Travel tips for Madeira Island

Lunch at Beira Calhau restaurant, on the walk from Câmara de Lobos to Funchal

(Please note that to see more photos of our trip and to get more ideas of places to visit in Madeira, please visit our Instagram account: @sylsteveeurope)

(Please note also that this blogpost is very detailed and was designed to provide as many tips as possible for anyone coming to Madiera as a visitor.)

WE LOVE MADEIRA! As I am writing this, we are on day 12 of the Madeira portion of our six month trip through Portugal and France. We will be on this beautiful island for 10 more days: so many more hikes, levada walks, towns, and restaurants to explore! But let’s backtrack a bit…

Thankfully, our exit from Canada and entry to Portugal and Madeira went smoothly (please be sure the read the bottom of my previous post for important info regarding documentation to come here).

Upon arrival in the Funchal airport in Madeira, we were greeted warmly by Javier of Auto-Rent-A-Car who drove us to his office in Funchal where we picked up our standard Renault Clio. Fortunately, Steve knows how to drive a stick shift, because automatic cars here are impossible to find (and outrageously expensive). By the way, if you ever visit Madeira, yes, you need a car to get around and explore the island. No, this is not a biking destination: the hills are way too steep. (Btw, we were told by fellow travellers that we met here later that much better deals can be found on

In a very short time, we have fallen in love with many aspects of Madeira. Madeirans are extremely friendly people and the food and breathtaking natural surroundings and hikes are unparallelled.

Food: Being surrounded by the Atlantic ocean, it is no surprise that fish is a main staple here. When you walk up to a fish counter in any supermarket, you have a vast array of fresh fish to choose from. Steve once asked (with the help of Google Translate) what fish is the freshest and the fishmonger replied “Tudo!”. Steve has learned to grill fish to perfection on the charcoal grill at our rental property, and, combined with the fresh vegetables all grown on the island, we have been eating extremely well. Tomatoes taste like real tomatoes. The oranges, mangos and passionfruit burst with flavour.

Camarões e lapas, Pier One Grill Restaurant, Câmara de Lobos

Every now and then we treat ourselves to a meal at a restaurant and most meals, with wine, will cost no more than 30 euros (app. $42). One thing that has surprised us is that the Madeirans seem to like to boil their vegetables and serve them soft when served with a meal. Boiled potatoes, too, is a common presence on dinner plates. I haven’t seen many grilled vegetables, or vegetables cooked “al dente” which is the way we are used to serving them. Salads are always delicious and served with only oil and vinegar, enhancing the natural flavours of the fresh ingredients.

Grocery stores: On Madeira Island there are two main grocery stores: Pingo Doce and Continente. You can get pretty well anything you need in these stores, including fresh fish (be sure to ask them to clean out the fish first). Most towns on the south side of the island have one of these stores. They are harder to find on the north side. We were surprised to discover that most towns do not have specialised stores like for fish, meat, fresh produce, etc. It seems that the two large chain stores have taken over the small businesses.

Language: Most Madeirans in the service industry (especially in tourism) speak very good English. Outside of the service industry, many people have at least a passable knowledge of English, but if they don’t, a few hand gestures and the use of Google Translate will get you through most interactions. Here are some useful phrases (tap links to hear pronunciations by tapping the speaker icon. You will likely be prompted to log into your Google account. Use the back button after listening to return to this page):

Tip: Download the Google Translate app onto your phone and save these phrases and others you need by tapping the star symbol. Practice them whenever you can (waiting in line, waiting for food, etc.) by tapping the star symbol at the bottom of your screen. Your saved list will come up.

Hiking: Just wow. Madeira is a mecca for all outdoor and hiking enthusiasts. Every hike we do, we think it’s the best one we have ever done, until we do the next one!

Levada do Moinho/Levada Nova

Choosing what hike to do can be a little overwhelming because there are so many.

A must-have is the WalkMe – Madeira app. You can filter hikes by level of difficulty and distance. There’s also a nifty “To do” list that you can save, and a “Done” list that you can add your hikes to. This app has most of the popular trails but not all. AllTrails app has additional trails. is a great website by Jackson Groves. If you do a search on his website for “Madeira”, you will find tons of information and detailed descriptions of different hikes.

Another great source of information for hiking is to ask other people that you meet on the island (travellers and locals) what their favourites hikes are.

These are the hikes/walks/levada that we have done so far (and we have loved them all):

  • Lido Promenade Funchal: Lovely stroll along the Funchal port with seaside restaurants and bars.
  • Câmara de Lobos to Funchal promenade: This is a 2 hour walk each way which has beautiful sections but some sections you need to walk along a road with the cars. The route is not clearly marked so you may have to ask locals for directions.
  • Levada das 25 Fontes: An extremely popular hike, be sure to visit the Rabaçal Nature Spot Cafe either at near the beginning or end of your hike (depending where you start).
  • Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço: Probably our favourite. Also called “The Dragon’s Tail”. This also has a nice café near the end.
  • Levada do Paul: Breathtaking views but extremely dangerous. We had to stop half way. Worth going as far as you can!
  • Levada do Moinho/Levada Nova: We loved this but got confused at the end of the Moinho trail: we couldn’t find how it joined to the Nova trail. Had to backtrack and go up some stairs to find it.
  • Fanal Forest: A magical forest of ancient trees. People like to take pictures in the fog but we went on a sunny day and loved it! You can drive directly there and walk around (which we did) or you can hike there.
  • Vereda do Larano: GORGEOUS coastal views! We drove to the Teleférico da Fajã do Larano (just outside of Porto da Cruz), parked our car on the narrow road, and walked east, continuing along the road we just drove on, which eventually narrows to the Vereda do Larano. You can continue to hike right to Machico, but we just stopped after an hour, had our picnic lunch, then returned to our car. In Porto da Cruz we passed by A Pipa restaurant with huge line ups and regretted having already had lunch because the food looked amazing! We visited the Casa do Rum instead, and had delicious passionfruit ponchas.

