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Madeira – spring on an Atlantic island

Discovering the natural history of this volcanic Macaronesian island, we will explore less-visited natural areas from subtropical laurel forests to stunning coasts, at a relaxed pace.

Madeira has been a popular and well-known holiday destination for many years, famous for its mild climate, high standards and its numerous gardens with plants from around the world. However, most of its natural wealth is unknown to the majority of its visitors. Its unique biodiversity has been an attraction to many naturalists and was the reason for the classification of two thirds of the island as Nature Reserves.

Madeira is the largest and main island of this Portuguese archipelago. This group of islands and islets was colonized by man 600 years ago but there are still many picturesque villages, many full of ‘tropical’ flowers, some now growing ‘wild’. In the more mountainous areas, the lush, green Laurisilva rainforest is an ancient remnant (90% primary forest) of European habitat that is now designated as a World Heritage Site. It has a surprising paleoflora with many giant plants and some endemic genera. The forest is also home to an impressive number of invertebrates and some endemic birds. The varied topography and micro climates enable several unique habitats to survive and many flowering shrubs and annuals to flourish.

We will visit a variety of ecosystems throughout the island including mountain heathlands with tree heather (Erica arborea), pastures, semi-desert grasslands and colourful ancient volcanic landscapes as well as the laurel forests. Breathtaking vistas of the island are found everywhere, from the highest peaks to the rural terraces and dramatic coasts.

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This holiday is an ideal introduction to the natural history of Macaronesian Islands as well as a chance to see the Madeiran endemic species. Our itinerary includes relaxing walks in less visited natural areas, as well as a selection of the best gardens and a taste of the local culture, all before the main tourist season.

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Return flight London Gatwick to Funchal. Local transport as specified in itinerary including boat trip. Seven nights’ accommodation, full board.

Not included

Refreshments. Entrance fees for optional sightseeing. Gratuities. Travel insurance.

Day 1 Flight to Funchal, transfer to our hotel. After lunch, time to settle in before a local walk as an introduction to the island and its natural history.

Day 2 Travelling to the east of the island will give us the chance to explore the geology of the archipelago’s origins and understand the colonisation of its fauna and flora. Several stops with short walks. Possibility for a swim from a sandy beach.

Day 3 We travel to the central and northeastern areas, for several significant bird species in addition to plants of the higher plateaux, and a visit to Santana and traditional thatched houses.

Day 4 In the morning, an (optional) boat trip to see whales, dolphins, seabirds and other marine life. In the afternoon, there will be free time to visit some of the botanic gardens in Funchal, of which there are several, each with their own character and specialist collection of plants. Alternatively, you may wish to explore the cultural sites. An optional evening of bat watching (perhaps finding one of the two endemics) and/or stargazing (as the weather allows).

Day 5 Transfer to the north of the island with stops in Camara de Lobos and Cabo Girao with its stunning vistas. Optional banana plantation walk and tropical fruit tastings. After checking in to our hotel, we will take a short walk in São Vicente with a local guide.

Day 6 A day in the higher plateaux of the west, northwest and central part of the island with several stops for short walks in the main native habitats. We will see many endemic plants, including giant buttercups (Ranunculus cortusifolia).

Day 7 During the morning we will explore the natural history of the islands’ invertebrates including butterflies, bees and dragonflies. In the afternoon, we will learn about the island’s extinct volcanoes and visit volcanic caves and volcanic pools.

Day 8 Transfer back to Funchal airport for our flight home.

Please note that the itinerary may be changed to suit the weather or other practicalities at the discretion of the leaders. 

Our home in Funchal is the Quinta de Penha França Hotel, a family run hotel, surrounded by gardens and with the Atlantic Ocean in front. In São Vicente we will be staying in the pleasant, family-run Estalagem do Vale hotel, which is situated in the beautiful valley of São Vicente, with its charming village.

Evening meals will be mostly be at the hotels and we will have picnic lunches on most days.

We will travel by small coach or minibus.


The group flights are with Easyjet from London Gatwick.

14 May depart London Gatwick 07.40*, arrive Funchal 11.40
21 May depart Funchal 12.10, arrive Gatwick 15.50

Madeira is in the same time zone as the UK.

*There are now several good, reasonably priced hotels at Gatwick for overnight stays.

Flights from other airports such as Manchester, Bristol, London Stansted, Birmingham and Leeds Bradford may also be available but may require travelling on different days. Please ask us for options. There may be a supplement to cover additional costs.

At this time of year the weather is usually sunny but not too hot. There may be some cooler weather and some rain. We will adapt our walks and excursions accordingly.

On most days we will be walking for much of the morning or afternoon, albeit slowly, and sometimes gently up and downhill. Most walks are on paths but in places we may walk on rougher ground (walking boots – can be lightweight – needed). None of the walking is strenuous. All excursions are optional; you can enjoy time around the hotel if you prefer.