When we dream of sun, fine sand and turquoise waters, we often imagine distant exotic destinations. And yet, a few hours away from home, in Europe, you can find yourself in picture-postcard settings!

Madeira and the Azores are paradisiacal archipelagos in Portugal with a mild climate, superb panoramas and exceptional wildlife - an excellent compromise between proximity and sunny holidays. The flight time from Lisbon is similar to both archipelagos: about 1 hour 45 minutes to Madeira and about 2 hours to the Azores and there are convenient direct flights from many European centres.

Madeira is predominantly mountainous with steep cliffs and rocky shores. The Azores have lush hills and black sand beaches. Madeira is a tourist destination with high quality infrastructure, while the Azores offer more of a wilderness experience. The Azores are also more spread out and require flight transfers to travel between the islands. The Azores have rainier and slightly cooler weather than Madeira.

In this blog, we present to you these two Portuguese archipelagos set in the Atlantic Ocean.

Madeira: the island of flowers

The Madeira archipelago consists of four islands (including the island of Madeira). The island is located 973 km from Lisbon and 640 km northwest of Cape Juby.

Madeira, the main island, is very green and a delight for hikers. Its capital, Funchal, is the largest city on the Island and Europe's most picturesque and cleanest capital. Its cathedral combines Gothic and Romanesque style. The historic centre is worth a visit; start with the Santa Maria district and discover its decorated doors and ploughman's market. The Sao Tiago Fortress is a great way to discover the vestiges of the colonial period, it houses a fascinating museum of contemporary art.

Funchal with Sao Tiago Fortress

The Madeira Botanical Garden, ideal for appreciating the heights of the city, is a green paradise sheltering 2000 varieties of exotic plants spread over 35,000 m2.

For a unique experience with more than 100 years of history, descend on Funchal's iconic small traditional wicker basket sledges. Powered by two pilots, their wooden runners will offer you unforgettable sensations on the way down the hillside to the historic centre.

Since the island is famous for hiking, do not leave without having taken one of the sixty marked routes offering optimal safety and varied levels of difficulty. The Pico Ruivo is the most popular and highest peak of the island of Madeira. From the top of its 1862 metres, it provides breathtaking views of the island and the ocean. After your hike, take the opportunity to enjoy a boat trip.

Sunset at Pico Ruivo

Cape Girao is a cliff on the south coast of Madeira Island, one of the highest in Europe, located near Câmara de Lobos. It is famous for its suspended glass platform overlooking the void, providing panoramic views.

Porto Moniz is a charming little town located on the coast in the northwest of the island. Discover its natural pools made up of rocks and lava that fill up with the incoming tide and provide warm and safe waters for swimming.

Natural volcanic lava pool in Porto Moniz

The Ribeira Das Cales valley is an excellent spot for canyoning and nature activities. Get your adrenaline pumping as you discover the waterfalls and the summit of 1,500-metre-high Chão da Lagoa in the Ecological Park of Funchal.

Ribeira Das Cales

The Madeira Ethnographic Museum brings together a fascinating collection of the culture of the Madeira archipelago. Its permanent exhibition is divided by themes: productive activities such as fishing, wine, grain and flax production cycles, transport, domestic units (kitchen and bedroom) and traditional commerce (grocery store).

The restaurant The Grill @Istanbul in Funchal offers Mediterranean and vegetarian cuisine. The most popular specialties are barbecues and grills. No alcohol is served in the establishment.

The 5 star hotel Quintinha São João & Spa is located a few kilometres away from all of Funchal's popular attractions. The hotel serves halal food and alcohol is removed from the rooms for all reservations on Halalbooking.com.

Discover all our halal-friendly properties in Madeira.

Madeiran gastronomy

The simple cuisine of the island of Madeira portrays the soul of modest but generous people. Excelling in the traditional and the modern, the cuisine offers a creative subtlety between the various high quality regional products, allowing to prepare a diverse menu of gastronomic specialties with regional and international dishes. Its secret lies in the use of fresh and varied ingredients, the origin of which can be attributed to the rich and volcanic nature of this island, abundant water and a favourable climate. Here are some dishes, typical of the island of Madeira:

Tomato and onion soup: made with chopped onions and garlic, fresh tomatoes, oregano and olive oil with a poached egg in the centre of the dish.

The bolo do caco: traditional island bread, made from wheat flour and sweet potatoes.

Milho cozido : puree made from corn flour, often served as an accompaniment to dishes.

Lapas: seafood, also known as “Chinese hat”, usually served in a pan with butter and garlic.

Lapas with butter and garlic

The Azores: unspoiled and authentic nature

The Azores are located in the middle of the Atlantic and are made up of 9 islands of volcanic origin: Corvo (crow), Flores (flower), Faial, Graciosa (graceful), Pico (peak), Santa Maria, São Jorge, São Miguel and Terceira (third). The archipelago is an autonomous region of Portugal and belongs to Macaronesia.

