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If you’re looking for adventure, there’s a semitropical island off the coast of Africa calling your name. Just an hour and 45 minutes from Lisbon, Madeira is exactly where you want to be. Its perpetually pleasant weather averages a balmy 60 degrees in February. You’ll only need a jacket in the evenings or if you venture into the island’s mountains.
Portugal is one of the most liberal countries in Europe and also ranked high in last year’s Spartacus International Gay Guide Index. Madeira, an autonomous region of the nation, is an archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa.
The main island, also called Madeira, is particularly LGBTQ-inclusive and has hundreds of listings on misterb&b for people who want to connect with and directly support the queer community. Ponta do Sol (now often referred to as the “Nomad Village”) is a great neighborhood on the island to connect with friendly locals, expats, and travelers.
Estalagem da Ponta do Sol
While Lisbon and Porto dominate LGBTQ+ nightlife, Madeira is much more relaxed. You’ll find most people sipping wine at restaurants or bars with scenic viewpoints or heading to live music venues to drink cocktails and dance as the sun goes down.
In Madeira, a multitude of adventures await. You can explore the island’s nooks and crannies in various ways, including rock climbing, canyoning, 4x4 jeep tours, and hiking.
Madeira has two iconic peaks that tower over the island, Pico Ruivo (6,109 feet) and Pico do Arieiro (5,965 feet). If you’re a hiker, you’ll want to explore the beautiful trail, Vereda do Arieiro, that connects these two mountains. You can drive to Pico do Arieiro to watch the sunrise, then set off on your adventure. But be warned: If you plan to hike round trip, make sure you pack enough food and water, as the journey takes most people six to eight hours to complete.
If you’re not up to an all-day adventure, there’s a much shorter trek you can do from a parking lot near Pico Ruivo. The Vereda do Pico Ruivo trail should only take you 1-1.5 hours each way.
Mainland Portugal’s Nazaré is renowned among big-wave surfers. But Madeira’s beaches are just as famous, offering temperate water, epic volcanic landscapes, and world-class waves. Experienced surfers will find excellent surfing spots from Jardim do Mar, in the southwest of the island, to Fajã da Areia, just northeast of São Vicente.
If you’ve never tried surfing, you’ll likely want to start at Porto da Cruz, a black sand beach in the northeast of Madeira. You could also consider a day trip to surf off the golden beaches of Porto Santo, a smaller island within the Madeira archipelago that’s just a short ferry ride away.
If you’ve already been to Portugal, you’ll probably be looking out for some of the mainland’s quintessential foods — from egg custard tarts (pastel de nata) and acorn-fed black pork (porco preto) to codfish dishes, like bacalhau à brás. You can find all of these foods on Madeira, along with a myriad of tropical fruits, including guava, loquats, prickly pear, various types of passion fruit, and Monstera deliciosa.
Also unique to Madeira is a terrifying, long black fish with enormous eyes and sharp teeth. If you encounter this eel-like creature while wandering through your supermarket, don’t worry — it’s just the black scabbard fish (espada preta). This deep-sea fish is a lot tastier than it looks. You can find it served on most restaurant menus, usually paired with tropical fruit. In Funchal, Armazem do Sal does a particularly interesting take, serving it with lime risotto and banana chutney.
If you’re not much of a fish person, espetada is much more likely to strike your fancy. Dishes labeled as espetada imply that your food is being cooked on skewers over a barbecue or open flame. This popular dish is usually made with beef, but you’ll also find pork, chicken, and occasionally, even seafood espetadas. For a traditional take, go to Câmara de Lobos restaurant O Polar and eat your espetada with milho frito (fried polenta) and freshly baked bolo de caco bread.
The best way to start your evening is with a cocktail or a glass of Madeira wine while you watch the sunset. You can also do as the locals do and have a poncha, a drink made of honey, freshly squeezed juice, and a sugarcane rum called aguardente de cana.
In Funchal, Design Centre Nini Andrade Silva has a beautiful open-air bar and terrace. If you’re willing to venture out of the city, the Estalagem da Ponta do Sol hosts free live music each week as part of its popular Purple Fridays events.
This piece originally ran in Out Traveler print magazine now available on newsstands.