The Island of Slow Living

John and Anita Liviero Share the
Ups and Downs of Their Adventures
on the Portuguese Island of Madeira

Story by Alley L. Biniarz
Photography by John Liviero

Madeira is a mellow island, John and Anita Liviero concluded about the Portuguese island after their 10-day trip this past September. 

The two had travelled to mainland Portugal in 2019 and knew they wanted to come back for one of the islands. They initially had their eyes set on the Azores but after a recommendation from a friend, and some extensive YouTube research, they landed on Madeira. “We always do our research, that’s how we plan, ‘’ Anita shares. “We saw a lot of interesting stuff but I could have stayed longer. There’s always more to see.” 

Driving on Madeira was an interesting experience for John, Anita, and their son Michael, who was travelling along with them. There is a lot of elevation and narrow roads, to which their son responded, “I would not be driving here.” Thankfully John is an excellent driver, and with Anita’s expert navigation skills, they made out alright. 

They scaled Madeira’s rolling hills, making 90 degree turns along edges with hardly any railings, but it was all worth it for the views. “The scenery, the smell of the flowers and everywhere you looked there were banana trees,” Anita details. “Where we have evergreens all over in backyards here, they have banana trees.” 

The climate on Madeira is warm all year round, and with their location being close to the continent of Africa, their winters only dip to about 60 degrees. Madeira isn’t a big island, so it’s easy to avoid any unsavoury weather while vacationing. John and Anita say that if it was raining on one part of the island, they could drive 10 minutes away and be enjoying clear skies. This made planning for their days a breeze­—they would just follow the sun. 

The way they spent their days varied. One day, John, Anita and Michael packed some sandwiches and headed towards the black sand beach, which was a highlight of the trip. Many of the beaches on Madeira are rocky and there are only two sand beaches on the island where the sand is imported from Dubai. The three spent their day watching the airplanes landing, which can be quite the spectacle. The runway is against the water, which Anita says makes for a complicated landing. Since the wind is so strong, some planes need to circle two to three times before they can safely land. 

One of the most stunning views they enjoyed during their time on the island was on the Porto Aveiro where tourists and locals either hiked or drove up to see the sunrise. Many people would pack a picnic for the morning and take in the view atop a mountain, where the point was higher than the clouds. 

Although they drove to the top of Porto Aveiro, the three of them enjoyed two of the many hikes located on Madeira. The first was the hike of 25 waterfalls whose beautiful scenery was matched with some challenges with the elevation. Anita shares that she only braved going into the water up to her ankles, but 19-year-old Michael went gladly into the icy waters. 

She and John completed another hike called Nuns Valley. The name came from a time where the island’s nuns were being harassed by invading pirates. The nuns needed a place where they could live safely and they settled around these mountains. Overall, Portugal is a very Catholic country, so Anita says that churches and holy monuments are to be expected. 

The Nun Valley hike was especially challenging and Anita felt so dehydrated when coming back down into town. “I told John we needed to stop at the first place we saw a sugary drink,” she explains how they found one of their favourite food stops. “We saw them cooking the seafood and curing meats and I knew we had to go back there.” 

Taking a rest after their hike, they wound up returning twice to this small place carved into the mountain hills, where they could see the food being freshly made on the spot. A notable meal here was their local bread, bolo de caco, which is a dish made of sweet potatoes and flour, baked on a rock and spread with garlic butter. Since being home, Anita has tried to make it on her hot skillet. Although it wasn’t the same without the Portuguese environment, it satisfied the craving. 

There was so much to see on Madeira. They were staying in Funchal, the capital of the island, and enjoyed exploring its old downtown area. Artists had landscaped the area with signature door paintings, where each door was illustrated with something different. Anita and John say that these painted doors, plus the small houses that people still live in today, really shapes the ambiance of the town. 

“It was also very safe,” Anita says. “Our Airbnb host was so welcoming and shared that we didn’t have to worry about going out late. There was no criminal activity and we didn’t see a policeman the entire time.” 

Their Airbnb was located up the hill from the downtown area, which Anita and John say made going downtown easy, but the way up was another story. It would take them 15 minutes to go down but around 40 minutes to go back up. “If I have any advice to visitors, it’s not to pack any high heels. You won’t need them!” Anita laughs about the logistics of wearing heels uphill, or on any of Madeira’s cobblestone streets. 

If they were to go back, they would add Porto Moniz to the list of attractions. The entire island is volcanic, and Porto Moniz houses these lava rock pools, which are stunning natural swimming pools. “It would have been a cool experience, just with the entire layout: looking around at the mountains, being next to the ocean and sitting in the pools,” Anita says. 

There is a bit of everything for travellers to enjoy, unless, as Anita says, there are young people who prefer to go out or have a more robust nightlife or adventure. Madeira is made for people who enjoy the slow life, the ones who enjoy their hikes and hills, calm beaches and eating delicious local seafood on a quiet and kind island. 

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