The Azores offer spectacular landscapes and countless unique adventures: swim with dolphins, climb volcanoes, swim in natural pools or hike on green mountains. It offers a unique gastronomic experience in which some dishes are prepared underground!

A traditional meal is cooked slowly in a hot spring by volcanic steam in Furnas on Sao Miguel

Here we present the islands of Sao Miguel and Terceira.

Sao Miguel - "The green island"

The island of Sao Miguel is nicknamed "The Green Island" by the Azoreans because of its lush nature and is the largest island in the Azores. From its many belvederes, you can admire the view of the ocean and dive into the natural pools, vestiges of volcanic activity.

Ponta Delgada is the capital of the Azores and was originally a fishing village. It offers breathtaking views of the Caldeira Sete Cidades, a crater landscape with natural lakes that are sometimes green, sometimes blue, including the magnificent Lagoa das Sete Cidades (Lake of the seven cities). Discover also its beautiful churches, gardens, the fortress of Sao Bras and the volcanic cave Gruta do Carvao.

Lagoa das Sete Cidades 

Ponta da Ferraria is listed as a regional natural monument, offering natural pools and therapeutic hot-water fountains of volcanic origins by the ocean. There is also a beautiful 18-metre high lighthouse, accessible to admire the landscape.

Terceira - the "third"

The volcanic Island of Terceira, named so because it was the third island to be discovered in 1445, is considered to be the “Hawaii of the Atlantic”. It offers all sorts of activities such as whale watching, sailing, diving, canyoning or hiking. The more adventurous may be tempted by paragliding.

The best way to discover the island is to rent a car, because some places are only accessible this way. The most popular sites on the island are the Miradouro da Serra do Cume, a panoramic viewpoint from which to contemplate the bay of Praia da Vitória and the interior plain of the island, and the 640 m high Algar do Carvão, an ancient volcanic vent classified as a natural monument.

Miradouro da Serra do Cume

Stroll through the historical UNESCO-listed capital Angra do Heroísmo, renowned for its architectural jewels and its baroque-style facades. The Church of Misericórdia is an important 18th century construction with 18th century azulejo panels depicting historical scenes.

Church of Misericórdia

For cultural visits, don't miss the Angra do Heroismo Museum, a former 17th century Franciscan convent. It hosts a unique collection of ceramic pieces, weapons, medals, coins, navigation instruments, sculptures, paintings, furniture and porcelain. The convent also houses the Church São Francisco, which reveals magnificent woodwork, both on the ceilings and on the altarpieces and on the altar.

The Angra bay is also a must. Its underwater archaeological park is a real museum. The beach, the colourful houses and the wrecks from the time of the Great Discoveries make Angra do Heroismo a unique place which has earned it a UNESCO heritage list since 1983.

The Duque da Terceira Garden is a small refuge of greenery housing an impressive variety of flowers from all over the world. It also has an area dedicated to aromatic plants with tea and coffee beds.

For a gourmet experience, visit the restaurant of the food production company Quinta dos Açores, where you can taste dishes cooked from their own products. You can also discover the local meat and dairy industries. Taste their productions of premium cheeses and desserts such as pancakes and ice cream. You can also buy products in the on site market featuring local specialties on site.

The Restaurante Ondas do Mar offers cuisine of both European and Portuguese. The dishes are vegetarian, and even gluten-free. Seafood and fish dishes are very popular.

The Grand Hotel Açores Atlântico on the island of Sao Miguel is a 5 star hotel ideally located in front of the port of Ponta Delgada. The rooms are spacious and decorated in a European palace style.

Discover all our halal-friendly properties in the Azores.

Azorean gastronomy

Azorean cuisine is rich and hearty. Its flavours are made up of seafood, spicy stews, sweet desserts and rich dairy products. The Azores enjoy fresh and varied ingredients originating from the volcanic natural landscape, abundant water and favourable climate. Here are some typical dishes of the Azores:

Cozidos das Furnas: meats and vegetables mixed in a casserole dish and buried in geothermal soils.

Queijo da Ilha : cheese made from cow's milk, originating from the island of São Jorge.

Bacalhau à Brás: dish made with salted cod, potatoes, eggs and olive oil.

Bacalhau à Brás

As you will have understood, the two archipelagos are veritable gardens of Eden for nature lovers. Each of them has its strengths: Madeira is touristy, while the Azores are more unspoiled. Finally, Madeira is suitable for a short stay of 5 to 10 days, whilst you may wish to spend even longer in the Azores. Whatever you choose, a change of scenery is guaranteed!

HalalBooking offers a wide selection of properties and many of them are available for booking with no deposit or with a low deposit. Book your halal-friendly holiday on Madeira or the Azores now and pay later!

Discover the whole of Portugal in our dedicated blog article: "Portugal - A country full of wonders!"

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