Here are some terms that you will come across while hiking or looking at maps:

  • Boca = Mouth
  • Câmara = Chamber
  • Caminho = Path
  • Cascata = Waterfall
  • Fajã= Flat surface by the sea
  • Farol = Lighthouse
  • Lagoa = Lagoon
  • Levada = Aqueduct
  • Miradouro = Viewpoint
  • Pico = Peak
  • Ponta = Point
  • Porto = Port
  • Praia = Beach
  • Ribeira = Stream
  • Saída = Exit
  • Vereda = Trail
The incredible Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço (or the Dragon’s Tail).
Levada do Paul
Fanal forest (zoom in to see me in contrast to the huge tree!)
Vereda do Larano

Miradouros: There are many breathtaking miradouros (viewpoints) in Madeira that you can drive to if you don’t feel like hiking (click here for a map). Anytime you pass a sign for a miradouro while driving, you should always stop and take a look! For a spectacular view of Funchal, check out the glass-bottomed Cabo Girão Miradoura in Câmara De Lobos.

Cabo Girão Miradoura

Teleféricos: There are a number of teleféricos on the island (cable cars) and you should also try a few of them if you visit. Click here for a map. We spent a magical afternoon at Fajá da Quebrada Nova after descending down the Achadas da Cruz cable car.

Fajá da Quebrada Nova

Be sure to have a poncha at the beach bar, made by the wonderful Andreina.

Poncha (freshly squeezed orange and lemon juice, honey and rum) with marinated carrots and bread.

(Note that some cable cars might not be operating in low season. Also, be prepared to hike up the cliff in case the cable car stops working after bringing you down – it happened to us!).

Our favourite towns: With the exception of Porto Moniz, all of our favourite towns so far are on the south shore.

  • Funchal (pop. 112k)is the main city of Madeira is a 20 drive from the airport. It is a great city with wonderful parks, promenades and restaurants. Be sure to check out the Lido Promenade Funchal and the Funchal Farmer’s Market (closed Sundays and Mondays). Note that many travellers claim that some of the fruit sellers at the market have reputations for ripping off tourists. Stroll through Old Funchal (all around the market) and admire the architecture and cobble-stoned streets.
  • Câmara de Lobos: Lovely fishing village just outside of Funchal. Great restaurants on the water. We loved the Pier One Grill Restaurant, and drinks in the outdoor terrace at Pestana Churchill Bay Hotel.
  • Ribeira Brava: Vibrant town with many sea front restaurants and cafés. There is a nice fresh produce store on the main street (Mercado Municipal da Ribeira Brava) and a Pingo Doce around the corner.
  • Ponta do Sol: This is the town that our villa is in. It is small with a handful of restaurants. Reputed to be the sunniest spot on Madeira.
  • Jardim do Mar: Great place to watch surfers because the waves are huge, with a really nice promenade to walk along the water. We had a yummy lunch at Joe’s Bar.
  • Paul do Mar: More great surfing views, but not much else in this town.
  • Porto Moniz: Really nice town, more modern and spacious than other. Its main draw is the natural swimming pools amongst the hardened lava. One pool you have to pay to get in, the other (further east along the water) is smaller but free, which we liked better. Poça’s Café is a great spot for a drink or lunch.
Câmara de Lobos
Ponta do Sol: Our village
Poncha and beer on the Pentana Churchill Bay terrace in Câmara de Lobos.
Porto Moniz with natural swimming holes
Ribeira Brava

Other favourite places:

  • Palheiro Golf course: This golf course has breathtaking views over Funchal and is a great walking work out with all of the hills. Be sure to stop for coffee/tea and a snack at the Palheiro Village Tea house (get the Casa Velha cake) and drinks or lunch at the Clubhouse Restaurant with magnificent views. Steve says he had one of the best burgers in his life there.
  • Palheiro Gardens: These gorgeous gardens are right next to the golf course and there are many walking trails that go through them.
  • Ponta do Pargo Lighthouse and museum: A great spot for lighthouse enthusiasts, with beautiful views. You can drive here or park at Casa de Cha O Fio (Tea house with a stunning view) and walk down through a field with grazing cows, which is what we did – highly recommended!
Steve warming up at Palheiro Golf Course.
Palheiro Gardens
Casa de Cha O Fio Tea house near the Ponta do Pargo Lighthouse (farol).
Grazing cow in the field between the Casa de Cha O Fio (Tea House) and the Ponta do Pargo Lighthouse.


Grilled sardines from Restaurante dos Combatentes (Funchal).
Casa de Cha O Fio Tea house with lemon cake.
Beira Calhau restaurant
Banana milkshake at Poça’s Café in Porto Moniz.

Shopping: One of the things we love about Madeira is the limited commercialism. You will not find lots of tacky touristy souvenir shops everywhere. If you require anything specific (like electronics, hardware, eyeglasses, etc), there are a couple of large shopping malls in Funchal that has just about everything you can imagine. Madeira Shopping Mall and Forum Madiera are two that we have visited. If you need hiking gear, Decathlon is where you can find it (in Funchal).

Weather: Click here for a good overview of the monthly weather in Madeira. From November to May, the average temperature ranges from 18C to 21C. From June to October the average temperature ranges from 24C to 26C. Most of the rainfall occurs during the winter months, but even on days that called for rain, we have found sunny spots around the island (our stay here is from Jan. 9 – 30). The wind coming off the Atlantic can be significant, particularly when you are high on a hill.

Accommodations: Because of the strong wind, I would avoid places that are high on a hill or mountain, especially during the cooler months. We stayed in a wonderful hillside villa with a gorgeous view that was very reasonable priced, but many days we couldn’t sit outside because it was so windy. And the wind would howl inside the house at all hours. Some days we felt like we were in the middle of a hurricane! For this reason, the next time we come, we will try to find a place closer to the shore.

