Immerse yourself in the festive spirit of Funchal on this specially created solo tour of Madeira. It may be tiny, but this subtropical paradise offers impressive year-round gardens, spectacular coastlines and jagged peaks, while picturesque Funchal boasts an architectural charm and rich maritime heritage to match the island’s natural splendour. Explore ‘the Pearl of the Atlantic’ at Christmas, with its inspirational gardens to the famous Monte toboggan ride and soaring peaks to the hidden Valley of the Nuns.
With fertile volcanic soil, Madeira is a plant-lover’s dream with an enormous diversity of species, from imported purple-blossomed jacaranda trees, orchids and bird of paradise plants to its native Laurisilva forest. So much flourishes here in its mild climate all year round, making it a superb destination even in December.
Not to mention the incredible decorations that adorn this charming Portuguese island, with the bustling traditional Christmas market lining the Avenida Arriaga, with an eclectic backdrop of exotic flowers and festive lights. Our base for this special time of year is the VidaMar Resort Hotel, with fantastic views of the bay of Funchal.
Treat your senses to the superb celebrations; with the sounds of Christmas folklore songs, sights of tropical flowers, scent of roasting chestnuts, and of course a taste of Madeira wine.
Arrive at the airport for your flight to Funchal, where you will be welcomed by your tour manager or a member of the Riviera Travel team.
On arrival, you’ll be transferred to the four-star VidaMar Resort Hotel, surrounded by tropical gardens with panoramic views of Funchal bay. This evening there will be a drinks reception hosted by your tour manager so that you can get to know your travelling companions before moving on to dinner at the hotel.
After breakfast, a local guide takes us on a walking tour of the historic centre of Funchal, often called ‘little Lisbon’ as it overlooks a spectacular harbour and boasts grand 18th-century buildings. Narrow streets wind through its centre, broadening out onto lively squares and tree-lined walkways. Inspiring sights include the Igreja do Colégio, a church with a plain exterior that belies its sumptuous Baroque interior, and the 15th-century Sé cathedral, one of the few buildings dating from colonial times. It is the island’s main religious building and features the original 16th-century altar, imposing arches and ornate gold-framed paintings; its ceiling, made from local wood, is one of Portugal’s most beautiful. Devotees of modern architecture will love the Art Deco Mercado dos Lavradores or farmers’ market, a hive of activity as shoppers fill their baskets with the island’s sun-ripened produce.
A treat is in store as we pause for a tasting of the island’s best-known export – Madeira wine. The styles of this fortified wine range from dry to lusciously sweet. In between is medium Verdelho, the variety the English traditionally serve with the crumbly sponge cake named after the wine. The afternoon is free for you to explore Funchal at your leisure, in all its festive glory.
After breakfast, we visit the Palheiro Gardens, world famous for its variety of flora and its beautiful setting in the hills overlooking Funchal. Palheiro was laid out in the early 19th century by a French landscape architect for the Count of Carvalhal before being acquired in the early 20th century by the Blandy family, famous wine producers. Over the next decades, the gardens were populated with thousands of plants from around the world, from North American sequoia trees to South African Proteas, all flourishing in Madeira’s rich soils and clement weather.
This afternoon a real treat awaits, as we head to enjoy afternoon tea at the iconic Belmond Reid’s Palace, no doubt decked out in sumptuous festive splendour. Set in subtropical gardens that overlook the Atlantic, relax and take a stroll before indulging in sumptuous freshly baked scones, pastries and dainty sandwiches with your choice of tea from the hotel’s selection of 24 varieties, or splash out and treat yourself to a glass of champagne.
In the evening after our group dinner at the hotel you may wish to visit the Mercado dos Lavradores, the Farmers’ Market, where on the 23rd it is traditional for locals to meet in the market and surrounding streets singing Christmas songs, dance and drink in the nearby bars, which are open throughout the night.
Today we explore the eastern seaboard, passing diverse landscapes from craggy coastlines to ancient forests. Ponta do Rosto is Madeira’s easternmost point, on a sliver of land jutting out into the Atlantic, and offers dazzling panoramas. Following the northern coast, we call at sleepy Porto da Cruz, named after a large cross displayed to identify it to passing sailors.
We leave the village and track the coastline towards the mountainous interior and one of the highlights of the tour – the UNESCO-listed Ribeiro Frio National Park. Around 90 per cent of the park is covered by ancient Laurisilva or laurel trees, and the area features many endemic flora and fauna, such as ferns and the trocaz pigeon.
For the Portuguese Christmas Eve is the focal point of festivities and so this evening we will have a six-course gala Christmas dinner at the hotel to celebrate the festive season together in traditional Portuguese fashion.
Christmas Day the world over is a day for doing little but spending it with friends. Make time to take advantage of the hotel’s spa and relaxation facilities and the company of your fellow travellers and soak up the pleasant climate that makes Madeira such a desirable destination. This evening we’ll have dinner together in one of the hotel’s three restaurants.
Near Funchal is the idyllic hilltop town of Monte, which we visit this morning. The town’s landmark is its 18th-century church, the most important pilgrimage site in Madeira, with its black and white facade and twin towers.
We then visit the Monte Palace Tropical Garden, where you can either join our guided tour or wander at leisure. These oriental gardens are exquisite, complete with Asian-style bridges, arches and a pond filled with koi carp; they also house a historic tile collection gathered from Portuguese palaces, churches and private residences. Later we return Funchal, either by coach, cable car for a dramatic 15-minute descent to the capital, or if you’re feeling adventurous, you could take the famous Monte toboggan ride. This afternoon is free to relax or explore.
Today we drive north to Madeira’s dramatic interior and the Curral das Freiras or Valley of the Nuns. To appreciate the solitude of this place, we drive to Eira do Serrado, over 3,500 feet above sea level, part of a natural cauldron of jagged peaks and chasms, with time to soak up the glorious views down to the village of Curral das Freiras. Today it is also known for the sweet chestnuts cultivated on its terraced hillsides. Enjoy sampling these tasty treats – the very essence of Christmas!
We head to Câmara de Lobos, a fishing village built around a bay with some of Europe’s highest cliffs forming a breathtaking backdrop. In the evening we will sit down together for a farewell dinner and reminisce on a magical Christmas experience in Madeira.
Transfer to the airport for our flight home.
The price is per person and based on one person in a twin or double room for sole occupancy. The price includes:
UK Citizens do not require a visa to enter Portugal however must have a valid passport. For the most up-to-date passport and visa information visit
We are unable to accept responsibility if you are unable to travel because you have not complied with any passport/entry/immigration requirements.
We want to ensure you make the correct choice before you book your holiday with us. If you have any concerns regarding the suitability of the holiday due to reduced mobility we would encourage you to call us to discuss these concerns. General information on mobility in connection with our tours can be found here.
All transfer times listed here are approximate, and dependent on traffic. If you have a question regarding transfer times please don't hesitate to contact us.
|Airport||Hotel location||Transfer time|
|Funchal Airport||Funchal||30 mins|
Christine and Malcolm Brown
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