What makes Madeira the Ideal Winter Sun Getaway?

This increasingly popular Atlantic island just less than four hours' flying time from the UK is a year-round destination blessed with blissfully mild winters and a lively schedule of festivals and events that will help immerse you in its culture, cuisine and daily life. We’ve looked at what you can do there over the winter months.

Hiking, whale-and-dolphin watching and other activities

The scenery is the true star of Madeira, and one of the best ways of discovering it is hiking the famous levadas (water channels following natural contours, bringing rainwater off the hillsides) - temperatures in winter are perfect for getting out walking in the sunshine.

You can also take boat trip out to see dolphins and other marine life – several species can be seen off Madeira throughout the year, including bottlenose dolphins and pilot and sperm whales, thanks to the abundant mackerel, scad and other food in the waters. Options include catamaran sailings with swimming, speedboat tours and sunset sorties.

Other brilliant activities in Madeira include blue-marlin fishing, mountain-biking on world-class trails, kayaking through gorgeous Atlantic waters or SUP paddleboarding along the stunning coastline. You can also ride a cable-car up to Monte and the Botanical Gardens (with the option of coming back down in a wicker toboggan) and visit other spectacular green spaces on this island (which is known as ‘the floating gardens’), including Jardim Orquidea and Boa Vista.

Christmas and New Year's Eve

The festive season is a glorious one to spend in Madeira, with locals going all out to celebrate Christmas and New Year. From early December, the island capital Funchal shimmers with gorgeous illuminations, and there’s a Christmas market with entertainment by folk bands in the run-up to the big day.

Funchal is also the place to head for to see in the New Year, with spectacular firework displays, live music and fantastic food stalls. But that’s not the end of the fun and  festivities: on 5 January, locals gather to celebrate the 12th night after Christmas at Singing of the Kings with its outdoor concerts, street parties, music and delicious food,  while on 15 January the entire island comes together for Santo Amaro, which marks the end of Christmas with a candlelit procession and more music and food.

Local food and drink

On the subject of food, local cuisine is an absolute delight. Based largely on peasant traditions and age-old cooking methods, Madeiran dishes to look out for include bolo do caco (a flat round wheat-flour bread) with garlic butter and parsley, grilled limpets, tomato and onion soup topped with a poached egg, and meat dishes such as espetada (skewered beef rubbed in garlic and salt), carne vinha-d’alhos (pork marinated in garlic, wine vinegar and bay leaves), and picado (beef fried with garlic and red peppers).

Madeira is also famed far and wide for its unique fortified wine as well as its table wines, and visiting some of its wineries can also a highlight of your holiday here. Ask about the Madeira Wine Route, which embraces wine bars, restaurants, hotels, wine shops and producers. They include Pereira d’Oliveira in the centre of Funchal, founded in 1850 and a local institution where you can taste three-, five-, 10- and 15-year-old wines  produced from the Tinta Negra variety.

To book your winter sun holiday in Madeira, with full financial protection, call your Travel Counsellor today.

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