I also recommend staying on the south shore which has more sun than the north shore. I would look for a place in Câmara de Lobos, Ribeira Brava, or Ponta Do Sol. The closer you can get to the water in these towns, the better, because that is where all the action is. We had to drive into town every time we wanted to go to a restaurant and it would have been much nicer just walking.

Driving in Madeira: Because of the insanely steep hills and narrow streets, driving in Madeira can be very challenging. In fact, if you (or your travel companion) don’t feel comfortable driving a standard car, I would sadly advise you not to come to this beautiful island unless you have ample money for taxis and private tours. There is a bus system which I haven’t investigated.

On Madeira roads there are many roundabouts. If you aren’t use to them, they can be very confusing when trying to follow directions. My advice is to turn on Google Maps voice directions on your phone which will give specific directions like “Take the 2nd exit on the roundabout”.

When you use Google Maps to search for driving directions for a town like “Ponta do Sol”, you need to be specific about where you are going in the town or you will end up in some random spot somewhere in the vicinity of where you want to go. Instead, search for something like “Praia de Ponta do Sol” or “Ponta do Sol beach”. Or, use a specific address if you have one.

Because it is low season, we have not had any problems finding parking spots on the street everywhere in Madeira. Every now and then we need to use a parking garage and then things get complicated as we try to figure out the payment system. All garages we have used so far require you pay at a machine before you get back into your car. But the methods seem to vary: sometimes it’s a paper ticket, other times it’s a yellow plastic token. Sometimes you can validate your ticket at the store you were shopping at. Madeirans are very helpful, so just ask around if you’re not sure.

COVID19 in Madeira

Yes, COVID19 is here. Today, 1,583 new cases were recorded. That sounds like a lot for a population of 270,000 residents. Yet life goes on as normal here. Restaurants and stores are open and proof of vaccine is never asked for. Everyone has to wear a mask indoors and outdoors when around other people. Portugal ranks as the second country in the world for percentage of population vaccinated against COVID at 94% (in contrast, Canada stands at #7 with 84%) so the mindset seems to be “business-as-usual”.

There are many free walk-in clinics for COVID testing for residents that we see everywhere. Madierans are mandated to be tested once a week (perhaps this is why the rates are so high?). I don’t know if they allow tourists to use the free clinics.

Other random things you should know about Madeira:

  • Currency is Euros. ApplePay is accepted everywhere.
  • Good to have some cash too because some parking machines and stores/restaurants only take cash. The exchange rate is crazy-high at the ATM’s, so try to bring a lot of Euros with you ahead of time.
  • Wifi is very strong in our villa and I assume it’s similarly good around the island.
  • We bought SIM cards as soon as we arrived at a Vodaphone store. We paid 20 euros for 10GB. We need to renew this every month by returning to the store, which is rather inconvenient.
  • Weirdly, there do not seem to be many bugs here. We have not seen one mosquito: As Canadians, we are very happy about this! Tiny little ants have appeared on our honey lid on the kitchen counter, but that’s pretty well it. We haven’t even seen flies!
  • You will need European plug adapters for your devices. I ordered these from and they have worked really well.
  • The tap water is perfectly safe here. If you are on a budget and you ask for water at a restaurant, specify tap water (água da torneira) otherwise they will bring you expensive bottled (it’s as expensive as beer and wine).
  • Milk (leite) is not refrigerated in stores, so look for cartons on the shelves. You will have two choices: Gordo (whole milk) and Meio-Gordo (partially skimmed).
  • Butter (manteiga) comes in plastic containers like margarine.

Phew! That’s it for now. We will be adding to this post as we discover more great things about Madeira and as we come up with more tips for future travellers. Do we recommend travelling to Madeira? 100%: Put it on your bucket list!

Have you been to Madeira? What have I missed? What are some of your favourite spots? Please comment below!

How to stay longer than 90 days in Europe (and our upcoming trip to Portugal and France)

“Let’s escape to Portugal for a few months,” hubby Steve suggested one fall day recently as we anticipated the inevitable long, cold, grey winter ahead of us in Toronto. 

I did not need any convincing. We are two retirees who have always loved to travel. Needless to say, COVID-19 put an end to those halcyon carefree travel days, but as vaccination rates rose in 2021 and international borders started to open up again, the possibility of satisfying one’s wanderlust has become real once again (we are trying to ignore Omicron scares atm). 

We have heard a lot about the beauty, warmth, and affordability of Portugal so it seemed like a great place to hang out in for a while. It also ranks as the third country in the world for percentage of population vaccinated against COVID at 89% (Canada stands at #10 with 82%). Portugal is known to have a very good public healthcare system so we feel very safe travelling there. 

We set January 8, 2022, as our departure date, beginning our trip in the warmest part of Portugal and working our way north as the weather warms up.

Madeira Island is a small Portuguese island in the Atlantic ocean, just adjacent to Morocco. It is renowned for striking mountain vistas, epic hikes and Madeira wine. It has been called “The Hawaii of Europe with an average January temperature of 18C/64F. This seems like an ideal spot to stay for our first month! 

Madeira Island, Portugal

Then we will head mainland to “the Algarve”, the name given to the area on the southern coast of Portugal. The Algarve is filled with beaches, golf courses, seafood and quaint fishing villages. The biking is reputed to be phenomenal. The average temperature in February is 17C/63F. We chose the old town of Tavira to stay for the second month, because it looks gorgeous and it is a 30 minute drive to the Spanish border for day trips. 

Tavira, Portugal

For our third and last month in Portugal we will head north to Lisbon which will enable us to take side trips to the beautiful coastal towns of Cascais and Porto, and to the vineyards of the Douro Valley. The average temperature in Lisbon in March is 18C/65F.

Porto, Portugal

Here is our itinerary with links to our accommodations.

