Before flying to Madeira, all I knew about it was what I´ve heard of my parents who were there a few years before. I concluded, this was not the best destination for a small child, so I put the island on my “i-will-go-there-when-Lu-is-18” list. But then it just so happened last year that we decided together with two girlfriends to catch some last warm days and sun rays before the winter comes. So we were off, for 6 days! We were based in Funchal and discovered the rest of the island from there – and although small, there is much to see and do.
When: October 2014
Visited: Funchal, Camara de Lobos, Machico, Canical, Ribeiro Frio, Santana, Porto Moniz, Ribeira Brava
How: with a rented car
Stayed in: Airbnb apartment
DRIVING & TRANSPORT
In general, roads are good – sometimes narrow and sometimes curvy, but not in a bad shape. Respect the SPEED LIMITS, since there are many radars. You will be driving through many tunnels so keep the lights on and don´t be surprised if you have to stop at a red light inside a tunnel. If you rent a car don´t speed off directly, get a feeling of the tyres and brakes first – the roads are often wet, since the climate is humid in general. Oh and, pay for the parking. We got a ticket one time, the money was automatically taken off the account which we left at the car rental company. We didn´t use a navigation system, but have downloaded maps on smartphones before we drove away – this worked out fine except once, where the map led us to a wrong place ;). The island is not that big and YOU CAN EASILY MAKE DAY TRIPS FROM FUNCHAL if you are using it as a base.
There are really many big hotels in Funchal, but also lots of private rooms and apartments which you can rent. We opted for an AIRBNB one this time and it was a great one. It had a huge terrace and more than enough space inside + a small swimming pool at the roof top of the building. When we booked it we watched for the best price and location – so that it was close to some restaurants and shops, not to far from the old centre and the beach, there were also two rental car offices directly across the street. Way much better than a big hotel, especially if you have good and not too expensive flight connections to the island. We chose to stay in Funchal, the biggest town, and take trips from there. In Funchal there is much going on in the evening and one has everything one needs. If you stay in a small village in the mountains, you will most probably have to rent a car for the whole time of your stay.
I don´t know where to start! Maybe with the hint to check out the LOCAL MARKET at your first day in Funchal – and try out as many things you have not yet tasted. The sellers will happily feed you with pieces of exotic fruits, you can stock up on spices and fresh fruits / vegetables and fish – one more reason to stay in an apartment with a kitchen and not in a hotel ;). Because the island is situated at the crossing of old trade ways between the Americas, Africa and Europe, this great mix of influences is very much seen in the dishes and recipes. For starters you mostly get typical bread with garlic or a tomato onion SOUP with a poached egg. For meat lovers there is an ESPETADA (big skewers with large chunks of beef) on almost every menu Another meat favourite is PICADO – small grilled pieces of meat with garlic and French fries. To my luck, fish plays a great role in the kitchen. Tuna, black scabbard fish (ESPADA), codfish and squids are widely available. Don´t be scared to try out exotic combinations, like for instance fish with banana or mango. Vegetables are always a part of a meal, only salad seems not to be the most popular thing around there. There is a big variety of sweets also, often combined with sweet fruits.
And we should not forget the drinks. MADEIRA WINE is world-renowned and I can understand why. Throughout the island PONCHA (can be hot or cold, can be very strong!) is very popular. Also a refreshing sweet drink with ice cream, pineapple and beer. For the non-alcoholic fans, there are many fresh juices offered.
Madeira is a paradise for WOOLEN sweaters, hats, shawls, bags, shoes and more. So, clothing is everywhere. There are more than enough natural food products you can buy, also SPICES, plant SEEDS, wine & spirits, dried fruits, jewellery, art pieces and different handicrafts in one of the many nice small shops in the old centres of towns.
