House sitter in Madeira – Grand Tour

26 Oct, 2023

House sitter in Madeira – Grand Tour

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The opportunity to visit Madeira took my breath away. As a visitor and house sitter in Madeira I was sort of used to landing in new locations and relishing new and unexpected experiences. And when you are invited by a friend to visit a new home in a new country on a lush historic island it can offer up some remarkable surprises.

This adventure certainly did that. Let me share with you some of the delights of this beautiful island. We have homeowners on the island and you too could be a house sitter on Madeira. So look out for these wonderful opportunities.

My blog will mainly focus on the all the activities that were available to us on the island, and not really about me housesitting in Madeira. It is offered to you as a photo essay as the observations of a visitor to Madeira.

birds of paradise flower in the botanical gardens of Funchal
There is nothing as exotic as the Birds of Paradise flower – The Botanical Gardens in Funchal was covered in them

My adventures – House sitter in Madeira

I wasn’t quite sure what to imagine when I visited the island of Madeira. As a regular housesitter over the last 10+ years I have been to many new locations. However, this small island wasn’t quite what I imagined, in fact it packed a punch and took me completely by surprise.

a colourful display of tropical fruit and chillies on a market stall
Funchal market was packed with colourful market stalls displaying all manner of tropical fruit and chillies

What exactly took me by surprise is hard to pin down because I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew it was exotic, had a mild climate and was affiliated to Portugal. Certainly the wonderful adventures we had were totally thanks to the guidance of our friend and host.

Any housesitting homeowners out there reading this blog, take note. A few well made suggestions will go a long way to entertaining your visitors.

a housesitter in Madeira feeds the birds
We discovered some friendly birds on a hill walk in the South of the Island

Where is Madeira?

Madeira is a Portuguese island in the Atlantic Ocean North of the Canary Islands.  It is four hour flight from London Gatwick and in fact it is near the coast of Morocco than Europe. Because Madeira is in Portugal, it operates in the same time zone as the UK which meant that my work schedule was uninterrupted.

Not only was this house sitter in Madeira planning on being a tourist, as with all my housesitting trips since I launched HouseSit Match, it is always a working holiday housesit. So time zones matter for me just like any other digital nomad.

Madeira is a volcanic island, near the smaller islands of Porto Santo, Desertas and the archipelago of the Savage Islands. Half the population of the whole region lives in Madeira’s capital city of Funchal on the South coast of the island.

view over the port in Funchal Madeira at dusk
A view over Funchal Port in Madeira from the Silva Restaurant Tower

As warm a welcome as you could hope anywhere

The first tell tale sign that I was visiting somewhere very unlike Northern Europe where I live, is the trade winds that greeted me as I stepped off the plane in Funchal airport. The warm breeze was as welcoming as any friend greeting us when we hit the tarmac.

As a house sitter in Madeira arriving somewhere unknown a warm welcome makes a wonderful welcome. And of course we were met by my friend who made absolutely the best tour guide possible. Not only had she just moved to the island but as usual she brimmed with enthusiasm.

The climate in Madeira

Vineyard on the slopes of a Madeiran hillside
Vineyard on the slopes of a mountainous hillside on the Northern coast of Madeira, near Sao Vicente

The weather in Madeira I learned is fairly clement all year round. Certainly our visit in September staying in the North of the island between Sao Vicente and Ponta Delgada gave us a fairly narrow range of temperatures.

As a house sitter in Madeira you will likely experience clement weather spanning mild to warm temperatures all year round. While the scenery across the island can be dramatic and mountainous and there are different bioclimates there are distinct differences between North and South.

Lush landscapes around most of the island

The lush landscapes grow tropical fruit year round, from bananas, sugar cane, passion fruit, dragon fruit and other exotic delectable fruit.

We visited a hill top vineyard with amazing views and an outdoor barbeque with meat cooked on Bay twig skewers that add so much flavour, and off set the wines, like nothing else I had ever tasted. The Bay twigs BBQ skewers are a local delicacy and well worth trying.

The Quinta do Barbusano offers a wonderful half day tour of the vineyards with a meal if you want to accompany the wines and the spectacular view. Worth a visit.

breath-taking mountainous view of Madreiran landscape
Wherever we drove from the North of the island where we were staying to the South we were surrounded by stunning and breath-taking views

A little wine history of the island

It is no surprise to anyone who enjoys the odd glass of wine that Madeira has as history of viniculture and is famous for its fortified wines. But did you know that it grows a variety of wines not simply the sweet fortified wine that has made it famous around the world since the 17th Century!

history poster showing the discover of the island of Madeira in 1418
The museum at Blandy’s wine merchants is definitely worth a visit

The island was in fact discovered in 1418, I learned from a tour of Blandy’s museum in Funchal. The history of Madeiran wine and the island are entwined. With the sweet wine first coming into its own when ships heading to the New world or East Indies would stop on Madeira as a port of call for supplies.

To prevent the wine from spoiling, neutral grape spirits were added to the barrels. On the long sea voyages, the wines could be exposed to excessive heat and movement converted the flavour to a sweet wine.

The wine producers of Madeira discovered the change when an unsold shipment of wine returned to the islands after a round trip and was declared better on return than on despatch!

Wine tasting is a must!

Of course a wine tasting was de rigueur for this house sitter in Madeira or a normal tourist. After a fascinating tour of the old Blandy’s merchant warehouse and museum telling us all about the origins of the wine, how could we resist.

Blandy’s is a 200 year old family owned wine merchants, and not the oldest brand by any means.

