepid surfers. Passing by Calheta, one of the few sandy beaches in Madeira, you’ll conclude the day’s activities with a stop at pretty Ponta do Sol, famous as the sunniest spot on the island and the place where the best bananas are grown.

• Departs on Sun
• Operates year round
• Group experience

Duration:

Full day

Start time: 8.45am

Hidden Madeira by Jeep & Catamaran

Experience two of Madeira’s most scenic environments on a south-coast tour that combines a jeep safari with a boat trip. In the morning, you’ll start at Câmara de Lobos, a charming fishing village that was a favourite painting spot of Winston Churchill and many others; as you’ll quickly discover, it’s also the birthplace of poncha, a heady mix of lemon juice, honey and sugarcane spirit. Continuing on, passing through banana plantations, vineyards and cherry orchards, past tiny rural villages and dramatic viewpoints, you’ll make a stop for a picnic lunch at Funchal’s Santa Catarina park. Afterwards, it’s time to head for the harbour to board a catamaran for an afternoon on the water. Madeira is on the migratory route of many species of whales and dolphins, as well as having a resident population of sperm whales, so you’ve got a good chance of spotting some as you motor gently along the stunning coastline.

• Departs on Tuesday and Saturday
• Operates year round
• Group experience

Duration:

Full day

Start time: 8am

Landscapes & Villages Walk

Stretch your legs and discover Madeira’s rugged north on a levada walk that features an appealing blend of glorious landscapes and picturesque villages. You’ll set off from Queimadas, in the heart of a protected ancient laurel forest, to trek beside the 18th-century Levada da Serra de São Jorge, from whose heights you’ll be able to drink in the magnificent views over the villages below. Along the way, keep your eyes peeled for local birds such as firecrests, long-toed pigeons and even buzzards. Passing cascades and cutting through small tunnels, you’ll arrive at one of the island’s beauty spots: the waterfall of Caldeirão Verde, the “green cauldron”. It’s the perfect venue for a picnic, far from the bustle of modern life. From here, you’ll continue on through pastureland to Santana, a village known for its unusual colourful triangular thatched cottages.

• Departs Friday
• Year round
• Group experience

Good to know
The 13km walk is graded as moderate. Wear suitable clothing plus walking shoes or boots.

Duration:

Half day

Start time: 8.15am
End time: 12.45pm

Madeira Dolphin Observation

Madeira is on the migratory route of just under 30 species of whales and dolphins, as well as being home to a resident population of sperm whales, and there are few experiences to match the thrill of seeing them in their natural environment. On this two-and-a-half-hour adventure, you’ll have an excellent chance of spotting some of these captivating creatures, along with a host of other marine life including turtles. Starting with a short introductory talk, you’ll head out to sea on a trio of nippy semi-rigid boats with Rota dos Cetáceos’ team of marine biologists, keeping your eyes peeled for the tell-tale glimpse of a fin, tail or blow. In this, you’ll be assisted by lookouts on land who have up-to-the-minute information as to likely locations. It’s a brilliant way to spend a morning or afternoon that will appeal to families with older children as well as couples.

• Daily departures
• Operates year round
• Group experience

Good to know
The species you’re likely to see depends on the time of year, so do your research if there’s a particular one you’re keen to spot.

Duration:

Half day

Start time: 9am, 12.30pm or 4pm (June to September); 9am or 1.30pm (October to May)
End time: 11.30am, 3pm or 6.30pm (June to September) or 11.30am or 3pm (October to May)

Madeira Dolphin Swim

With a resident population of sperm whales and its position on the migratory route of almost 30 species of whales and dolphins, Madeira is an excellent place to see these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. On this two-and-a-half-hour trip, starting with a short introductory talk, you’ll head out to sea on a trio of nippy semi-rigid boats with Rota dos Cetáceos’ team of marine biologists, keeping your eyes peeled for the giveaway glimpse of a fin, tail or blow. In this, you’ll be helped by lookouts on land who have up-to-the-minute information as to likely locations. As a bonus, you’ll swim in a safe, controlled way with dolphins for 10 minutes or so - a truly memorable experience that will leave you grinning for hours afterwards. It’s a superb way to spend a morning or afternoon that will appeal to families with older children as well as couples.

• Daily departures
• Operates year round
• Group experience

Good to know
Be sure to follow the instructions of the crew when interacting with the dolphins to keep the experience as stress-free for them as possible.

Duration:

Half day

Start time: 9am, 12.30pm or 4pm (June to September); 9am or 1.30pm (October to May)
End time: 11.30am, 3pm or 6.30pm (June to September) or 11.30am or 3pm (October to May)

Madeira Nights

Sample the delights of traditional island hospitality with an evening of good food, wine and music. You and your fellow diners will head to a typical Madeiran restaurant where you’ll enjoy a three-course meal of local specialities. After a light starter - tomato and onion soup, perhaps, or caldo verde - you’ll have a chance to try one of the islanders’ favourite dishes, Espetada, a skewer of tender marinated beef cooked over hot coals or wood chips. It’s usually accompanied by milho frito (fried corn) and bolo do caco, a type of bread roll made with sweet potato and served with garlic butter. During the meal, there’ll be local wines to sip and savour and live music provided by a folkloric group playing traditional instruments such as the guitar-like rajão and the colourful jangling brinquinho.

• Departs on Friday
• Operates year round
• Group experience

Duration:

Evening

Start time: 7pm

Monte Botanical Gardens

Madeira is known for its lush vegetation, and a visit that takes in one of its best-loved gardens provides a perfect insight into the species that grow here. You’ll head first for Monte, perched in the hills above Funchal, which was once a popular health resort and still retains an air of elegance. Nowadays, it’s better known as the starting point for a rather unusual toboggan ride in a two-seater wicker sledge that’s on many visitors’ must-try list. A little closer to the capital, the Botanical Garden opened to the public in 1960. Once part of an estate belonging to the founder of Reid’s Hotel, it was set up to conserve Madeiran plants that were becoming increasingly rare in the wild. Bursting with colour and scent, its six zones are a delight for gardeners and non-gardeners alike.

• Departs on Saturday
• Operates year round
• Group experience

Good to know
Note that this trip does not include a toboggan ride.

Duration:

Half day

Wine Tour of Madeira

Madeira has a long history of wine-making, and on this eight-hour adventure, you’ll travel across the island touring its vine-growing areas and learning about everything from the terroir to how various vintages are produced. Starting in the south and heading north, you’ll become familiar with names such as Câmara de Lobos, São Vicente, Seixal and Porto Moniz. You’ll visit several producers - and have a typical Madeiran lunch in the house of one - and taste what they make, from whites, reds and rosés to the famous fortified wines we think of when we hear the name “Madeira”. Along the way, you’ll get to enjoy scenic landscapes in parts of the island that most visitors never reach, making it a fascinating way to spend a day whether you’re a wine connoisseur or not.

• Departs on Wednesday
• Operates Year round
• Group experience

Good to know
The tour is not recommended for children.

Duration:

Full day