On the road: Being vegan in Madeira

Let’s face it, when we think of food from European countries like Portugal, Spain and Italy, veganism isn’t the first thing we think of and because of this we just didn’t know what to expect.  We always pack food in our suitcases to tide us over the first few days; little things like a bag of pasta, a jar of passata, a bag of xylitol (sugar replacement), a bag of oats, a tub of rice milk, maybe a jar of maple syrup, some cacao powder and always a blender! Yes, we take our bullet on the road with us!! At least this way we have dinner and breakfast sorted and that’ll give us time to find a market or a shop the next day and stock up.

So how was Madeira for a vegan?

In a nutshell, limited but not challenging!  Much easier than France, which surprised us given it’s a titchy island in the middle of the Atlantic. I’ll explain why!

Where can I buy xylitol on Madeira?

BioForma

We visited the shop on Machico highstreet but google tells me there are nine in total on the island. You can also order ONLINE from their website. The inside of the shop at Machico is small, dark and crammed full of goodies. I was so surprised by how much they stocked. This was the ONLY place I found maple syrup and xylitol on the island.

Prices were only slightly more expensive than the UK but this is to be expected.

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Bioforma in Machico

 

Are there any Supermarkets which are vegan friendly?

Continente Supermarket

 

 

Each continente has a section called ‘area viva’ which is the health foods section. The continente at Santana had a smaller section than the continente viveiros on the outskirts of Funchal but it was still big enough to shop from. The continente in Machico was the smallest and had the poorest selection that we found.

Prices are in line with the UK here and the choice is very good. We were able to find rice milk, organic oats, whole meal pasta and even sugar free jam!

 

Which restaurants can you recommend?

Every restaurant we went to on the island served at least one vegetarian and one vegan option. Usually this was some sort of soup, sweet potato chunky fries and salad. Sometimes there would be a sandwich but mostly it was rough-cut salad and fries.

Whilst this is limiting and quite boring, you can at least have fresh food. However the restaurants listed below are either exclusively vegetarian or have a specific veggie or vegan menu.

Olives – Funchal

This was our favourite restaurant on the island. The chef lived in the UK for 18 years and the veggie menu is really thoughtful and well considered. Add in the rooftop location and views over the Atlantic and you’ve got a fab restaurant. Plus a few bottles of wine and we were happy as Larry! There is only one vegan selection per menu but at least five veggie selections.

We had great fun playing with these face strawers we took with us.

 

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Face straws which we took with us
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The best walnut cheese I have ever tasted!!

Hamburgueria do Bairro – funchal

Five burgers on offer here are veggie and three are vegan! There’s lots of choice and they’re all cooked freshly. The sweet potato french fries are delectable!

This restaurant is out of the centre of Funchal and you can walk back through the parks.

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Delicious and fresh vegan burgers

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Free things to do with kids on Madeira Island

Going on holiday can be expensive enough without adding in the cost of kids’ ‘attractions’ so we’ve compiled a list of things to do on Madeira which are either free or very cheap.

Nothing on this list costs more than about €10.

Click on the photo to link to the blog posts.

hiking

Free
Sao Lourenco. A medium difficulty walk of around 9km but can be made shorter. FREE

 

Free
Pico Aeerio to Pico Ruivo. A challenging walk of 15km which could finish at Achada do Teixera making it considerably easier. FREE
Free
Achada do teixera is a simple walk of 5.5km return. FREE

  

Beaches

Free
Prainhas beach; a small cove with black sand and pebbles. FREE

 

Free
Seixal; A shallow but sandy cove with a swimming complex close by.

History

Free
A trip to Blandy’s wine lodge to learn how wine is made. €4 for adults, free for kids.
Free
Faial forte gives exceptional views over the Atlantic. FREE
Free
Farol lighthouse is a short visit of 15 minutes near Sao Jorge ruins. FREE

 

Free
Funchal’s old town is bright and lively. See how many painted doors you can spot! FREE
Free
At the Sao Jorge ruins there’s a beach, a natural pool, the ruins and even a few hikes. FREE
Free
Learn all about water wheels. DONATION

gardens

Free
The botanical gardens are not as good as the tropical palace gardens but they’re cheap and kids can still have fun. €10 per family

 

 

 

 

 