WHAT WE SAW & DID
Madeira´s BIGGEST CITY has around 110,000 inhabitants, making it the 6th largest city in Portugal. The city stretches out on the surrounding HILLS and looks really big at first glance. There are many new buildings being built at the moment and they look really nice – but probably most of them are meant to be rented out to tourists instead of serving as homes for the locals. Funchal is also the place to be if you are searching for cultural experiences, museums, good restaurants,wine tastings, fun in the evening or good shopping.
In the old town centre there are many many narrow pedestrian streets where you can “get lost” with nice ART GALLERIES and beautiful facades. The more you “get lost” the lower the prices of food in restaurants will be. Our first evening we ate really good and for a really good price.
One evening we had the privilege to listen to SERENADES from local music students, as we were visiting Madeira just in the time of some kind of yearly music festival.
BOTANICAL GARDENS opened in 1960 and are located above the city of Funchal, at Quinta do Bom Sucesso. The easiest way to get to the entrance is to take the cable car, what we also did. The botanical gardens host more than 2000 name labelled plants and is divided into 5 main areas – endemic plants from the Atlantic islands, tree garden (tropic plants), succulents (south American plants which can store water), medical & aromatic tropical plants and the last one, “LOIRO PARK”, where some of most exotic and rare birds live. I must say the plants were amazing, but I felt really sorry for the birds, as they were in rather small cages.
Not only in the botanical gardens, but all over the island you can see the most INTERESTING MIX OF TREES AND PLANTS. Tropical frangipani next to a chestnut, in between some New Zealand spinach, hibiscus and a banana tree. Behind the corner cactus, hydrangea and strelitzia. We even came across an eucalyptus forest. Really fascinating even if you are not the biggest plants & trees lover!
IGREJA DE NOSSA SENHORA DO MONTE, a black and white church in Monte on the hills above Funchal´s downtown is a major tourist attraction. It is quite small form the inside, but very nice and you can get great views on the city if you climb a few stairs!
Monte can be reached with a cable car, starting in downtown Funchal. For the way down, many choose to take a “TOBOGGAN DRIVE” or better said, a slide with basket cars. You will be going really fast downhill for about 2 kilometres, there is enough space to seat 2 persons. The “drivers” who are conducting the basket are wearing traditional white uniforms and straw hats.
The main food market, MERCADO DOS LAVRADORES is opened since 1940 and offers many local exotic fruit & vegetable products mostly found downstairs and flowers & seeds, spices & herbs found upstairs. This place is great to visit even though you don´t intend to buy anything to eat – you can consider buying some spices to take home with, maybe also as gifts. The market is closed on Sundays.
An important part of the market is its FISH MARKET section. If you wish to buy fish for lunch / dinner, you better come to the market early in the morning to get the best choice. Tuna, espada (black scabbard fish), bacalhau (codfish), gaiado (a regional fish treated like codfish) and potas (kind of squid) are the most common fish.
After all the sightseeing it was time to sit down and have our first glass of the famous MADEIRA WINE!
Black stones mixed with black sand and very cold ATLANTIC SEA water. We were not heroic enough to go for a swim, but a walk on one of Funchal´s beaches was also not a bad idea.
As I already wrote, we used Funchal as a base and stayed in the same apartment the whole 6 days. We RENTED A CAR day by day and explored the island on daily trips, which is very easy to do since it´s really not all that big. We were lucky that there were two car rental companies basically in front of our doorstep, so not much time was wasted for searching for rental offices. Here is most of we got to see!
The BEACH of Machico is supposed to be the PLACE OF FIRST DISEMBARKMENT OF PORTUGUESE DISCOVERERS. There are many LEGENDS considering the name of the town, the most convincing one seems to be the one saying two English lovers, which love was disapproved by the church, fled to the island and got stranded here. As a contribution to their love, the town got its name after their surname, Machim. Today, this easternmost municipality on the island is also the third most populous area. There is a sandy beach which might be great for the kids – since the town is close to the airport, you can also spot planes just before landing.
