If you haven’t tried Madeira wine yet, let me introduce you to your new best friend. Think gingerbread, toffee and spices and so much more. Actually, it’s not as sweet as you might think as the high acidity offsets the sweetness. As a fortified wine it is just like Port, but will pair with any dessert! It is also indestructible and an open bottle in your cupboard literally lasts forever. At about $40 a bottle this is a worthwhile investment!
This special wine only comes from one place – Madeira, an island belonging to Portugal which happens to be located off the coast of Africa. After studying Madeira wine for my wine exam I was so intrigued so we added it onto a visit to Portugal. It turned out to be one of the highlights! A couple of things to know when planning your visit:
First stop: Blandy’s. If you know anything about Madeira then you’ll probably recognize the name Blandy’s. They offer a great tour at their wine lodge in Funchal and explain the Madeira making (cooking process) the wines go through. It is a good starting point to understand the fascinating history of the wine, and the island. There are other producers in Madeira but this is the only public tour and tasting we found. They do the tour in many languages and several times a day. The gift shop is well worth a stop too.
Botanical garden is like a different world. Take the Teleferico from Funchal to the top. You’ll get a great perspective of how people there live, the steep hillsides and get to the botanical garden at the top. This has a completely different climate so bring a wrap. The garden is beautiful and also includes art exhibitions. It was also a treat to get a complimentary Madeira and ginger cake after our visit!
Restaurant Row: In Funchal you can’t miss restaurant row with dozens of great themed restaurants.
Reid’s for a cocktail: Reid’s Palace, the hotel where Winston Churchill used to stay, is an elegant spot for an afternoon cocktail and petit club sandwiches. We enjoyed snooping around the hotel too. It has a lovely view of the bay from the balcony. Feels like a taste of history with all the old pictures on the walls.
It’s not beachy. If you want the beach then book a hotel that has a pool. This is not Ibiza and there are no beaches to lay out on. This is a volcanic island with dramatic slopes and mountains, with a rocky shore. We stayed at the Hotel Porto Santa Maria in Porto Bay that has a large pool overlooking the bay.
Little Britain: This is a popular British getaway, you’ll find it loaded with British accents and English-style meals – but let’s say it is part of the charm.
Shopping: some of the best prices we found in Europe.
Rent a car: We ran out of time, but if you have the time driving around the island would be an ideal way to spend a day.
A little history:
- Madeira wine was created by accident in the early 16th century when ships were stopping at the island on their way to America. The dry wines did not make the trip so wines were then fortified with brandy. On arrival the wines had evolved in character due to the heat and temperatures at sea – producing the complex and rich taste like the Madeiras of today. They grew such a following and became an industry. Today the wines are intentionally made this way and the voyage conditions are replicated in “wine lodges” in Funchal where the wine is literally “cooked” either by natural heat of the sun or a cooking process.
- Madeira was a very fashionable drink in the 18th Century and an important wine in the history of America. (Including being the toast wine for the Declaration of Independence)
Do you have tips for visiting Madeira? What did you think of the island? Post them below