Rugged Porto Moniz is tucked away in the north-western corner of Portugal’s holiday island of Madeira, reached from Funchal, the island’s capital, by scenic rail trip of 30 miles (48 km). There are plenty of things to do in Porto Moniz; it is famous for its series of natural swimming pools, hidden among the black volcanic rocks at the base of the bluff cliffs along the shoreline. They are protected from the strong currents of the Atlantic by a curved spit of land punctuated by the islet of Ilhéu Mole.
The old village of Porto Moniz itself sits high on a hillside – originally to protect it inhabitants from pirates – and tumbles down towards the seafront; in summer it is inundated with swimmers attracted by the natural pools among the stumps of lava rock. Now a lido has been built to allow safe swimming as well as create a sunbathing area, shower facilities, and a restaurant selling delicious fresh seafood. In winter strong Atlantic swells may close the pool complex periodically.
There’s a small aquarium, housing over 90 local species of sea life in 11 themed tanks, at São João Baptista Fort alongside the Living Science Centre, which is aimed at educating children through a series of entertaining interactive displays. The land around the village is heavily cultivated in terraces and makes for energetic hikes though the banana plantations.
Boat trips to spot whales and dolphins in the coastal waters south of Porto Moniz run throughout the year; sperm whales are often sighted between March and September, pilot whales usually between November and March as they come into warmer water to breed.
Discover more on a Grand Madeira Island Tour – Porto Moniz and Santana
Around nine miles (15km) east of Porto Moniz is São Vicente, whose sandy bay is popular with surfers; here a complex of 4,000-year-old caves winds through the volcanic lava deep underground. The road between the two villages is cut from the cliffs and makes for heart-stopping driving through tunnels and underneath waterfalls.
Contributed by Sasha Heseltine