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Exploring Madeira with Kids

by Barbara Rogers

Jan 20, 2019

© Stillman Rogers

Age Specific / Kids

After your family has ridden the cable cars, taken a whale-watching cruise and enjoyed all the other kid-friendly pleasures of Madeira’s capital of Funchal, you’ll want to explore the rest of this beautiful island. Lots of adventures await, wherever you choose as a base.


Replica of the Columbus ship Santa Maria, Funchal harbor © Stillman Rogers

Replica of the Columbus ship Santa Maria, Funchal harbor © Stillman Rogers


We especially like two places that cater well to families. In Calheta, about 45 minutes west of Funchal on the south coast, Calheta Beach Savoy is especially designed for families, with all-inclusive ease that assures there will be no surprises at check-out. The hotel sits right on the shore and although it has its own protected beach (the open ocean is quite rough here), the outdoor and indoor swimming pools and the palm-fringed terrace provide plenty of play space and water fun for kids while parents absorb the sun in lounge chairs.


Folk dancing at the Savoy Calheta Beach Hotel, Madeira © Stillman Rogers

Folk dancing at the Savoy Calheta Beach Hotel, Madeira © Stillman Rogers

All meals are included and unlimited; you can have breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner and all-day snacks. Dinner is an expansive buffet of hot and cold dishes, served in an informal, genial atmosphere that puts kids and parents at ease. Foods range from old favorites any kid will recognize to a selection of local specialties parents will want to sample. Be sure to try the local dish of espada (a mild white fish) prepared with banana in a passion fruit sauce. An entire section is designed for those who do not eat meat and the choice of desserts is truly staggering, with multiple flavors of ice cream and sorbets, chocolate mousse (a Portuguese specialty), fresh tropical fruits and several cakes (maybe best to steer the children away from this array until later in the meal).


Along with the outdoor play areas, Calheta Beach Savoy has a large indoor playroom and each evening has entertainment that usually includes local folklore dancing and music. Guests of all ages are invited to join in the dancing and singing. The hotel is adjacent to the marina, where boats can take families on fishing, whale-watching and other aquatic excursions.


North Coast, Santana, Quinta do Furão in Madeira, Portugal © Stillman Rogers

North Coast, Santana, Quinta do Furão in Madeira, Portugal © Stillman Rogers

On the steep, rocky northwest coast, above the town of Santana, is a smaller luxury resort perfect for families that want to enjoy some of the island’s outdoor adventures. Quinta do Furão is a boutique hotel sitting above the sea amid a dramatic landscape. Upper-floor rooms are especially designed for families, and one junior suite has a corner view that takes in both the sea and Madeira’s tallest mountains. Or you can choose a traditional Santana-style cottage, built in an A-frame shape with a thatched roof. There is a heated indoor/outdoor pool, a fitness room with a sauna and ample space to relax and enjoy the scenery.


The restaurant is a memorable experience, using locally produced ingredients and the island’s abundance of fresh seafood in updated versions of traditional Madeiran dishes. Much of the property is planted in gardens of herbs and vegetables, along with vineyards; in the fall when the grapes are pressed, Quinta do Furão has a wine festival.


At any time of year you can begin one of Madeira’s famous levada walks from here. The levadas are channels that run along the steep mountainsides, carrying water from the high cloud forests to the towns below. This 400-mile system was constructed beginning in the 1400s, and walking the narrow paths alongside these has become the No. 1 adventure on Madeira. The levadas and the landscape they traverse have been named a UNESCO World Heritage site.


Another way to explore the mountains — and a thrilling excursion for the whole family — is to reserve a jeep tour with Mountain Expedition. Ask for Angello, who will tailor your trip to your family’s interests. Along with taking you to some of the best viewpoints for this dramatic landscape, the tour can include guided levada walks.


SATA and TAP Air Portugal both fly to Madeira, connecting through the Azores or Lisbon.


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