Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Lisbon—just a few of the places our readers mentioned touching down in when they expected to land in Madeira. And yet the vast majority of you said it was all worth the white-knuckle ride. Let’s break it down:
Pilots flying into Funchal need special training, as the strong winds and mountainous landscape of the Atlantic island can certainly pose a challenge:
“You descend over the sea, and when almost touching the waves, the plane does a sharp turn to line up with the runway. Unnerving, but that's just the beginning. First attempt at landing, the plane was rocking badly, and the pilot changed his mind as we almost touched down. We ascended rapidly with engines roaring and passengers green faced. A nun sitting next to me began chanting the rosary and crossing herself. We circled round, ready for a second attempt 20 minutes later. There was complete silence in the cabin. This attempt was even more of a roller coaster ride…” - Mervyn
It’s common for flights to divert to nearby Porto Santo or one of the Canary Islands when conditions are rough. Any unexpected stops tend to be brief, or sometimes result in an overnight stay until the weather changes. Just cross your fingers it’s on the way home, and you get an extra night away!
“My husband and I flew several years ago. Due to high winds, the plane was diverted to Tenerife. Well looked after in an all-inclusive hotel, and flew into Madeira without incident the next day. Only disappointment was we had a missed a day there.” - Prue
So, there’s no denying it might be a bumpy ride. But JFC-er Gillian’s words offer a good summary of how airlines and their pilots deal with flying in and out of Funchal:
“We learned that the island has been thoroughly mapped for every possible computation of wind current, and they have very strict guidelines which will stop flights arriving or departing at the first sign of difficult conditions. As we experienced, the airlines and airport personnel, as well as the island's hotel and hospitality industries, are well-equipped to deal with the resultant chaos, turning the whole thing into a slick adventure. Only highly trained, top-flight (pardon the pun), experienced pilots are permitted to fly there. So you are in good hands all the way.”
The reasons you stick it out…
Like we heard from JFC-er Gordon in last week’s interview, Madeira’s landscapes and nature are unreal. The island’s levada walks are a firm favourite among you outdoorsy types. These trails follow the path of the 15th century channels that were built to capture rainwater in mountainous regions, and carry it to crop fields.
Nowadays, the levadas also act as paths that’ll guide you through the island’s volcanic terrain. Expect an absolute deluge of waterfalls, lush greenery, and even views from above the clouds.
Just prepare yourself for a leg workout…
“Lovely island as long as you don't mind hills - whichever way you go, it always seems to be uphill!” - Lynne & Martyn
And that goes for when you’re road tripping around the island too:
“Hiring a car and driving up to the mountain tops is an amazing experience. You really feel on top of the world. We booked from a place near our apartment and got a great car for a good rate. By great car, I mean one that has an engine fit for the steep hills, a phone-attachable Sat Nav and a foot operated safety brake.” - Des & Les
Hiring a car is a must (“It kills me that some people go here and don’t hire a car to get around the island and check out all the different landscapes!” - Barney). Without it, you’ll have a harder time reaching quaint old villages like Santana, with its brightly-coloured, thatched-roof houses.
The lava pools in Porto Moniz in the north are an essential stop on your route, too. Perched right on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, the pools formed naturally around 6,000 years ago, and offer a calm and protected area, where you can bob around at your leisure without being swept out to sea. The water stays pretty warm all year round, but it is salty—so maybe don’t travel with anyone who thinks unsolicited dunking is fun.
The island is well-connected by buses, but half the fun here is taking the scenic routes through volcanic rock formations and along the coastal cliff-side roads. And playing a game of rock, paper, scissors to see who is designated driver next time you pass a vineyard on the wine route!
Short trips to Madeira tend to involve focusing on Funchal, though—and that’s nothing to be sorry about. Put it this way: not one of you who got in touch complained about the food scene, with reader Akhil calling it “insane” (we’ll take it that’s a good thing).
Clearly someone who knows their food, Akhil’s top restaurant tip for Funchal is Kampo by Chef Julio Pereira. The kitchen is the focus here, right in the centre of the room, so you’re in for an experience that is as much about the visual show in the kitchen as it is about a treat for your taste buds.
Unsurprisingly, the iconic Monte Toboggan Run got a couple of mentions too. JFC-er Joel summed up the whole event fairly concisely: “There’s also some blokes that push you down a hill in a wicker basket”. We should point out that they only do it upon request!
However, we also received one great piece of advice for anyone keen to find out what it’s like to be at the mercy of the men in white:
“The iconic Madeira Slide—be very careful, as the queues when we were there in November were 3 hours long. We later learned that it was because there were two cruise ships in.” - Jacqui
Sounds like keeping an eye on CruiseMapper is a handy trick for avoiding the cruise crowds while you’re there! It’s also just kinda fun to see who’s sailing on by.
Levadas and toboggan runs aside, we get that anxious fliers might not be ready for the trip. Thankfully, Joel gets it and has some top advice for how to spend your time off:
“You could always stay at home and get some Madeira wine, and that’d probably be as good/better than going. We should all be flying less anyway, so if you’re afraid, maybe you could just reframe that as climate anxiety and people would probably think you’re a really good person, and you’d save some money.”
We can’t argue with that logic. But June (aged 62 ¾) is here with one last-ditch attempt to get us all to Madeira:
“We have just got back from Madeira and had the most fabulous two weeks and one day holiday. The people are so gentle and kind. And the mountains, terrains and botanical gardens are so beautiful…
Is it worth the risk? Definitely so. Madeira has a healing energy, one that I can’t describe, and the reason why people keep going back year in year out. Hence why there are a lot of older clientele who seem oblivious to the hills and mountains when booking their holidays here year in year out!
It was our first time together there and after such a magical holiday it won’t be our last. I trust I can inspire you to go to the magical island of Madeira.”