Sitting on Madeira’s sunny south coast overlooking the Atlantic, Funchal’s terracotta-roofed houses spread up over the lower slopes of a mountain range.
Nicknamed the Floating Garden of the Atlantic, palm trees line the roads, green spaces are awash with vibrant hues, while the rocky coastline is fringed with ever-flowering bougainvillea and poinsettia.
Throw in a favourable year-round climate (temperatures rarely dip below 18c) and you can see why more than a million tourists visit each year.
Majestic: An aerial view of Funchal, Madeira’s capital city, from a cable car
Where to stay
Se Boutique Hotel
A two-minute walk from the cathedral, this blue-fronted hotel in the centre of Funchal offers 54 sober-coloured, contemporary rooms juxtaposing the lobby’s eclectic style with its Venetian chandelier, old-fashioned radiogram and mini-bar made from a converted wardrobe. Make sure you pop up to the quirky terrace bar (which serves drinks from 4pm to 11pm) to admire the panoramic views. B&B doubles from £76 (seboutiquehotel.com).
Hotel do Carmo
This city centre hotel has a rooftop pool and bar with superb 360-degree views. Inside, it’s like returning to the Sixties, thanks to huge images of icons from the decade — including Paul Newman and Andy Warhol — adorning bedroom walls. The theme continues with the monochromatic colour scheme and collection of vintage tills, radios and other items scattered around the hotel. All 80 bedrooms are smart and 49 have balconies (these cost £8.85 extra for limited views). B&B doubles from £53 (hoteldocarmomadeira.com).
Santa Maria Hostel
Don’t be deterred by the word hostel. Yes, there are dorms and twin rooms with shared bathrooms, but this former school in the heart of the Old Town also has two tastefully decorated private suites with TVs, king-size beds and stand-alone bath tubs. Friendly staff greet you in the ruby red-walled reception. B&B twin rooms from £35; suites from £53; breakfast included (santamariafunchal.com).
Three aparthotels in one are found in this complex, within easy walking distance of the town and promenade. For the best views, choose Hotel Mimosa, its 99 studio apartments were redecorated this year. Although only three-star, this 50-year-old family-run complex scores highly for its tennis court, swimming pools, restaurants and evening entertainment. B&B doubles from £45 (dorisol.com).
What to see and do
Fancy a hike?
The levada trails are popular. These 16th-century irrigation channels criss-cross the island, through ancient laurel forests, under waterfalls and around mountains. Go on a guided walk with Adventure Kingdom (£32, madeira-adventure-kingdom.com). A walk not to be missed is along Ponta de Sao Lourenco, the jagged peninsula marking Madeira’s easternmost point. To reach it, hire a car (from £36, drivingmadeira.com).
Explore the Old Town
Stroll the Old Town’s streets edged by galleries, boutiques, cafes and restaurants
Stroll the Old Town’s streets edged by galleries, boutiques, cafes and restaurants. Don’t miss Rua de Santa Maria. Here, about 200 doorways have been rejuvenated with vivid paintings, transforming the street into a permanent art gallery. Stop at Tapas do Anibal for a tuna sandwich (£2.22) and glass of wine (£1.78).
Pack a picnic
Funchal has myriad parks brimming with beautiful flowers and plants. Grab picnic food at a supermarket or bakery and relax in Santa Catarina Park. From here you can admire Funchal Bay and enjoy a refreshing homemade lemonade (£2.90) from the cafe overlooking the harbour.
The museums cover everything from electricity to embroidery. Footie fans will enjoy CR7, Cristiano Ronaldo’s museum housing more than 150 trophies, plus balls, shirts and other memorabilia (museucr7.com). Try to fit in a visit to Madeira Story Centre, which charts the island’s history (madeirastorycentre.com).
Hop on the ferry (£43 return, portosantoline.pt) and spend the day on sister island Porto Santo, with its six-mile sandy beach. The crossing takes two hours, but you’ll be awestruck at Madeira’s towering landscape from the sea.
Admire the black-and-white mosaic pavements along the marina towards the eastern side of the seafront. Head to the bustling Workers’ Market, where a profusion of fruit, veg, flowers and fish produces a feast of colour and aroma.
Jump in a basket
Palace Tropical Gardens displays tropical plants from around the world
Take a cable car (£9.76 one way) to Monte, a hilltop suburb of Funchal, and visit the Palace Tropical Gardens (£11), which displays tropical plants from around the world. When you’re finished, take Madeira’s famous toboggan ride back down again. Introduced in the 19th century to transport goods down the three-mile hill, wicker toboggans now whizz tourists back towards Funchal (£26.60 for two people). Not for the faint-hearted.
Where to eat
Riso, Risottoria del Mundo
With its cliff-top canopied terrace overlooking the ocean, Riso specialises in rice dishes from around the world — even for dessert. Fine food is complemented by the sight and sound of the ocean crashing against rocks below. Try beetroot risotto with goat’s cheese au gratin (£11.98) followed by delicious black Thai rice with coconut milk and mango (£4.80). Address: Rua de Santa Maria 274, riso-fx.com.
Cafe do Museu
Pick a table outside in the cobbled courtyard and watch the world go by at this cafe situated at the Sacred Art Museum, across the square from City Hall. A popular pitstop frequented by locals, try chestnut soup with chives and sunflower seeds (£3.19) followed by an espresso (67p).
For something heartier, choose the lunchtime special (available from 12pm to 3pm): a main dish, drink (including wine or beer) and coffee for £7.97. The black scabbard fillet with potatoes, vegetables and passion fruit sauce is popular. Address: Praca do Municipio 85.
Don’t be put off by the fact it’s located next to a busy roundabout by the harbour, it’s not every day you get the chance to dine in a cave. Relax outside and watch the goings-on, or sit inside underneath the chandeliers and stalactite decor.
This natural cave beneath Santa Catarina Park reopened this year after three decades. Try a steak sandwich (£4.25) or the tomato and onion soup with poached egg (£3.99). Address: Avenida Sa Carneiro.
Esplanada O Verdinho
Stroll along the promenade and stop at this harbourside open-air cafe (open until 1am). Sample traditional honey cake (£1.73) with a glass of Madeira wine (£2.88) while watching boats coming and going. Address: Avenida do Mar e das Comunidades Madeirenses.
Easyjet has returns from £37.98 (easyjet.com). The Funchal Aerobus to the city centre costs £4.45 one way or £7.11 return and takes around 30 minutes. For more information, go to visitmadeira.pt.