January: Madeira

February:  Tavira  

March: Lisbon

While doing research for this trip I learned that tourists are not allowed to stay in the Schengen zone of Europe for longer than 90 days because of the 1985 Schengen Agreement (click here for a list of these countries). Tourists who overstay the 90 days are subject to large fines, deportation and being banned from re-entering the Schengen area. Since Portugal and France are in the Schengen area we had some logistics to sort out to stay for 6 months. Tourists are allowed to leave the Schengen zone and return after 90 days, however, that did not suit us because we wanted to stay in Portugal and France. 

Countries in the Schengen area are in blue

(NOTE: An additional complication for some travellers is that some countries require a special Schengen visa to visit the Schengen zone countries. Thankfully, Canada and the US are not on this list.)

I discovered that it is relatively easy to get a  ‘Visitor’ Long-Stay Visa (visa de long séjour visiteur or VLS-TS Visiteur) – scroll down to “Moving or Retiring to France Without Working”. This visa will enable us to extend our trip in France for up to a year. Other countries offer similar long-stay visas but they are more difficult to obtain. (More info on how to apply for a French long-stay visa can be found at the bottom of this blogpost.)* 

Here is our itinerary for France with links to our accommodations:

April: Montpellier 

May: Gordes

June: Bordeaux 

We chose Montpellier because it is on the Mediterranean with beautiful beaches, great cycling, and a lively cultural and dining scene. The average temperature in April in Montpellier is 18C/65F.

Montpellier, France

Gordes is a medieval town that sits on a hilltop and is considered the one of most beautiful towns in Provence. It is situated in a rural area close to many other villages which are easily accessible by bike. The average temperature in May in Gordes is 23C/73F.

Gordes, France

Bordeaux is on the west coast of France, surrounded by world famous vineyards and an hour’s drive to the Bay of Arcachon where you can stroll along some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and feast on oysters. The average temperature in June in Bordeaux is 24C/75F.

Bordeaux, France

With our six month travel itinerary complete, we decided to try to rent out our downtown Toronto condo while we are gallivanting around Europe. We reached out to our phenomenal real estate agent, Danielle Desjardins who put together an MLS listing for us and within two days of the listing going live we found some wonderful tenants. Happily, the rental income will cover our accommodation costs for our trip to Europe. Everything is falling into place!

I hope you will follow us on our Portugal/France adventure which I will blog about here as often as I can. You can also follow us on Instagram at @SylSteveEurope. If you have any travel tips or favourite places in Portugal or France, please add them in the comments below!

XXOO Sylvia (and Steve)

*If you are planning a trip to Europe, please read below for more info about the Schengen zone, visas and visiting Portugal

  1. I had to do a ton of research to understand how the Schengen agreement and visas worked. In short, (from what I understand), your passport will be time-stamped upon your arrival in your first Schengen zone country. After that, your passport will not be examined again by border officials until you leave the Schengen zone by plane or enter a non-Schengen zone country (However, if you are flying within Europe you might have to show your passport before boarding a flight). The Schengen agreement makes it much easier to travel across Europe because it means that no border officials are required at borders separating Schengen zone countries. 
  1. Note that you must apply for the visa while you are still in your home country and that you cannot apply for it more than three months before your arrival in France. This made the timing tricky because we had planned on being in Portugal for three months before our arrival in France. So on our visa application we said that we will be arriving in France three months before the actual date of our arrival in France (ie. We said we were going to arrive in France December 24, 2021 although we will not actually arrive in France until Mar. 31, 2022. Thus, the visa we received starts Dec. 24, 2021 and ends Dec. 24, 2022.). 
  1. is a legitimate business that has been contracted by the governments of several countries to manage visa requests. Click here for VFS offices in Canada. Click here for VFS offices in the U.S. Click here for an agency in the U.K. that does similar work. Click here to find out how to apply for a French visa in other countries. 
  1. I had a positive experience with VFS and we were successful at getting our visas 10 days after applying for them, but not all online reviews of VFS are positive. 
  1. The cost of the visa application is about $46 CAD which is paid to VFS for their service. (The cost is the same for a 6 month and a 12 month visa.)
  1. You must book an appointment online with VFS when handing in your application package. The VFS consultant will determine if you have all of the necessary documentation. If you don’t, you will have to rebook your appointment and return with the proper documents.
  1. VFS will send your application package to the French embassy in your country along with your passport (in Canada, the French embassy is in Ottawa). So do not plan any cross-border travelling while you are waiting to get your passport back!
  1. When you book your appointment on the VFS website you can opt for an additional courier cost which will expedite delivery of your passport right to your home address. I do recommend this service, however, I read that if you pre-purchase this service on the website and then find out at the VFS office that your application package is incomplete, you will lose this money. It might be better to wait until the consultant at the VFS office has approved your documents while you are there and then ask if you can pay for the courier service on the spot. 
  1. You do not have to show proof of a purchased plane ticket to France when you apply for a visa but you do have to provide proof of your accommodation in France for the entire duration of the visa that you applied for (6 months or 12 months), even if you do not plan on staying in France for the entire duration of your visa. Keep in mind that many websites like, VRBO and Airbnb allow you to cancel your reservations within 48 hours of booking them. So you can make a reservation, make a copy of the confirmation email for your visa application package, then cancel your reservation. Or, you can do some “creative editing” of the dates on your reservations (captured with a screenshot) using Photoshop,, Google Slides, or other photo-editing tools. I’m pretty certain that the French officials at the embassy do not contact your accommodation hosts to confirm the dates of your stay (they didn’t for me). 

  2. I discovered that on Airbnb, many hosts offer substantial discounts for a 1 month stay, often matching the same price as 3 weeks. If you don’t see such an offer, ask the host. Also, if you book for a whole month, Airbnb’s automatic cancellation policy is “Strict”: ie, you will lose all your money if you cancel. Apparently, hosts cannot override this on their settings for a one month stay. However, most hosts will waive this strict fee if they have “Flexible, Moderate or Firm” on their listing. If you want to book for a month or more, ask the host via Airbnb messages if they would consider allowing a less strict cancellation fee. If they agree to it and you book it but then have to cancel, Airbnb will have to honour the full refund since they will have a record of your conversation with the host proving that they agreed to that arrangement.