Free
Monte Palace Tropical Gardens is an exceptional space for kids to explore. Kids are free but adults pay.
free
Explore the park and forest at Queimadas. FREE

coastline

Free
Porto Moniz natural pools. FREE

villages

free
Spend an afternoon in Machico exploring the town and beach. FREE
Free
Camara do Lobos is a small fishing village with bright boats and a short cliff walk. FREE
free
Explore the village of Santana and its Palheiros houses. FREE

skywalk

free
Cabo Girao is Europe’s highest cliff face skywalk. Get there early though to avoid the masses. FREE

Cable cars

Free
The cable car at Santana isn’t free but it’s very cheap. You can explore the beach below and even hike back up. €5

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VIDEO: Hike – Achada Do Teixera to Pico Ruivo. Madeira

Rather than take photos the kids and I decided to video our hike from Achada do Teixera to Pico Ruivo.

PR 1.2 Teixera to Ruivo

The hike (PR1.2) is really, really easy and especially so in comparison to our 15km hike from Pico Arieiro to Pico Ruivo! The only problem was the wind, the cloud and the visibility.

Silly Us?

As we arrived in the car park, there were other hikers all sat in their cars waiting for the wind to pass. I think we were fairly sure it wasn’t going to pass until we got higher up (and even then it didn’t) so we decided to brave the winds and walk regardless.

According to LiveTrekker we walked 5.5km in 1hr54.

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Achada do Teixera hike

 

 

 

 

Video

 

 

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Pouring rain & Monte Palace Tropical Gardens

What better activity to do in the pouring rain than visit the exquisite gardens of Monte!?

I had these gardens on my list for 3 weeks prior to visiting them and I was so excited, regardless of the terrible weather, that we didn’t postpone the trip.

With a history dating back to the 18th century, 70 thousand square metres of gardens and over 100,000 varieties of plants, I knew we were in for a treat.  We love exploring parks and we always have fun but here was different, we had a LOT of fun.

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The entrance into Monte Gardens

Finding the gardens & parking

Like everywhere in Madeira, the signposts for the gardens are poor. Basically, you’ll need to follow the signs for either the Botanical Gardens or the Teleferico Cable Cars and THEN, once you’re past the botanical gardens, you’ll find the Monte Gardens.

Parking is in a small car park about 100m down the steep road. It is a bit of a trek back up to the gardens but parking is free. I think there might be disabled parking closure but I am not sure.

Entrance fee

All children are free to enter and adults are €12.50. Umbrellas can be purchased for €5.

The gardens only accept CASH. Even the cafe is CASH ONLY.  This was a bit of a problem for us as we only had a €20 note and I’d maybe promised the kids a drink in the cafe. Woops.

wonderful service

Despite only accepting cash, the woman on the desk provided us with a smile and a wonderful service. She gave us two maps which were wonderfully detailed and gave us general directions.

This was such a difference in comparison to our trip to the botanical gardens.

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Exploring Monte Gardens in the rain

History

In the 18th century the land was owned by a wealthy Brit called Murray who transformed it into an estate called “Quinta do Prazer” (The Pleasure Estate). Sold to a Spaniard in 1897, he built a French inspired palace in the middle which was later converted into a hotel and named “Monte Palace Hotel”.

The hotel was closed pre WWII and was taken over by a financial instituion, the “Caixa Económia do Funchal”.

Re-sold again in the 1980’s the gardens were donated to a self-started foundation and the “Monte Palace Tropical Gardens” were originated and opened in 1991.

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Monte Gardens

The monte palace museum

A museum has been built on the north part of the garden consisting of 3 floors, one for the exhibition, “Mother Nature’s Secrets”, displaying minerals and semi-precious stones and the other two are home to a collection of contemporary Zimbabwe stone sculptures entitled “African Passion”.

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The Monte Garden Museum from the outside

The stones

The semi precious stones were a particular delight for our son who loves geology.  The signs were easy enough for him to read and although you’re not supposed to touch the stones, you can get very close to them.

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The precious stones in Monte Museum
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Quartz

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Rhodesian Beauties

Back in the 1960’s in a town in northern Zimbabwe, stone sculpturing became popular.  It has since dominated the town of Tengenenge which is now home to artists and sculptures from around the world.

The stone sculptures here occupy an enormous room and there are literally hundreds of statues varying in shapes and sizes.

