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The Portuguese autonomous region and 'garden island' of Madeira lies geographically closer to Africa's coast than Europe's, but is only a 90-minute flight from mainland Portugal. Madeira has largely recovered from the heavy rainfall, flooding and forest fires which struck the island in 2010. Recently rebuilt roads and bridges have once again made this 'pearl of the Atlantic' easy to explore with car rental.
Who to Book With
Madeira Airport, the largest on the island, is situated about 13kms east of Funchal, Madeira's biggest city. The airport's seven-car hire providers range from international chains like Avis and Europcar to independent suppliers such as Rodavante and Auto Jardim. Many more places to hire vehicles are situated within Funchal itself. Compare car hire prices and book in advance to make big savings.
Best Time to go
Madeira's busiest week lasts between Christmas and the beginning of January, when the island rings in the New Year with its End of the Year festival. Advance vehicle and hotel reservations are required during this busy time when visitors can expect to pay higher than average fares. Madeira's least busy and least expensive seasons are winter, late spring, early summer, and late autumn. However, Madeira enjoys mild temperatures throughout the year, so visitors will likely enjoy their stay no matter when they arrive.
Need to Know Essentials
Here are the documents required for claiming car hire:
- A valid International Driving Permit or European Union driving license
- Another photo identification like a passport
- The credit card used to make the initial reservation
- Printed car rental confirmation
ER101 is Madeira's main coastal road, and exit 11 to ER103 is a direct downhill drive to Funchal, the island's largest city. The large car park to the right of the first overpass on ER103 is just minutes on foot to Sé Cathedral. Motorists need to abide by the same driving rules as mainland Portugal and fill up on fuel in Funchal as stations are scarce elsewhere on the island. Rural roads can be winding and steep.
Although Funchal is easily walkable and many different Madeira communities boast their own bus networks, car hire remains the most practical way to travel between island communities and explore rural regions without public transportation. Visitors can also drive aboard car ferries which take about two hours to travel between Madeira and the smaller island of Porto Santo. Small street toboggans with wicker chairs known as 'carros de cesto' are the most unusual way to travel around Funchal.
The island of Madeira has no rail service.
The main bus network in Madeira's largest city is Horarios do Funchal. A standard seven-day bus ticket valid on all routes across Funchal costs about £14.82. Rodoeste is one of the other five bus lines which travel throughout Funchal and the rest of the island. Timetables and details on routes are often unclear on bus schedules. Private tour buses can be cheap, but many also try to promote timeshare apartments during their journeys.
Taxis on Madeira are easy to spot thanks to their distinct bright yellow colour and blue stripes along the sides of vehicles. Most Madeira taxi companies, including Taxi Madeira, are based in Funchal, but will transport passengers throughout the island. Typical fares between Funchal and its airport are about £21 for less than four passengers and £27 for five or six passengers.
Many Madeira visitors may spend most of their time in lively Funchal or take the ferry to Porto Santo's golden beaches. However, a drive along the island's rural coast will reveal many of Madeira's more hidden charms. The sheltered fishing village of Camara de Lobos was Winston Churchill's preferred holiday retreat, while the Gold Road to the northern coastal community of Sao Vicente travels directly through the face of a cliff. The ever-present concrete and stone structures, known as levadas, transport water between the damp north and drier south.
Camara de Lobos - Winston Churchill considered the Madeira community of Camara de Lobos to be his favourite holiday getaway. A sheltered port and towering cliffs protect this picturesque fishing village, Madeira's second most populous community, from the elements. The beach may be rocky, but the harbour provides a relaxing place to stroll.
Curral das Freiras - Motorists must drive through two mountain tunnels along the N107 road leading to the centrally located village of Curral das Freiras and its surrounding extinct volcanoes. A fascinating history filled with Moorish pirates is among the main attractions in this village filled with charming whitewashed houses.
Pico do Arieiro - A 35km drive north of Funchal will lead motorists to the island's third tallest peak, the nearly 18,000m (5,900ft) high Pico do Arieiro and its namesake mountain village. Visitors can either follow the hiking trails or drive to the mountain's summit. Either way, once they reach the top, stunning Penha d'Aguia, Pico Ruivo, and Curral das Freiras views will await them.