This year we went a tad rogue for our annual girls holiday. The island of Madeira, not necessarily your typical destination, but it was an absolute gem of a spot.
Probably most peoples idea of the island that it tends to be for an older market or a stop off on the way whilst on a cruise. We had booked in for a long weekend and that was the perfect amount of time to explore the island as well as having things to return to do in the future.
I had managed to find a great Airbnb in the centre of Funchal the capital of the island, within walking distance of most of the main attractions and importantly foodie highlights.
Dumping our bags at the apartment, we headed out to explore, within 10 mins we came across the food market (convenient or what?) An array of colours, smells and sights from fresh fish stalls, overflowing herbs and spices and bounty of locally grown vegetables and fruits. With the soil being rich volcanic and the temperatures on the island the fruit is especially amazing including a vast range of passionfruits that I never knew even existed like the tomato passionfruit or finger lime passionfruit. Some of the stalls will treat you to a taster of the fruit you’ve never seen, however, we bought a passionfruit each and it was some of the most expensive fruit/food I’ve ever bought so we may have been a bit conned for being a tourist. I enjoyed eating it regardless.
The street right next to the market is lined with restaurants as well as the doors having been decorated with various graffiti styles. Which coming from Bristol made me feel very much at home. I liked strolling around there for a restaurant to pick for the evening, some were a bit hit or miss but we stopped at a fish restaurant that freshly grilled a red scorpionfish which was sold to us that tasted like lobster, which when dipped into melted butter, that it did.
You really shouldn’t miss the chance to eat as many pastel de nada (custard tarts) as you can humanly do whilst your visits. I know I did. If you can time it just right, you want them fresh from the bakery not hot or chilled cold but slightly warm to get the full pleasure from that little tart.
For our second night dinner, my friend had planned a food and drink tour of the island with Up the Mountain Tours. You know I love a good food tour and luckily so does my friends. We were fortunate that it was the three of us and the tour guide, the friendly Nicolau. He took us to areas of the island that without a car we wouldn’t have managed to get to. We stopped at various bars to see the tapas like bar snacks paired with certain island special drinks.
Apologies, I’m bad food blogger I didn’t get a lot of the names of the places we went to, but that means you need to book onto the tour yourself.
First stop, with a bottle of the locally brewed beer, Coral, we had a plate of the tomato braised tripe (beyond tender although still not for the squeamish) and an onion tortilla. Back on the bus to head to our next stop.
Ronaldo’s local bar in the part of the island where we grew up (funnily he was playing that evening with the whole island tuned in to watch him), the walls were adorned with pictures of the football star with his fans, whilst we enjoyed the next dishes. Fried black scarab fish with potatoes and fried octopus with a glass of their part beer part wine cocktail. Refreshing with the fried fish.
Castrinhos was next and I know this because I took a picture of the outside! One of our favourites on the tour. Fresh poncho, a drink that is made up of crushed lemon peel, sugar cane rum, lemon juice and a touch of sugar. Being an island Maderia was historically used for sailors to stock up on supplies before heading off to the New World. With the citrus fruit consummation, the sailors were more resistant to scurvy than the British sailor who didn’t have a huge about of access to vitamin C rich food. Nowadays, used to cure a cold or a dangerously refreshing drink that goes down far too well with bar snacks. A bowl of monkey nuts, Lupin beans (similar to a flat chickpea) and the most ridiculously good tomato macaroni pasta dish that we hoovered up, whilst we perched on the edge of a banana grove. Idyllic.
But these were the warm-ups to the main course. La Parreira is up into the mountain and vineyards and I think I fell in love. A greengrocer full of the islands wonderful produce next to a butcher. You select what salad you want, then the cut of meat or sausages or offal to be skewered. Pay next door at the bar, then cross the road to take a seat in the restaurant. This is where your meat is beautifully cooked in BBQ pit to perfection, the skewers are then hung from a metal grid on the ceiling down to your table for you to pull off the skewers. We had an avocado salad (ours have no flavour in the UK, fact), garlic bread which is made from sweet potato from Africa (and sold by street vendors), BBQ cheese (similar to halloumi), homemade sausages, BBQ liver and some of the best beef I’ve had the privilege to eat. Slightly fatty but that charred and crisped to be a thing of meaty beauty. We placed the garlic bread under the beef for all the meaty juices to soak in to take it even further to the next level of deliciousness.
The fireworks festival was in full swing and companies around the world were competing to win the chance to do the display for New Year’s Eve. Nicolau, found us a spot with the locals to watch the display. A great evening and with full stomachs, we rolled our way to bed.
We took a walk to one of the volcanic pebbled beaches, further along from the marina. You need to walk through a tunnel cut into the cliffs, where you’ll come out to a lido built into the ocean. The snack bar for the lido serves a great plate of prawns from the seafood restaurant next door with plenty of rock salt on top. The restaurant next door is renown for their seafood and well worth the walk along the beautiful coastline.
Back into the city centre is Uaucacau, a chocolate shop serving up some serious hot chocolate (which in 28 degree heat is interesting but not to be missed) and filled chocolates with flavours from the island such as tomato passion fruit, honey made from sugarcane, African cherries, mango and passionfruit. I, of course, got a selection of chocolates to bring home for my edible souvenirs.
I was pleasantly surprised with the island, that there was so much to see and explore as well as being chilled when we needed just to look at something pretty and unwind. Go on then, book your plane tickets now.