  3. Make sure that your full name and the full name(s) of anyone else travelling with you (who is applying for the visa) are indicated as guests on the accommodation confirmation invoices that you include in the application package. 

  4. Use this checklist to make sure that you have all the documents necessary for your visa application package. Make sure to photocopy everything before you get to the VFS office. They do have a photocopier, but they will charge you $1 for every page that you need to photocopy. 

  5. When you get your passport back you will find the visa glued onto a blank page in your passport if your application is approved.

  6. You must register your visa with the French Immigration and Citizenship Office (Office français de l’immigration et de l’intégration – OFII) within three months of arriving in France. This will cost an extra 200 euros which goes to the French government. Click here to validate your visa once you have arrived in France. Click here for more important info about the validation process.

  7. I do recommend that you book your return flight home before you land in Europe. Most border officials will ask to see this.

  8. To make your life easier, it might be best to start your trip in France, and then travel around Europe once you register your visa with OFII and have your appointment with them (see #13 above). This will give you a full 6 months to a year (depending on the duration of your visa) to travel around Europe, even outside of France (thanks to the Schengen zone and lack of border control). In theory, your visa is for travel within France but no one will know where and when you have travelled outside of France. As long as you return to  France and leave before your visa runs out you should be fine. 

  9. If you travel somewhere else before you arrive in France (like we will), it is critical that you get your passport time stamped by a customs official as soon as you arrive in France so that your 90 days don’t keep on accumulating from the first time you arrived in the Schengen zone (for us, in Portugal). This should be easy to do if you arrive in an airport in France. Otherwise you will have to go to the regional border police office to do this.

  10. As you can imagine, the complicated process of applying for a visa can make it very challenging for travellers who want to keep their travel plans fluid. Keep in mind that once you get your visa, you are free to cancel all your pre-set travel plans. 

(A huge “Merci” to Zoe Smith from for her patience with me and answering many questions about the Schengen zone and French Long-Stay Visitor’s visa. Search for “French visa” on her website for many relevant blogposts).

If travelling to Portugal and Madeira:

  • Fill out this Passenger Locator Form 4 days or less before arriving in Portugal (once you know your seat number if flying). You will get a QR code as soon as you submit the form but at the airport you need to show the full pdf from your email that you will receive from “” with “Passenger locator form” in the subject line. Take a screenshot of this pdf in case you can’t access your email at the airport. The code to access the pdf is your passport number.
  • Fill out this form if you are going to Madeira after you get your negative Rapid Antigen test result. Take a screenshot of the QR code you get once you submit. You need to show this QR code when you arrive at the Funchal airport.
  • is a website run by South African expat Nick Robinson who has made Portugal his permanent home. He has loads of great tips and advice about travelling and relocating to Portugal. Be sure to sign up for his email list and subscribe to  his YouTube channel.

COVID-19 tests required for cross-border travelling (US/Canada) and other travel tips

HOORAY! US/Canada borders are open again!(with some restrictions):

If you are anything like me, you might be itching to do some travelling again, and why not stick close to home by visiting the country that we share a border with? Follow these tips to learn how to make your next trip as smooth as possible.

  1. All travellers need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (except for children: see #5, #6, and #7 below).
  2. Entering/re-entering the US by air requires a negative viral test. The test must be taken within 24 hours of your scheduled plane departure time (of the flight that crosses the U.S. border). The quickest and least expensive viral test is the rapid-antigen COVID-19 test. Results are usually available in less than 30 minutes and the cost ranges from $17 (Costco), $20 (Walmart),$35 (CHL), $30 (Rexall) and $40 (Shopper’s Drug Mart). Sadly, in some provinces like British Columbia you will likely not be able to find a rapid-antigen test for less than $120.
  3. Alternatively, you may enter/re-enter the US by air with proof of a positive COVID-19 viral test result acquired less than 90 days before the flight’s departure from Canada and a letter from a licensed healthcare provider or a public health official stating that you were cleared to travel.
  4. Entering/re-entering Canada by any route requires a negative molecular test such as a PCR (RT-PCR) test. This test is usually very expensive ($100 – $300) and results can take up to 48 hours to get back. Because the test must be taken within 72 hours of the plane departure, the timing can be very tricky from receiving your test result to showing it to a Canadian official at the border or at the airport. Try getting an NAAT test instead (see NOTE, below). RAPID ANTIGEN TESTS ARE NOT ACCEPTABLE TO ENTER CANADA.
  5. Alternatively, you may enter/re-enter Canada with proof of a positive COVID-19 molecular test result acquired between 14 (10 after Jan. 15, 2022) and 180 days before departure of your flight to Canada so long as you are symptom-free (no doctor’s letter required).

NOTE: If you are entering/re-entering Canada, please do some research before paying for an expensive molecular COVID-19 test. Apparently some US drugstores and pop-up clinics provide free PCR tests, even for Canadians. (Example, click here for free PCR tests in Manhattan). Also, some Walgreen drugstores offer free NAAT tests (called “ID NOW”) with results that can be acquired under 24 hrs and in as little as 2 hours. If there are no Walgreen pharmacies near you in the US, try googling “Free asymptomatic COVID19 tests for travel in (city/state)”, or “Free rapid-antigen test for travel in (city/state)”, or “Free NAAT covid19 test in (city/state)”. Note that some websites might not allow you to book an appointment from an IP address outside the US, so you might have to do this while you are in the US.

In Canada, I have not heard of any free asymptomatic COVID tests for travel purposes.

