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Travel Talk

Local hosts share their insights

How to avoid tourist traps and other tips in Madeira from a local

Every country has its many perspectives and paradigms, and one of them is through the local people's eyes.

7 questions with Carolina born and raised Madeiran - Through the eyes of a local!

As someone who was born in Madeira, what do you feel is most special about this place?

I could tell you about the fact that pretty much anywhere you go, there is always a gorgeous view, with the blue of the sky meeting the blue of the sea or the fact that the weather is great all year round. I could tell you about our heart-warming people, unique gastronomy, deep-rooted traditions with parties and fireworks, and festivities, and music… Something is always happening. I could even try to explain this feeling of serenity you get everywhere you go, it feels like life gives you an opportunity to take a deep breath, time slows down, and you can actually enjoy the moment you are in. As if the island itself is wrapped in an atmosphere of peace. Since I cannot pinpoint exactly the one thing that makes Madeira so special, I will say that it is the perfect combination of all the ingredients above, let’s call it the Pearl of the Atlantic cocktail. Better served chilled and with a view. You can also read my earlier blog post on how I see Madeira myself.

What would you put on the must-see list for someone who is visiting Funchal for the first time and got only 3 days?

If you only had 3 days to visit this beautiful island, I would do two things: the first being planning when you are coming back because 3 days clearly isn’t enough time to absorb everything this little piece of paradise has to offer, and the second being finding a way to explore more of the island outside of Funchal. Nonetheless, here’s what I would do with that time available: Day 1- Visit Funchal on foot. Mercado dos Lavradores, every public garden, the pier, the cathedral. Also, go to Monte on the cable car and watch (or ride) the carros de cesto, go to Barreirinha, Santa Maria street and the painted doors, get to know our local craftsmanship and, obviously, our local delicacies. Day 2- take the day to go on a hike or a levada walk and discover the northern part of the island. Day 3- enjoy the pebble-filled beaches or even go whale and dolphin watching on a catamaran for a different perspective of the island, and, if you can, watch the sunset from the sea. It’s just magnificent.

You love photography, what are the 3 locations that you recommend everyone to visit for scenic views?

If I only had to pick 3, I would have to suggest Pico do Arieiro (extra special at sunrise and sunset) for the majestic feeling of being surrounded by the mountains, Ponta do Rosto for the wilder waves crashing at the coast, and Fanal Forest for the foggy, mysterious, enchanted feeling (even without the fog, it still is a magical place). Truth be told, pretty much anywhere you go in Madeira will definitely be deserving of a photo. Or two. Or ten.

One thing other people probably don’t know about the place (city) you live in.

I live in Câmara de Lobos, a fishermen’s village that grew into a city and this place is very well-known for the Cabo Girão viewpoint, the beautiful bay that Winston Churchill painted. However, what many may not know is that this was the birthplace of the most famous Madeiran drink – poncha. What was once the poor's drink of choice (not exactly a choice because they didn’t have much right?) is now a gastronomic star of Câmara de Lobos and even Madeira, where the original recipe consisted only of sugar, lemon and alcohol. One of the discoverers of the island –João Gonçalves Zarco – not only established this wonderful city, but he also chose it to be the place where he lived. If that doesn’t tell you how special a location is, I don’t know what does.

Tourist traps - what is popular only with tourists?

There are two things that for me stand out the most as being tourist traps: buying fruit in Mercado dos Lavradores and bottled poncha. Don’t get me wrong, to anyone going to Funchal, I will always tell them to go visit the market. It is, after all, one of those “can’t-miss” kinds of places where you can let yourself be immersed in its colours, smells and traditions but if I can be completely honest, you probably shouldn’t take anything else other than photos. There are other places nearby where you can get the same (and sometimes even fresher) fruit for far better prices without being pushed into buying something you don’t really want. The other trap is bottled poncha. This drink is supposed to be made fresh in front of you but more often than not, that’s not the case. Even worse than that is when it is bottled. A few friendly pieces of advice: try the real thing outside any city centre, buy a bottle of our own sugar cane Rum, learn the recipe and replicate it at home for your friends and family.

Madeira is known for its spectacular nature - do you prefer hikes or levada walks? Which are your favourite ones?

Uh a tricky one… I actually can’t choose if I prefer hikes or Levadas, I love them both and what they represent: the thrill of the challenge, being in direct contact with nature, getting those breath-taking views and the opportunity to disconnect from the world and clear your mind. Since I can’t choose between hikes and Levadas, I’ll leave my favourites: Vereda do Areeiro – PR1 which connects the two highest peaks in Madeira; Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço - PR8 is the easternmost point of the island and with the possibility of swimming at the end; Levada do Alecrim, an easy walk with a beautiful waterfall at the end where the brave ones can try swimming. If you are feeling especially adventurous, take a little detour from this walk and go to Lagoa do Vento, you won’t regret it, trust me.

Practical tips ahead of arriving in Madeira? What are the 5 essential things travellers should pack?

My number one advice is to get a car. There’s no way around it. Second tip: don’t really trust the weather forecast. Thinking about the essential things to bring, my thoughts go straight to “comfort”, so my recommendations pretty much always circle around that topic. One of the things that make our island so unique is the fact that you can have several seasons during the same day: it could be sunny in one place and, after a few minutes in a car, it’s cloudy, windy, and a bit chilly, so be prepared for the heat but also bring a sweater just in case. So, if I had to choose just 5 essential things, they would be a swimsuit, sunglasses, comfortable shoes, a sweater and a camera (with lots and lots of storage space).

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