Where and What to Hire
Hiring a car in Madeira is easy with a good selection of international car hire companies to choose from including Hertz, Sixt and Europecar. In Funchal, the largest city in Madeira, Sixt, Hertz, Europecar and Rodavante are some of the car hire firms available. Most kinds of vehicles are available from small, nippy two-door cars to family four and five-door. It is best to hire something with a fairly powerful engine given the many steep, winding roads there are on the island.
Driving on Madeira is a pleasant experience. With very good roads, many recently re-covered, excellent tunnels that lead cars easily through the mountains. Driving is on the right-hand side of the road, giving way to the left. The speed limit within cities and villages is limited to 30 miles per hour while on motorways the limit is 70 miles per hour. There are often narrow, steep and cobbled roads to navigate in smaller towns and cities. A good tip for driving into the mountains on hot days is to use the gearbox to slow the car rather than the breaks, which can get very hot.
Parking in Madeira is a breeze apart from in the city of Funchal. There, parking is limited and hotel and the large underground shopping centre car parks fill up quickly. On most other parts of the island, parking is free and cars can be left alongside pavements and roadsides as long as they are in a safe place, and not obstructing other traffic.
Where to Go and What to See
Having a hire car on Madeira is a must for those who want to explore and see the island. One of the best drives is the 100-mile coastal road that winds its way around the whole island. The road between Sao Vicente and Porto Moniz reaches up into the mountains for spectacular views then flows downwards again towards the sea. The waves are sometimes so close that they spray cars passing by. The twists and turns and curves of the road require concentration but the breath-taking views and picnic spots en-route are well worth the drive. Funchal, the capital of Madeira, is on the sunny side of the island and boasts everything from luxury hotels and family resorts to shopping streets, fantastic bars and restaurants, museums, exotic gardens and water-parks for kids. The Mercado dos Lavradores market is a must for anyone who loves to bag a bargain while the Telefrico cable car will whisk visitors to the top of Monte for beautiful views of its Palace Hotel and gorgeous gardens. For even more breath-taking panoramas, a trip to Cabo Girao, just 20 minutes from Funchal, reveals the world’s highest ocean cliffs at 1,935 feet above sea level. Those with a kayak or canoe can strap it to the roof of the car and stop in Maderia’s many enchanting bays and marinas for a solitary paddle. Alternatively, anyone who loves hiking and walking can throw their boots on the back seat and head for the Ponta de Sao Lourenco in the eastern part of Madeira. This magical nature reserve boasts volcanic rock formations, unusual plants and flowers and hiking trails that lead to a stunning black sandy beach called Prainha, hidden from view and perfect for a romantic evening swim. The best thing on Madeira is just to take the car and go. The island’s roads are utter joy to drive on with guaranteed gems to discover along the way.