Make sure that the documentation you receive when your test is complete includes the following information:

  • Your full name as it appears on your passport
  • Your passport number OR your birth date
  • The time and date the test was taken
  • The type of test
  • The word NEGATIVE next to “Test result”
  • The name and contact info of the health provider who conducted the test
  • NOTE: When you check in with Air Canada online you have the option to upload the document with your negative test result. Do not be alarmed if you get an email later that says “Your document is incorrect”. This happened to me and I knew that the test would be accepted at the airport because it was a legit test from Shoppers Drug Mart. As it turned out, no one at the airport asked to see it!

More tips: 

  1. Most COVID-19 tests facilities require an appointment so book early early to avoid stress and additional costs. Many places have limited time slots available.
  2. Set up an appointment to allow you to have your test result back at least 1 day before your travels (again, to minimize stress and to allow more time to make alternative arrangements in the unlikely event that your test result comes back positive). 
  3. I would NOT RECOMMEND booking a test at the airport (I have heard horror stories of long lines and missed flights, even with a set appointment). 
  4. If someone else arranges a test appointment for you, ask questions and make sure that it is the correct test to avoid paying unnecessary costs or to be denied passage to your destination due to a wrong test.
  5. Note that your must take your COVID-19 test 72 hours before the scheduled departure time of the flight that crosses the border into Canada, and 24 hours before the scheduled departure time of the flight that crosses the border into the U.S.
  6. For entering the U.S., if your plane is delayed or cancelled you will get a 24hr extension of your negative test result so be sure to have a record of your original flight departure time (the flight that crosses the border). If there is a delay beyond 24 hours you will have to re-test. You have a 48 hr grace period to your connecting flight if delayed (48 hours from your first flight departure). Click here for more info.
  7. For entering Canada, it appears that there is an unlimited extension of your negative test result from the scheduled flight departure time (click here for more info).
  8. Children under 18 years old DO NOT need to be vaccinated to enter/re-enter or fly within the US, however, they DO need to show proof of a negative COVID19 test (children under 2 are exempted from all rules).
  9. Children over 12 years old DO need to be vaccinated to enter/re-enter or fly within Canada in addition to having a negative COVID19 test (children under 2 are exempted from all rules).
  10. In Canada, unvaccinated children under 12 who return from travelling internationally have many restrictions placed on them for two weeks when they return to Canada, including not being allowed to attend school. Click here for more info.
  11. Everyone entering/re-entering Canada must use the ArriveCan app to provide mandatory travel information. Please note that the instructions on the ArriveCan app says that “a negative molecular (PCR) COVID-19 test result is required”, however, a negative NAAT test is accepted as well, as confirmed here (tap on “Get a pre-entry test (accepted types and timing”). Note also that even if you are fully vaccinated and have tested negative for COVID-19, the ArriveCan app will ask you for an address in your Canadian destination where you can quarantine for two weeks.
  12. Rules change quickly so double check before you plan your trip that the info in this graphic and post are still relevant.

Safe travels!


Great resource: Find out if you can board a flight to the United States:

NEW! Live Remote Sketchnoting Workshops

(Click here to see this post in a Google doc.)

Dear sketchnoting friends and educators,

Now that everyone has settled back into a new school year, it is the perfect time to introduce your students and/or colleagues to sketchnoting (or to polish their sketchnoting skills). For the first time ever, I am now offering customized, live, remote sketchnoting workshops for any audience around the world!

What is sketchnoting?

Sketchnoting is a form of visual note-taking, where you draw or doodle your thoughts, observations, or notes in combination with words or text. It is a highly effective way for students to stay focussed, organize their thoughts, plan out ideas, and be creative with their note-taking. 

Workshop description:

Workshop participants will learn how to sketchnote with various fun and scaffolded drawing activities.  Sylvia will teach the basic elements of sketchnoting such as how to set up your sketchnote and how to draw icons, fonts, arrows, people, faces, animals, banners, containers, frames, bullets, and dividers and how to live sketchnote. By the end of the workshop, even the most reluctant artist will become a budding sketchnoter and will leave with all the skills necessary to create meaningful visual notes.

Audience: All ages in all subject areas.

Capacity: Up to 100 participants per workshop.

Required tools: Participants can draw digitally or with pen and paper.

Special back-to-school rates (in USD): Customize your workshop length! (Book before Oct 31, 2021 to receive the discounted rates. Workshop can take place anytime before June 30, 2022. Please note that all bookings require a 50% down payment to secure the date.)

Regular rate     Discounted rate until Oct. 31

1 hr: $1000 → $650

2 hrs: $1600  → $1200

3 hrs:  $2150 → $1750

4 hrs: $2700 →  $2200

5 hrs: $3100 →  $2600

6 hrs: $3500 →  $3000

For questions or to book me:

Please email me at

I hope to see you and your students online soon!

XXOO Sylvia

(Please click here for more testimonials.)

My favourite books

Dear friends,

I have always been an avid reader. However, despite the extra free time due to physical distancing, I have found it very difficult to focus on reading anything that is not COVID19 related. Finally this week I decided to open up my eReader and I downloaded some new books. I am happy to report that I have rediscovered my love of reading and can’t wait to dive into my next one.

For the sake of your mental health, I strongly recommend to try to take a break from COVID19 worries and to pick up a book to read for pleasure. It is an instant mood lifter and the best form of escapism.

Here is a list of the best books I have read over the past few years. If you want to learn more about each book, please click on the link which will take you to their Goodreads page.

The criteria to make my favourites book list include:

  • Well written
  • Captivating plot and characters
  • Not too gruesome
  • Ends in a satisfying way
  • Over 4 stars in GoodReads (or very close to 4)

(Note: these books are mostly fiction.)

I will continue to add books to this page as I recommend them, so please visit often!

By the way, if you don’t have an eReader yet, now might be the time to buy one. I have a Kobo and a Kindle (I prefer the Kindle as it carries more titles). EReaders allow you to download the first few chapters of a book before you commit to buying it.

Please share your favourites in the comments below so that I can read them and maybe add them to my list!

