The plane breaks through the cloud layer with a last right turn and reveals the sight of an island, which reminds me immediately of the Hawaii an Islands with its green rocky slopes. But we are not so far away from home and dive into a region that is so completely different from what you would expect not far from the Canary Islands with its blossoming flowers, the high terraces of banana trees and the black volcanic beaches. Madeira convinces already at the first sight and is best explored with your own rental car.
The health and safety check at the airport is, despite the tense situation, surprisingly smooth and after a good 30 minutes I am already on the road to my favorite place called Estalagem Ponta do Sol.
This place is more than just a design hotel, as it floats above the historic harbor basin of Ponta do Sol and offers spectacular sea and valley views. At night you hear the sound of the waves, during the day you reach the invisible limits of the infinity pool and in the evening, you enjoy a first-class menu in the restaurant and dine under palm and banana trees.
Already the arrival is a little adventure, as in Madeira, the streets are narrow and hilly, so that the semi-automatic of my Fiat 500 has to struggle properly before I stand in front of the futuristic elevator that connects the town with the hotel.
4 floors later, you find yourself in a world of modern design, grouped around the historic main building, which is always artistically accentuated by pictures and furniture.
The rooms are kept in plain white and offer, due to the almost 4-meter-high ceilings, a breathtaking view of the sea, which makes getting up a real pleasure.
But of course, the island has a lot of scenic and cultural things to offer, so that my first station is the Museo de Arte Contemporanea de Madeira, that looks like a villa of a James Bond movie.
The building is clearly the star, although the small exhibition is well worth a visit and presents modern exhibits by local artists. The journey continues through thick clouds to the highlands of Madeira called Paul da Serra, where you have to share the road with wild cows running around. You will quickly learn the first lesson about the Madeira weather, which is that the island has very different climates and sunshine on the coast does not allow any conclusions about the weather in the mountains. However, once you have crossed the pass, the road winds in serpentines towards the sun and you land in front of the natural swimming pools of Porto Moniz, which are regularly fed with fresh seawater by the tides.
There is the free version at Restaurante Cachalote or the 1,50 € deluxe version a few hundred meters north, which seems to be much more popular. When the tide starts to rise, the hot spot is clearly the outer edge directly on the ocean, which regularly sends its waves over and puts the young audience in a jubilant mood.
By the way, only a few kilometers south of Porto Moniz is the spectacular rock formation Ilheus da Janela, which can be observed and photographed from a small stone beach.
But let’s now turn our attention to the absolute highlight of a visit to Madeira, which easily makes it into any best-of list of the most beautiful hikes in Europe. I am talking about the infamous mountain tour from Pico do Arieiro to the summit of Pico Ruivo, the highest mountain on the island at 1,862 meters.
What have I read on the internet about this hike. It is said to be extremely strenuous, lasting 7-8 hours and ranging from stormy winds to rain clouds, the hiker is confronted with everything that can take him away from the fun of the summit. Nobody had written that it would be a heat battle in the end, but the sky presents itself on this beautiful autumn day without a single cloud and only a few hikers have found their way to the parking lot of Pico do Arieiro.
Already from the summit platform one gets a first impression of the rugged summit world, which once again reminds me of the Waimea Canyon of Kauai. Just below the summit plateau, the starting signal for the 13-kilometer-long hiking spectacle begins, which overcomes a total of 1,200 meters in altitude via numerous stairs, ladders and tunnels.
The start is an entry point that quickly becomes addictive, as the descent is steady and the rock formations are truly breathtaking. The path is super narrow in parts and reminds me of the climb to the Angels Landing in Utah, with the difference that both steep sides are well secured with ropes. In general, the trail is wonderfully laid out and easy to walk if you are in good shape. Every now and then you walk through the middle of the mountain with the help of a tunnel to meet new rock formations at the other end.
Just before the summit of Pico Ruivo, a mountain hut provides the hard-working hikers with drinks and snacks before reaching the summit plateau and enjoying a 360-degree panoramic view. Supposedly, you can take an alternative route and then get a cab to bring you back to the starting point, but considering the weather and unique trail, this is out of the question for me today, especially since it took me just 1 hour and 50 minutes with photo stops for the way there.
But the way back should bring me to the limits of my physical fitness, because after about 1/3 of the way it goes primarily in one direction, uphill. Step by step I fight my way back to Pico do Arieiro, where an ice-cold beer is waiting for me and after 4.5 hours I declare this unique hike to be over. Even though I hardly want to part from the natural scenery, the prospect of the refreshing hotel pool is definitely worth the return trip.
Madeira in September is an absolute dream for nature lovers and the Estalagem Ponta do Sol is the perfect place to explore the island with all its beauty. At the end of my visit, I sit one last time at my favorite place on the balcony of the hotel restaurant and enjoy a good glass of red wine and an excellent three-course menu.
I cheer to the setting sun and think to myself: What a day, what a hike, what a great place to spend the night. See you again!
This article was written at the invitation of the Hotel Estalagem Ponta do Sol in Madeira.