This COASTAL FISHING TOWN is nice for a couple of hours walking, one can see lots of fishing boats and cliffs & small sharp islands sticking out of the sea. Very relaxed atmosphere and a nice place for a short stop on the way, but if you book your accommodation here, do not expect much action.
In the west-central mountainous part of the island there are LUSH RIVER VALLEYS and GREEN HILLS with winding roads and spectacular views. With LEVADAS (specific irrigation channels) and walking paths connecting the hills and also great HIKING TRAILS leading to high peaks – with Pico Ruivo being the highest. We did not climb Pico Ruivo, so maybe this is a good reason to come back one day 😉
The whole region is really fascinating and the landscape reminded me very much of central Africa for some reason. It was wet, greet, hilly, lush and wild. Only the apes were missing!
We did some short distance walking in the mountains and were rewarded with some GREAT VIEWS along the way.
Again, it does look like Africa!
This small village on the northern part of the island, only about 45 minutes drive from Funchal, is known for its TRADITIONAL HOUSES CONSTRUCTED WITH TRIANGULAR ROOFTOPS covered with straw. The windows and doors are painted red and blue – the houses which made it until today are now a tourist attraction and one can visit them and see them also from the inside. Next to the main village market there are a few of those small houses and it´s kind of an OPEN AIR MUSEUM. In each house one can buy different products or see traditional crafts of the locals.
Okay I was never on Hawai (yet), but I imagine it looks kind of like this: waves and green sharp mountains. Just like the Madeira´s northern coast between Sao Vicente and Porto Moniz. Amazing COASTAL ROAD to drive on with many tunnels and great view points.
Porto Moniz is a smaller town or better said a village on the north-west side of the island, well known for its NATURAL SWIMMING POOLS FORMED BY VOLCANIC LAVA, which are filled with sea water. The whole swimming area covers approximately 3800 m² and has also a special part suitable for smaller children. If the waves are too high it´s not allowed to swim there – we just happened to be there at one of those times so we went straight to the bar / restaurant instead of the planned jump in the cold Atlantic.
But, we did have some spectacular views on the sea water hitting the rocks! Accompanied by tasty food and drinks on a deck just above the sea.
RIBEIRA BRAVA & CABO GIRAO
On the southern coast of the island there is a popular LOOKOUT POINT, which recently got its (scary) GLASS PLATFORM on which one stands and looks down the cliff to the beach somewhat 590 METRES DOWN BELOW. It´s one of the highest cliffs of Europe and it can be a scary feeling standing on those platforms especially if you tend to have a fear of heights.
Nonetheless it is a great place from which you can see the island´s coastal rocky landscape and if the skies are clear there are magnificent views on Madeira´s biggest city, Funchal. Not only that – you can also see the amazing way of growing crops on the small fields dotted on the cliffs, rising above the sea level.
CAMARA DE LOBOS
This is the SECOND LARGEST TOWN on Madeira and it´s situated very close to Funchal, so it´s pretty easy to reach it, even if it´s just on an afternoon trip. The old town has many narrow roads, cosy cafes and restaurants and is also known for its colourful FISHING BOATS which you find in a small bay in the centre of the town.
Banana trees in the background, blue coloured boats on the shore, palm trees and angry waves hitting the rocks – what a view!
Madeira´s INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT is considered one of the most dangerous airports in the world – not because it would be out of date or not maintained, but because of its position between the steep mountains and the Atlantic ocean with its strong winds. It has been renovated years ago and it does have a longer airport runway now (built partly on pillars in the water), but still, landing can be quite adventurous ;).
Six days went by too quick and soon we were sitting in the airport waiting for our plane back home. Madeira is a great MIX OF DIFFERENT CULTURES, LANDSCAPES and FOOD, it´s easy to drive as the island is not too big, the prices are a bit lower than in Europe and there is as much party as there are peace and relaxed quiet corners. Besides great hiking possibilities you can also swim and enjoy the mild climate throughout the year.
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