The Heart’s Invisible Furies
All the light we cannot see
The Goldfinch
The 7 Husbands of Evelyn Hugo 
The Perfect Couple
The Alice Network
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
The Power
The Secret Wife
The Marrow Thieves
Tell no one
Big Little Lies
The Air You Breathe
Where the Crawdads sing
The song of Achilles
Daisy Jones and the Six
The 100 year old man who climbed out the window and disappeared
An American Marriage
The Silent Patient
Dear Wife
City of Girls
Beautiful ruins
The Testaments
Swimming with Horses
Fall on your knees
Cutting for Stone
The Secret Life of Bees
The Book Thief
The Time Traveller’s Wife
The Glass Castle
The memory keeper’s daughter
Mister Pip
The Poisonwood Bible
The Help
The Birth of Venus
The Book of Negroes
A complicated kindness
Long bright river
American Dirt
Lullabies for little criminals
Nothing to see here
A fine balance
The invention of wings
An absolutely remarkable thing
Ask again, Yes
Little Fires Everywhere
The Henna Artist
The Vanishing Half
The Last Flight
The Midnight Library
28 Summers
Anxious People
In An Instant
What Comes After
Pretty Little Wife
Great Circle
The Idea of You
The Comeback
What Strange Paradise
The People We Keep
Oh, William!
A Year in Provence
The Lincoln Highway
Dear Edward
Wish you were here
If You Want to Make God Laugh
North of Normal
The Maid


A visit to the Ron Clark Academy


(Photo credit: Ron Clark Academy)

Every now and then you have an experience in your life that has such an impact on you that you feel at a loss for words. As I sit in the Atlanta airport now waiting for my flight back to Toronto, I’m trying to process the past few hours that had my emotions fluctuating from anticipation to delight to incredulousness to gratitude to hopefulness and finally, to tears of joy.


(Photo credit: Ron Clark Academy)

You see, I just completed a full-day teacher-training session at the Ron Clark Academy in inner city Atlanta. Now, if you are an educator, you have probably heard of this school with its outstanding academic reputation and significant social media presence. It was created by two teachers, Ron Clark and Kim Beardon, who had a revolutionary idea: to create a school where academic rigour meets compassion with an emphasis on producing graduates with strong leadership qualities. Oh, and they made it a fun learning environment too, by encouraging dance, songs and chants to complement the classroom experience and to drive home the lessons taught. The school has 120 students: 4 classes (5th, 6th, 7th, 8th) with 30 students per class.

(RCA video collaboration with Ludicrous for Super Bowl 2019)

If it sounds too good to be true, it almost is. It’s a very strange sensation because you find yourself experiencing the day almost in a dazed state, as you try to absorb all the details of this spectacular school. It’s like a fantasy come to life: a school so special that you couldn’t even imagine it in your wildest dream.

Atrium and Stairway

(Photo courtesy

Upon entering the school’s front door, you (along with hundreds of other educators, called “Guests”) are met by a live school rock band and dancing students, teachers and administrators who greet you warmly with smiles. You are whisked inside and you are immediately struck by the decor: Modeled after Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School, there are massive dragons, suits of armour, and windy staircases everywhere. The four House plaques are prominently displayed on the walls, and students are immaculately groomed in crisp, clean uniforms. The students appear to be almost too happy and charismatic to be believable, but over the course of the day, you realize that everything about this school is 100% authentic.


(Ron Clark, charismatic principal of the RCA and creator of the viral Instagram hashtag #GradingPapersChallenge)

The first session of the day is in the gym with Mr. Clark who talks with a charming southern drawl and explains the genesis and philosophy of the school while thoroughly entertaining us with hilarious anecdotes about students, teachers and parents. He is, hands down, one of the best speakers I have ever seen, often reminding us about the importance of raising the bar of expectations in our classrooms and building strong relationships with students and their families. He recommends visiting students and their families in their own homes at the beginning of the year to get a sense of their environment and to let parents know that “As a team, you and I will work together to ensure that your child will achieve success.”


(Mr. Clark’s math class. RCA teachers and students often stand on tables to make a point or talk to each other.)

When the school tour begins, the visiting teachers are split into groups and ushered into different classrooms to watch RCA teachers and students in action. It’s a smooth transition, with guides leading the way like clockwork. In every class we visited, we were invited to join the students to solve problems together and to discuss the lessons taught. Eventually it dawns on you that not only are these students delightful, polite, gracious, and kind, they are also brilliant, eloquent, articulate and self-confident. In all of the classes I observed, the teacher was merely a mediator or instigator, posing questions to the students and letting them figure out the answers on their own. The students (NOT the teacher) would explain to their classmates the solutions they came up with and their classmates were invited to critique their solutions and to add suggestions of their own. RCA students are extremely supportive of one another and constantly cheer each other on and offer encouragement. I’ve never seen anything like it. This is student-centred learning at its very best.

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(My lunch companions, Zoe and Zoey. Students at RCA have to earn their personalized jackets by being exemplary students.)

At the end of the day, all visiting teachers were invited to hurl themselves down the blue RCA slide to become “Slide Certified”, with loud music, dancing, and celebration all around. The farewell school song the students sang for us at the end brought me to tears as a small girl who introduced herself as “Halle, as in Halle Berry” clasped my hands and danced with me, truly exemplifying the warmth of the RCA family.

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(Me and my dancing partner, Halle.)

There is so much more I can write about the this unique school. But friends, it really has to be experienced to be believed. Please do not wait for a reason to go to Atlanta. Book your trip today and allow your eyes to be opened to what every student, teacher and school has the potential to be. I guarantee that you will not be disappointed and it could very easily change the way you teach forever.

(House dance competition at the end of the day.)


Watch the short documentary above about “The Amazing Shake”, a competition started by the Ron Clark Academy.  This competition places an emphasis on teaching students manners, discipline, respect, and professional conduct. Students prepare by learning the nuances of professional human interaction such as how to give a proper handshake, how to “work a room,” how to give a successful interview, and how to remain composed under pressure.

