Well, I was not entirely sure what to make of a potential holiday to Madeira. Admittedly I knew little about it but something about it didnt really inspire me, but Tiffany was dead set. I wasn’t sure if it were the images that I saw, the dangerous looking runway, or just my ignorance but I was not as excited as normal. A good friend of mine did tell me how much he enjoyed his time there, and I trusted his judgement… So Madeira we went.
This is Funchal
In fact it was not until we got to our hotel in Funchal (The Vine, which was absolutely fantastic by the way and highly recommended) that I started to relax a bit and enjoy the fact that I was not at work, or in the UK. The weather was warm even in February and ideal for walking around with a camera. For the first time ever, I was going to be using almost entirely zoom lenses. My kit:
– 2 Sony A7RII’s
– 24-70mm F2.8 GM
– 70-200mm F2.8 GM
– 35mm F2.8 Zeiss
– A Small tripod (that really didn’t cut it)
Smoky chestnut stall
We left the Hotel to have a wander round the City and almost immediately felt at home there. It seemed safe and inviting, the streets were quaint and it had plenty of character. I was a little surprised at this point, as I really didn’t see this when I researched the island back at home. Certainly a top place for a bit of street photography.
After a good sleep in one of the nicest hotels I have ever stayed in, we ventured off up the mountains in the cable car that you can get from the middle of Funchal, near the beach. A bit sketchy, especially when the wind gets up, but we assumed it was safe. Right?
Warm sunset on the cable car, through the window
The cable car conveniently ends just by some really gorgeous gardens. They’re huge and full of features, Tiffany was in her element. If fact I could have just left her there and she wouldn’t have noticed. In fairness the Monte Tropical Gardens with their Oriental theme and huge feature lake were pretty great. I think we went at the wrong time for the botanical gardens…
Bamboo – Gardens
The third day we had planned to start exploring the wonders of Madeira outside its main city. We hired a car (Funchal Cars), who Kindly dropped it off at our hotel, then collected again later that week. The process was super smooth.
Our first day out and about we drove through to Cacinal and then on to the rocky spike known as Sao Lourenco. I had a sudden feeling of Deja Vu… I remembered only starting to really love Iceland once we got away from the city, and Madeira was no different. Suddenly it became peaceful away from the tourists although there were still a fair a few doing the same walk as us.
Hazy bright sun at San Lourenco
Vibrant colours at San Lourenco
The ultra deep blue sea contrasting with the red rock gave it a real Jurassic feel. The views from the peaks are breathtaking too. You can stare out to see for miles and see nothing but water, it makes you realise just how small you are. I definitely suggest this be your first real walk, its a nice one to break yourself in. Long enough to count and not so long that you’re walking home in the dark, and there is a good change of a low sunset on the way back too.
Rays at San Lourenco
Seixal (careful how you say it), was our next stop the day later. This was probably the place I was most excited to see. And it didn’t disappoint. The lush green mountains and valleys that surrounded very tropical looking waters made for a really photogenic place. It was tranquil too, as most of the tourists stay near Funchal for most of their stay it seems, which suits me.
Seixal’s Rough Blue Sea
Seixal is a stunning place and I cannot recommend it enough. Its a definite must if you venture to Madeira. Just south on the way back, there is a winding little road that taken you down to really nice rounded stone beach with some jagged rocks out to sea, which is also worth a look.
Rough and Smooth
My favourite image from the trip
The lavadas are were built a few hundred years ago to carry water from one side of the island to the other and since have been used by many tourists as well as locals as some of the best and most demanding walks that you can find. The levada walks are pretty well know for being a bit sketchy (I wouldnt google this too much) but I assumed it was mostly just hype. All I can say is that both Tiffany and I have some pretty heart in mouth moments… even though most of the walks were accompanied by warm dry weather, because of the sheer amount of water running off the mountains its pretty much always slippery, always damp and always dangerous. When you look an inch to the right of your foot and see a 2,000 feet drop and the guide rail has fallen away, you realise you are not far from fate.
Yeah, its a long way down
The views though… Oh wow. I have honestly never seen such tropical greenery so close to home, so many low clouds floating through the valleys and gaps in the mountains. I started to realise just how diverse and awesome Madeira was. I suggest you take a car and travel up to some of the smaller remote villages and houses and see the real Madeira, like in the image below.
Muted colours and misty hills
Light at the End
I wasn’t coming to Madeira and not standing on its highest peak, Pico de Ruivo. I was not exactly fit at the time and oh my this was not a walk for the feint hearted, several times I questioned what we had gotten ourselves into. 6,000 feet up, carrying a pretty heavy camera bag was no fun… But boy was it worth it. The clouds and bright white sun just washes everything out and give it a kind of heavenly feel, like having no concerns in the world
The view from Pico De Ruivo
6000 feet up – Pico De Ruivo
The walk back – Pico De Ruivo
So. Madeira. I was more than pleasantly surprised. There is an overwhelming sense of freedom here, very much like Iceland I suppose. It’s not crowded, it is maybe even a little undiscovered, but it’s certainly in possession of scenery like no other place this close to home. It keeps itself so lush and green, essentially all year round. This is not to mention the awesome little city of Funchal, that oozes character and keeps its identity throughout.
Probably my second favourite image
Walks are what most people come to Madeira for, and it doesn’t take long to see why. From the moss grown tunnels, to the unparalleled views and sickening heights, these trails keep you firmly on your toes. If you do fear heights, make sure you do your research before heading off on a blind journey, but don’ let it put you off entirely. Lots of the levadas have sections of unprotected, one foot wide pathways that will stop you in your tracks if you get vertigo easily. Thankfully there are several websites and apps that will guide you through them and inform you of what to expect.
Catching the light of the sun
Not a bad view
I highly recommend you plan your walks before you travel, or at least the night before. Check weather and conditions that are also pretty widely reported. But most of all, just go and explore! Its a stunning place.
My choice of gear
I wanted to keep it simple on this trip and changes lenses as little as possible. So two bodies and two zooms from 24-200mm seemed logical, and for the most part it was. I do much prefer primes, but on a walking holiday where space on the trails was at a minimum, I didnt really want to be stopping to change lenses.
Breaking through the clouds
The Sony GM Zooms are pretty big, but they do for the most part get the job done. The only area of slight disappointment from a technical standpoint was the long end of the 24-70mm F2.8 GM, it was poor for a lens with ‘master’ in the name. However I do think it was a bad copy, as the bottom right 20% of the frame showed significant blur. Stopping to F8 helped but didn’t cure. I have some experience with Sony’s pretty questionable quality control, so I will blame that rather than the lens design and I don’t want to start a war about Sony’s QC, albeit a very small war as likely nobody will read this.
If I were to go back I would not take the same setup. Likely I would travel much lighter, make do with a few primes and just deal with the glaring look Tiffany gives me when I have to stop again, to change lenses.
Finally a successful shot using the mini tripod
I had one problem; my tripod. I used the most sturdy tabletop tripod that I could find, but it just didn’t cut it with the 24-70mm GM lens attached. But I should have realised this. Full frame professional zoom lenses and make shift tripods are a mismatch.
So go ahead ad book your trip to Madeira.