#01 – In the distant north west corner of Madeira, you’ll find the small hamlet of Porto Moniz. The atmosphere is laid-back and lazy, whilst the ocean backdrop is by turns calming and menacing (depending on the time of year). It’s an area most tourists never see, which is a shame as it’s seawater swimming pools are some of the best on the island. For Madeirans, it’s a popular spot for a day trip in the summer, which is reflected in the dishes served throughout the village’s restaurants: fresh ingredients, no-frills, big portions and big flavours.
Restaurante Orca is a prime example – conveniently placed next door to the Piscinas Naturais, it offers a traditional menu: bife de Atum (tuna steak), gambas a diablo (spicey prawns), prego no bolo do caco (steak sandwich), grilled lapas (limpets), Polvo (octopus) salad, milho frito. If you’re not swimming, a table on the terrace is arguably the best lunchtime view in Porto Moniz.
#02 – On a busy summer’s day, the Conchinha Bar is often a quieter lunchtime option than Orca. It’s a small café serving sandwiches, salads and soups – and a superb maracuja (passion fruit) cheesecake.
#03 – If you’re staying in Porto Moniz for a few nights, the sea view restaurant at the Hotel Aqua Natura has a more European-style menu, with a lean towards Italian: risotto Milanese, shellfish linguini, tiramisu – with a scattering of Madeiran: espada (scabbard fish), bacalhau (salted cod) and bife pimento. A table on the terrace is tempting, but it can be a little cramped and breezy in the evenings.
#04 – Our favourite restaurant in Porto Moniz is the Polo Norte. Well-prepped home-style cooking, (particularly their beef espetada), an excellent selection of reasonably priced (but well-selected) Portuguese wines, and a friendly and hospitable team. Being land-locked, the Polo Norte can’t match the sea views their contemporaries in the town offer – but the upstairs terrace is pleasantly sociable in the evenings.
#04 – If you’re thinking of driving inland from Porto Moniz – maybe to ride Europe’s steepest cable car at Achadas da Cruz – Rodripan is a hidden lunchtime gem. This tiny family Padaria (bakery) was frustratingly difficult to find in the days before Google maps. As you pass through the village of Santa Maria Madalena, look out for a weathered-yellow Padaria Pastelaria sign – take the left turn as indicated, head up the small lane and Rodripan is in a residential house set back from the road on your left.
Rodripan pasteis de nata, bolo do aroz (similar to US-style muffins but made with rice flour), super-light pineapple puff pastries and savoury pasties. It’s better to get their early if you’d like a fresh loaf of bread; otherwise it’s a good option for a last-chance coffee stop before you drive up onto the Paul da Serra.
#05 – Back on the coast: driving east out of Porto Moniz, you’ll pass by many of the island’s most-famous natural monuments – the Ilheus da Riberia da Jenela sea stacks, the Ribeira do Inferno river gorge, and the Casacata Veu da Noiva: the Bridal Veil waterfall. In-between, you might like to take a detour down into the pretty seaside village of Seixal, popular for it’s beach and sheltered seawater lagoon.
Food-wise, Las Carabaibas is easily missed but well-worth a stop. Approaching from the direction of Porto Moniz, take a left at the first ‘Ben-Vindo (Welcome to) Seixal’ sign and the restaurant is on your right. They have a limited menu, but in a good way – sticking with the dishes they do best. Their speciality is Bacalhau Verde (baked cod gratin, with spinach and coriander),their gambas soup served in a loaf of home-made bread is pretty epic (especially for lunch), and occasionally they’ll serve a fantastic slow-cooked Iberian pork stew.
#06 – Pass through the centre of Seixal to it’s small harbour, and you’ll find the Lounge Bar Clube Naval do Seixel. You won’t find any surprise on the menu, just good Madeiran food in big portions, served with a big smile by owner Ernesto. The bar’s popular with surfers, kayakers, climbers and mountain bikers, and Seixal beach is just a minute’s walk away.
#07 – Roughly half-way along the north coast, you’ll come to Sao Vicente. The town itself extends inland and upwards, following the Ribeira Sao Vicente river valley towards the high peaks in the centre of the island. There’s a glut of restaurants down here on the coast and they’re all very similar in style, menus and service – it’s also a popular lunch spot for coach tours so timing is everything. The Caravela and Vila Vincente both have 1st floor terraces on a nice day, whilst the Xapa Grill would be my choice if the weather’s more wind-swept.
#08 – If you’re looking for a takeaway rather than a sit-down meal, the Corvopan bakery serves freshly-baked bread, rolls and sandwiches, Maderian cakes and pastries.