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Stone sculptures
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Stone sculptures from Zimbabwe
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Monte Garden’s stone sculpture display

The tile collection

Walking through the garden, you can see collections of ceramic tiles (dating from 15th – 20th centuries), a panel of 166 terracotta glazed tiles entitled “The adventures of the Portuguese in Japan” and a group of 40 panels portraying the History of Portugal.

These tiles are still really popular in Madeira and still made. You can frequently see collages of tiles, usually portraying religious themes, outside people’s houses.

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Monte tile displays
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More collections of tiles
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Tile area near the lake

The entrance to the oriental gardens

The gardens are wonderful but it was here in the oriental gardens that we really had the most fun!  There is so much to see and do.

At the entrance to the Oriental garden there are two marble Fo dogs, mythical animals from the Orient usually found at the entrance to temples, acting as guards. There is a moveable ball in their half-open mouths which, according to the Chinese belief, brings good luck to those who give it one complete turn.

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Walking over the bridges to the entrance into the oriental gardens
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The oriental garden entrance at Monte.
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The entrance.

The oriental gardens

The oriental gardens are stunning and they seem to never end – which is a good thing!  It was here we spent the longest time.

Despite the terrible weather, the greens of the fern plants and the reds of the buildings and railings contrasted wonderfully and each area seemed to lead to a better area!

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The oriental gardens at Monte, overlooked by the palace.
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Oriental gardens and ponds
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Oriental gardens

There are shaded areas where you’re encouraged to sit and take in the tranquility, as well as areas where you’re encouraged to jump and explore.

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Statues in a seated area.
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The seated area.
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Walking over bridges

looking for fish

The oriental garden has a number of pools full of fish. I am guessing from their size they are Koi Carpe. You can walk over on bridges and even look through viewing glass to spot them.

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Looking for fish in the oriental garden
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Koi carpe

 

archways & cobbled pathways

There are lots of little areas to discover and explore. All of the pathways are cobbled and in some instances steep.

Walking with a pushchair would be relatively easy but there would be some limitations if had a wheelchair. Mobility issues would be challenging here but not impossible. There are many areas to sit and recharge the batteries!

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Archways along the path
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More archways and steep cobbled pathways
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Taking a break whilst walking through sections of trees.

The palace

The palace is centrally located in the park. The hotel, as it was then, was built in 1897. I am not sure if you can enter it although it was closed the day we went.

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Monte Palace
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The front of Monte palace

the lake

The lake is located next to the palace and is frequented by swans of all colours. I didn’t see the black swans from Australia however I did see a white one!

The central lake has a large cascade flowing into it which you can walk up to and straddle. It is fed by sea water.

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Our youngest standing over the cascade
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The swan and the lake with the cascades in the background
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The swan
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The main, sea-water cascade.
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Trying to fish out flowers from the lake
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The lake and palace
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The lake from up above

sea waterfall

The cascade over the lake is fed by this sea water, stepped attraction.

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Sea water feeding the main cascade in the lake
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The lake from above
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The sea water cascade
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Another water levada that feeds the lake
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Sea water cascade

 

palheiros in the corner

There are two palheiros houses in the far corner of the park which lead to spectacular views over the bay of Funchal. The weather we had was terrible and the sea and the rain clouds merge here which doesn’t give a spectacular view lol but it really is a good view over Funchal Bay.

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Palheiro house
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The murky view over Funchal. Because of the weather, the sea and sky murge.

The caves

There are some strange cave type areas which provided us with relative dryness during the rain. One of these has a natural waterfall in it and some bells. The others house various crosses.

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A cave in the rain

monte garden flowers

Even though it was winter the park is a show of exotic colours and flowers.  Apparently there are a few thousand species of different plants. These are just some that we saw.

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Statues

As we were leaving the park at the top end, we seemed to emerge across another oriental section with statues, ponds, stepping stones and fountains.

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Monte statues

Stepping stones

Maybe we had re-entered the oriental garden unknowingly as this was an welcomed surprise to the end of our visit.

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The girls jumping over the stones
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Entering another section of the garden
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Another bridge
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Our eldest stepping over the final pond

just as we left

Just as we decided to leave, the clouds and rain passed and the blue skies returned. This is the garden bed which is opposite the main gardens.

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Monte Gardens

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