1. Drink Poncha! The traditional drink of Madeira
Poncha is perhaps the tastiest drink in Madeira. The original cocktails are made from lemon or orange juice, honey, sugar water and rum. These ingredients are mixed with a mexelote, a special kitchen instrument to mix the juice. The end result is a deliciously sweet drink that you will probably find just a little too tasty.
The famous Poncha can be ordered at almost every bar or restaurant. Nowadays you can choose from different variants of this traditional drink. We have tasted different flavors of Ponchas ourselves at Rei Da Poncha in Funchal, where the Ponchas are freshly prepared for you. We tasted the variant lemon, orange, passion fruit, strawberry and absinthe.
2. Discover the rich history of Madeira wine
Madeira wine is a local dessert wine. Characteristic of this wine is the sweet taste and the stronger alcohol percentage (between 16% and 22%). According to etiquette, it is not a wine for the main course, but the drier varieties are sometimes served with an aperitif. The sweeter varieties are actually only served as dessert wine.
You can buy Madeira wine in every supermarket, but it is a wine with an interesting history. So how great is it to learn more about that through a wine tour. In collaboration with Madeira Atlantic Tours we went on the Private Madeira Halfday Tour. Through this tour, we not only learned more about the Madeira wine, its production and its different variations, but also learned a lot more about the island.
You will be picked up in Funchal by your guide. The wine tasting takes place in the Henriques & Henriques tasting room in the village of Câmara de Lobos. Along the way you will stop at a beautiful viewpoint, where the guide will tell you everything about the region and the vineyards. The grapes used for the Madeira wine are grown by local families. Therefore, the whole island works on these fantastic wines. Most of the vineyards are located in the north of the island, where the conditions for growing the grapes are more favorable.
At Henriques & Henriques you get a tour of the beautiful winery. You will get insight of the entire process and see how the wine was made in the past. There are old tools with which they manually crushed the grapes and filtered the juice, large barrels where they kept the wine and carriers with which the wine was transported from place A to place B by foot (!).
Madeira wine is different from other wines. This is mainly due to the different ripening process, which was discovered ‘accidentally’ at sea. Portuguese sailors took wine with them on long ship journeys to get extra vitamin C. After the long journey the wine left over tasted very different. This was because they kept the barrels on the ships in warm areas. This change was so popular that it was the beginning of the unique Madeira wine. From that moment, skippers took extra barrels with them to sell the wine after they returned. They later found out that repeatedly heating the wine produced the unique caramel and nutty flavor. So they invented other methods to get the same taste. Such as storing the barrels in warm lofts and in warm sheds, or by just letting the wine warm up in the sun.
After the tour it is time to taste the wine. You can taste 7 different types of H&H Madeira wines. Starting with 6 wines from dry to sweet. From this you choose your favorite wine of which you can try the 10-year variant. Each wine has its own story and the degree of sweetness depends on the sugar content in the wine.
Next to the tasting room is a shop where you can buy a bottle of your favorite wine. We liked the medium dry Meio Seco the best. Henriques & Henriques also has a special, expensive collection of very old wines. Some are over 150 years old and the labels look really cool.
3. Try the typical bread Bolo do Caco
A typical Madeiran snack or lunch is the round flat bread Bolo do Caco. This bread has the shape of a cake (bolo) and is heated on a basalt stone plate (caco). Bolo do Caco was originally served with herb butter. But nowadays there are different variations, for example with cheese, avocado and pesto or meat.
These delicious sandwiches are very popular and are therefore on the menu at many restaurants and bars. We ate the cheese variant at Casa do Bolo do Caco and it is definitely recommended!
4. Enjoy the refreshning local beer
On Madeira you can’t miss the Coral beer. It is a drink you see on all terraces and the supermarket shelves are full of it. Coral beer is made by the Coral Lager brand and is brewed on Madeira. The beer has a golden color, soft pure taste and is above all wonderfully refreshing. This perfectly fits the tropical climate of the island.
5. Taste the delicious sweet bananas
Madeira is a major producer of bananas. You will be amazed by the amount of banana plantations on the island. The bananas mainly grow on the south coast of the island because it is the sunniest here. The taste of the bananas is soft and sweet.
Madeira once exported bananas throughout Europe. Until the bananas were refused at auctions because, according to the European Union, they had to meet a certain length and curve. Today the production is used for Madeira, Portugal and parts of Spain.
A typical main course in Madeira is Espada com banana. This is a surprising combination of the Madeiran banana with black swordfish, which is fished from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. According to the locals this seems to be very tasty, but we have not tasted it because we are vegetarians.
6. Stimulate your taste buds with the colorful exotic fruits and vegetables
The climate in Madeira makes it possible to grow tropical fruits. Such as pineapple, mango, banana and avocados. But there are also a lot of exotic fruits and vegetables, native to Central and South America, that you probably haven’t seen and tasted before. Such as the fruto delicioso (banana-pineapple with a fresh taste), anona da Madeira (a fine taste with a vanilla-like smell) and the chayote (family of the cucumber, watermelon and pumpkin and is used in various dishes). The exotic fruits and vegetables are often available in supermarkets or local markets.