#09 – if you’re overnighting in Sao Vicente, the Quebramar has the best sea views and is arguably serves the best Caldo da Romaria – or Pilgrimage soup. It’s a hearty beef and potato broth, which sustained religious pilgrims during their walks from the capital Funchal, over the central mountains to Sao Vicente’s Igreja Mariz de Vila Franca da Serra church in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Built in the 1980s, the upper floor of the restaurant rotates anticlockwise very slowly – it’s not quite as bad as it sounds, but there are none-rotating tables downstairs.
#10 – Head 100m up the inland road and you’ll come to the Taberna de Sao Vicente. It’s a typical Portuguese taberna with all the usual suspects appearing on the menu – bacalhau, bife espetada, milho fritas, cold local Coral lager, reasonably-priced mainland wines.
#11 – High on the opposite side of the valley, overlooking the pretty chapel at Pico da Cova, you’ll find the Quinta do Barbusano vineyards. Owner Tito Brazao and his team offer guided tours of their fifteen-acre terraced vineyards. Verdelho is the dominant grape variety on the island, together with Aragones which has its roots in Alentejo and the white Arnsburger (similar a Reisling). Heading from the terraces to the winery itself, there’s a chance to sample the Quinta’s wines, with petiscos (Portuguese tapas) and a panoramic view of the Ribeira Sao Vicente valley.
#12 – Another more-central option in Sao Vicente itself – particularly if you’re staying at the Estalagem do Vale, Solar da Bica or Casa da Piedade is the Restaurante Lavrador. Friendly, family-run, well-presented and tasty food, all with a majestic mountain view – what’s not to like? Also, they serve cook-your-own beef and tuna steaks on a hot stone, and there’s home-made bolo de mel on the dessert menu.
A few practicalities to add: Lavrador isn’t huge so booking ahead is recommended, (particularly for a table on the terrace). Estalagem do Vale is just a five-minute walk away – but if you’re staying at Bica or Piedade a (five-minute) taxi is more practical, as you’re crossing the valley (and the roads invariably don’t have pavements).
#13 –Back down to the coast, the breath-taking scenery continues as the road zig-zags through the villages of Ponta Delgada, Boaventura and Arco de Sao Jorge. This area of the island is home to some of Madeira’s more-challenging levada trails – if you’re looking to refuel after a day’s hike, the Restaurante Corte do Norte & Restaurante Sao Cristovao are good options. Both restaurants are very popular with locals – the Sao Cristovao serves a great fish stew and has the best (sea cliff) view during the day, but it’s a bit more of a detour from the main road.
#14 – If you’re staying at Solar Boaventura, both Corte do Norte and Sao Cristovao are a short taxi/drive away in the evenings. If you’d prefer not to drive, Penalti is the closest option on foot. It’s a small bar-cum-restaurant serving home-style cooking at a reasonable price – nice sticky chicken and their pizzas are pretty good. Space in the covered area at the front is limited, particularly at weekends – Madeirans tend to eat late in theevening so you’re usually okay around 7-8pm.
#15 – Continuing east, the Restaurante Arco is the dictionary definition of a Madeiran restaurant. Espetada, scabbard fish, bife a casa: tick. Tasty home-style cooking, big sides of rice and chips, great wines at a reasonable price: tick. Popular with locals, super-sociable and super-friendly: tick. Also, one of the island’s lesser-known viewpoints is just nearby: the Miradouro da Beira da Quinta.
#16 – Our most-popular hotel in the north east is Quinta do Furao on the outskirts of Santana. The hotel’s own Restaurante Quinta do Furao is popular with guests and locals alike. It’s open-plan layout is nicely sociable, with a sea view terrace in the summer and a cosy log fire for winter evenings. Their menu is one of the most-interesting on the island: Terrina de Rabo de Boi (Oxtail tureen with Madeiran red wine), Bochecha de Vaca estufada (slow-cooked beef cheek with smoked bacon and mushrooms), Risotto de Trigo (with local mushrooms, hazelnuts and Madeiran cheese), and Bife Legumes Caldeirão Verde (a seasonal vegetable stew, with puff pastry and a Roquefort sauce).
#17 – If you can tear yourself away from the quinta, the centre of Santana is a five-minute taxi ride away. The Restaurante o Colmo, Estrela do Norte and the Caldeirao Verde are all pretty similar in terms of menu, price and service – although I’d avoid lunchtime visits when the coach tours descend. At the southern-end of town, lookout for Marcel’s Bistro: it has a relaxing-vibe (thanks in no small part to owner Marcel), and an enjoyable menu for lovers of prawns, bacalhau and first-rate cocktails.
Our Where to eat guides are based on our first-hand experience and our love of great Portuguese cuisine:
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