5 Tips for Live Sketchnoting

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(This post originally appeared on

Live sketchnoting (doodling while someone is talking) is the most challenging form of sketchnoting. It is stressful at first, but it gets easier over time with practice. Here are some tips for live sketchnoting:

  1. Before you begin, draw a banner, maybe a portrait of the speaker/teacher, the date and place. This will settle you down and get the creative juices flowing for sketchnoting.
  2. You don’t have to write down everything, just capture the parts that stick out for you. Capturing ten to twenty points of the talk/lesson is fine.
  3. You can add more doodles and embellishments later such as icons, containers and frames, banners, arrows, dividers and fancy fonts.
  4. Don’t stress! Sketchnoting is supposed to be fun! Don’t worry about quality of your sketchnote, just get the key points down and enjoy the learning process. Over time with practice, you will find live sketchnoting easier and easier.
  5. SHARE your sketchnotes! I enjoy live sketchnoting during keynote addresses in conferences. When I’m finished, I share my sketchnote as a gift with the speaker who is always delighted to receive it. With the Procreate app that I draw with on my iPad, I can export the sketchnote as a video from the beginning to the end of my drawing. In iMovie, I can then add music then upload to YouTube. To see a YouTube playlist of my live sketchnotes, visit

If you (and your students) want to get started sketchnoting right away please visit for 21 free sketchnoting lessons. Please share your sketchnotes on social media with the hashtag #sketchnotefever!

For more tips and tricks for getting started with sketchnoting in the classroom, please check out my new book,  “How to Sketchnote: A Step-by-Step Manual for Teachers and Students, available on Amazon. The book includes access to an online database of sketchnoting icons and many scaffolded activities to introduce sketchnoting to your students.

Available now!

Happy sketchnoting!



Sketchnoting World Tour 2019

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Dear sketchnoting friends,

After a successful 6-city 2018 Cross-Canada Tour, I am beside myself with excitement to announce my Sketchnoting World Tour 2019!

Here are the stops so far (more dates to come):

1. Wednesday, April 10, Auckland, NZ,  Orewa College. (Click here for flier)

2. Saturday, May 4, Aurora, OR,  North Marion Intermediate School.(Click here for flier)

3. June 4, Fayetteville, NC, Cumberland County Schools Educational Resource Center. (Click here for flier).

4. Saturday, Nov. 2, Hà Nội, Vietnam, Concordia International School. Click here for flier.

5. Saturday, Nov. 9, Singapore, Singapore American School. (Click here for flier)

Please click here to read more about the workshops.

Please click here to register for a workshop.

Please click here if you are interested in hosting a full-day sketchnoting workshop at no cost to your school.

Please click here if you would like to invite me to conduct a sketchnoting workshop in your community.

Please click here to be notified if a sketchnoting workshop comes to your area.

I sure hope to meet you in 2019!




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ShadowDraw App

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A few months ago I saw the coolest thing on social media: an app that teaches the user how to draw simple drawings by tracing the lines drawn by an artist.

The app is called “ShadowDraw – Learn How to Draw, a free app with in-app purchases. I was mesmerized.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago when I received an email from Marty McDonough, the creator of the app,  asking if I would like to be a featured artist. I was super excited to contribute to this unique teaching resource so I submitted some Winter Holiday sketchnoting icons. Well, today my first drawing bundle is ready to purchase!


  1. In the iTunes store, download the ShadowDraw app (for iPads only).
  2. Do the opening tutorial.
  3. Tap Menu
  4. Browse tutorials
  5. Tap on “Sketchnoting for the Holidays/ Sylvia Duckworth”
  6. “Get book for $1.99USD/$2.79CAD” to learn how to draw 25 different holiday icons.
  7. On the right, tap on the icon you want to learn how to draw > Start drawing!

If you like my lessons, check out the other lessons by featured artists including Graham Shaw (yes, THAT Graham Shaw from the popular YouTube video with 23 million views)! You can read about the other artists here who have all contributed to this wonderful app with Holiday-themed drawings and more.

Have fun learning how to draw with the ShadowDraw app!

XXOO Sylvia

5 Ways to Create a Doodling Culture in your Classroom

(This is a cross post from a guest blogpost for Alice Keeler.)

5 Ways to create a doodling culture

Sketchnoting, or visual note-taking, has so many benefits for students. Many studies have proven that images are considerably more effective than words when it comes to memory retention, comprehension and motivation. There are psychological benefits as well, because sketchnoting has a calming effect similar to meditation and listening to soothing music. Sketchnoting also allows students to see the bigger picture in the concepts they are studying, to make connections in their learning, and to display their learning process.

Before you begin sketchnoting in class, however, it is extremely important that you set up a doodling culture so that your students understand that IT’S OKAY TO DOODLE!

This is very counterintuitive for most teachers who feel that in order for the student to truly absorb the material being taught, they have to be looking at the teacher. This is a mindset that is very difficult to get over for teachers and for students, but with consistent reminders that it’s okay, sketchnoting will soon become a natural and normal part of your daily class routine.

Here are 5 good tips to create a sketchnoting or doodling culture in your classroom:

  1. Remind your students over and over again that it’s okay to sketchnote in class as a form of note-taking, planning, processing information, and keeping engaged in class.
  2. Provide paper/pen/pencils/notebooks/digital devices for sketchnoting.
  3. Model sketchnoting yourself by doodling with the students and displaying your sketchnotes.
  4. Spend 5 minutes a day with your students to focus on building their visual vocabulary. Visit the #SKETCHNOTEFEVER resource page for 21 free video lessons.
  5. Encourage your students to share their sketchnotes. Create a space in your classroom/class website to allow students to do this. Celebrate their amazing progress as the school year goes on!

For more tips and tricks for getting started with sketchnoting in the classroom, check out my new book, “How to Sketchnote: A Step-by-Step Manual for Teachers and Students”.Available now!Happy sketchnoting!

XXOO Sylvia