Barrels of Madeira wine aging in Blandy's warehouse in Funchal
Of course if you do the wine tasting don’t stop at the wine, you have to try their spiced chocolates!

Where we were staying in Madeira

As a house sitter in Madeira I would likely have pets or a garden to care for. However, during this visit I was able to be a tourist and visit with my friend. Of course there was some cleaning to do, but it is a privilege to clean for someone who has been hosting you as a house sitter.

However, it was good to experience the place and anticipate future housesits on the island. We were staying in a coastal village in the North of the island – well connected by new tunnels through the mountains. Which gave us easy access by car to many parts of the island.

sunrise at Pico Ruivo, the highest peak in Madeira
Sunrise on the highest peak at Pico Ruivo. There were many others from around the world watching with us.

A visit to Funchal in the South of the Island

It almost didn’t matter where we went on the island there were stunning sunsets everywhere. The views from the cities, from the beaches and from the hill tops were all fantastic and so absorbing. It is really heard to pick one to share with you but here goes.

sunset looking out to see through a window
Some of the sunsets were simply breath taking

We experienced so many stunning views from this wonderful place. To show us around my friend took us to hill top in Funchal where there are cable cars near the Botanical Gardens. The climb in a car offered nose bleed-inducing excitement.

On foot the capillary busting hills seemed a small challenge to a young couple we saw climbing on foot the whole way. However, it did take them a long time to get up there we had parked and toured by the time we saw them turned away at the gate because the gardens were closing.

cable cars at the top of a hill in Funchal Madeira
Plan your tourist trips on foot carefully because it can take a long time to walk up these really steep hills

Some people choose to ride down the hills in a traditional wicker basket sledge, a toboggan for want of a better word; I kid you not!

Funchal a charming city on the sea

While walking around Funchal we were struck with how attractive it appeared to us as visitors. It had attractive architecture, beautiful parks and vegetation all around the city, it was cleaner than most cities I could name in mainland Europe and the UK, and had a sense of its own history.

Apart from impressive buildings, a long esplanade along the sea, it had a beautiful lush vegetation intercepting the streets and public spaces.

Try to visit the Ponta de Sao Lourenco

Any house sitter in Madeira would enjoy walking through the streets of the city, the parks and along the harbour walks. You may enjoy some of the more challenging country hikes on offer. The one we tried was the Ponta Sao Lourenco at the Eastern most point of the island.

the arid coastal landscape of the long hike along Ponta de Sao Lourenco
As a house sitter in Madeira you may get half a day to your self, to hike. Try the Ponta De Sao Lourenco

The headland’s geology consists of pyroclastic rocks as well as basalt dykes and some coasts being eroded. Its terrain are made up of rocks and endemic herbaceous vegetation that is now protected in this nature reserve.

Some of the pyroclastic rocks exposed at Ponta de Sao Lourenco
Since 1982, the headland is a nature reserve managing the conservation of native plants and birds.

The landscape was arid and vastly different to the lush scenery and vegetation we enjoyed in the North of the island. The hike offered stunning views throughout, with rocky outcrops, and some treacherous cliff faces to side step. Believe the guide book when it tells you allow 4 hours, at least!

rock in the shape of a horses head rising from the sea known as sea horse rock
Sear Horse Rock is one of the more famous sign posts along this hike offering dramatic high points to this challenging hike

Then island’s favourite fish

If you prefer fish to fowl or meat, and you have come to the island to sample local fayre, then consider this. The locals are particularly fond of a native fish called the Black Scabbard fish. Honestly, it is remarkably sinister in its appearance, so no photos here.

However, by contrast to the fierce blood curdling appearance the taste is that of a very mild mannered fish.

Local delicacies to sample

Fish
  • Black scabbard fish served with bananas and passion fruit – yup!
  • Limpets
  • Tuna fish is also a local favourite.

Meat

  • BBQ skewered meat cooked on Bay twigs – the twigs give a remarkable flavour.

Fruit

  • Passion fruit – over 10 varieties easily accessible on the island, 50 varieties grown!
  • Bananas – various kinds with some fruit cross breads too
  • Dragon fruit – red and yellow varieties
  • Figs – Black and red
  • Guava
  • Custard Apple (Annona).

Vegetables

  • Avocados
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Yams.

Sweets

  • Honey cake
  • Dried and crystallised fruit
  • Pastel de nata with passion fruit.

Final thoughts from a house sitter in Madeira

Any trip to the island of Madeira offers new adventures in a wonderfully diverse landscape dramatically different from one side of the island to another. if you are offered house sitting opportunities in Madeira my recommendation is that you jump to apply.

There was so much more we could do that we are definitely hoping to go housesitting in Madeira once again. I’ll certainly be looking out for opportunities to be a house sitter on the platform. I’ll be game for any cat dog home sit Madeira. It’s a truly lovely island.

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Further reading about budget travel, housesitting and housesitters

At Housesitmatch.com we like to share useful blogs and practical advice about housesitters, housesitting and pet sitting, whether you want to be a house sitter in Madeira or elsewhere we can help.

We hope you found this travel guide to Madeira. In addition, here is a small selection of our blogs on house sitters and housesitting in Europe useful.

London calling – London house sitting

Cat sitting tourist sees London for free

Budget travel guide Budapest – Top Tips

What a housesitter does – Top 10 responsibilities

Top dogsitting tips for beginners

The Affordable Alternative to Dog Kennels

What is House Sitting?


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LamiaW

LamiaW

Founder and Director of HouseSitMatch - I'm a hands-on Admin on the site. Please ask any questions and as soon as I can I'll happily answer and assist where I can.

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