Written by Joe Fry on 09 Apr, 2007
Sitting on the balcony, sea view, a beautiful sunset, and a glass of refreshingly chilled wine! The end to a perfect day! How idyllic! Still that’s Madeira. An island of outstanding natural beauty, Madeira has been described as "The Floating Garden of the Atlantic". Very…Read More
Sitting on the balcony, sea view, a beautiful sunset, and a glass of refreshingly chilled wine! The end to a perfect day! How idyllic! Still that’s Madeira. An island of outstanding natural beauty, Madeira has been described as "The Floating Garden of the Atlantic". Very apt because, travelling around, one encounters myriads of blossoms in gardens and by the wayside. An Island of Contrasts! As one rises in height, twenty-two microclimates are experienced, passing from Sub-Tropical to North European. Four climates in one day are experienced, just by crossing the Island. In Madeira, it rains every day, somewhere. They even have a weather station, available twenty fours a day, to advise where to get the best suntan. An ideal location for an energetic holiday, Madeira is just as suited for total relaxation.
Enjoy walking? Offering over two thousand kilometres of walkways, Madeira is ideal for you. There are a multitude of companies queuing up to guide you around the varying degrees of difficulty. Grade One is a "stroll in the park." With a Grade Five you’re positively mountaineering, not for the faint hearted. The Levadas are a series of irrigation channels built hundreds of years ago. Life and limbs were lost to construct these "wonders" which cling precariously to the cliff face, bringing life giving sustenance to the crops and farm life. Fresh air and exercise, as an expert guide instructs you on the flora and fauna. What a superb day! Just want to chill? No problem. You’re spoilt for choice. Every grade of hotel offers comfortable accommodation, most with heated swimming pools, all within a stone’s throw of restaurants where the fare is reasonably priced and definitely international. Something for everyone!
Madeira splits itself into three, East, West, and Nun’s Valley being the central split in breathtaking scenery. Each is totally different. Every visitor goes home with their own ideas but they all have one thing in common. They have all had a wonderful time. Memories taken on board, most will leave the island vowing to return. Most have booked for a week, and wished that they had made it two. The Madeirense, as they are known locally, are very friendly people. Very proud of their history, they offer a warm welcome, and don’t need any bidding to share their customs and culture to anyone who is willing to lend an ear. There are various ways of seeing the island. Why not book a coach excursion? Mini bus tours are also available for smaller groups. For the more independent, all the taxi drivers will take you around at very reasonable prices. What can be better than a local showing you his homeland and giving you personal knowledge? Probably, you will get the opportunity to visit the places that most excursions fail to see. Going west, you will gasp at the cascading waterfalls as they plummet hundreds of feet, drenching the cars as they pass underneath.
Cabo Girao, thought to be the highest cliff face in Europe and the third in the world. Eagles soar as you drop vertically 589 metres to the sea. You’ve already passed through Camera do Lobos, a petite fishing village made famous by Winston Churchill in his multitude of paintings, whilst staying at The Reid’s Palace Hotel, the Madeira equivalent of "Raffles." Incidentally, this is a marvellous venue to experience "afternoon tea." It is said that some of the residents of Camera do Lobos still live in caves and survive, frugally, by begging and fishing from the rocks. Passing along the coast you meet Ribeira Brava, a sleepy fishing town situated at the mouth of the river bearing the same name, which means "wild stream" in translation. Boca de Encomeada is a mountain pass, which takes you northwards from Ribeira Brava to Sao Vicente. Climbing to a height of 1004 metres, provided the visibility is clear, the viewpoint affords magnificent vistas of both the North and South. Sao Vincent is tranquillity personified. Famous for the 17th Century Baroque Church, the pedestrian only streets offer the visitor the opportunity to travel back in time and achieve solace and solitude.
On the Northwest tip you will find Porto do Moniz. This was a whaling station for many years and boasts numerous natural volcanic rock pools, which accommodate both visitor and local alike wishing for a refreshing Atlantic dip. Finish off your tour of the West with a crossing of the Paul do Serra. Totally flat, a bleak vastness on the top of the Island, where the temperature, and weather can change in an instant. The residents are cows, sheep and goats, but you will be awe-inspired by the views of the countless ravines and valleys dropping thousands of feet below. Going East, you will begin to realise why Madeira earned its name as an "Island of Contrasts." Rising out of Funchal, temperatures certainly get chilly. "Ribeira Frio" (Chilly River), is a hamlet nestled high. The degrees drop sharply as you enter the eucalyptus and pine tree forests. Reaching Pico Areiro you are on top of a mountain, the third highest at 1818 metres and the only peak accessible by transport. On the day that I drove up, I was full of anticipation of panoramas beyond my wildest dreams. Sadly, the clouds had fallen and I drank my heart-warming coffee surrounded by mist and drizzle. To demonstrate this point further, later that afternoon, I called at Santana on the North East Point. Dropping down the car temperature gauge increased and the sun shone once more.
The unusual A-Frame houses are the focal point here. Hundreds of coaches pull up daily and visitors photograph, in consternation, as to whether people actually live in these thatched curiosities. The natural divide to the island is Curral das Freiras, better known as The Nun’s Valley. This was the place the rich nuns of Funchal would flee to when 17th Century pirates ravaged and pillaged the City. Madeira was originally a volcano, with the village thought to be the centre of the crater. Indeed, there are actually residents who have never been outside and have never ventured into Funchal in their lifetime. One road in! One road out! Not for vertigo sufferers, you wind the narrow passage with virtually enough room for cars to pass each other. People on the inside think that they have the advantage. They can’t fear the thousand feet drops. Little do they realise, whilst ascending, they are on the outside on the way back down. Then there is the firewater. Centre of the Island’s cherry growing industry, the locals have invented a brew from this fruit, Ginja, which if taken in abundance, makes people happy and then, consequently, want to fall asleep. They also have a festival dedicated to the chestnut where everyone imbibes in a liqueur with a similar effect.
The reason that I fell in love with Madeira, and I think that you will agree with me, is that it offers something for everyone. The average age group who visit is 45+. As there are no real beaches, this tends to keep the younger families away. All the hotels offer evening entertainment, including the local Folklorico. There is a casino for those who fancy a flutter. If not, give it a try anyway. They have four splendid cabarets, including dinner, in a separate show bar. As I mentioned earlier, the choice of ways to explore the Island are many. Walking difficulties are not a deterrent. The Funchal bus service is cheap and regular, operating 24 hours a day. The taxis are friendly and courteous. Funchal proudly boasts its 15th Century Se’ Cathedral. On a flat promenade, the ex Yacht of the Beatles, now known as "The Vagrant," lures passers by with its restaurant fare. Pavement musicians entertain both visitor and local alike, as they sip their beers and coffees along the front. It would be a sin not to visit the Lodges, to sample and choose your own personal taste in Madeira Wine, a drink mentioned by William Shakespeare.
For the history buff, I lost count of how many museums offered exhibitions in subjects varying from electricity and photography to linen, lace, china, and porcelain. The Mercado dos Lavradores (Workers Market) is a true cornucopia, portrayed on many a picture postcard. On entering the portals the senses are attacked. Costume wearing flower sellers mingle with the fruit, fish and vegetables, each tempting the appetite. The major tour companies offer packages departing from all the major UK airports. Flight time is just under four hours and a landing at Funchal airport will guarantee an interesting start to your holiday. In conclusion, Madeira is an all year round destination where temperatures never exceed 28 degrees and are rarely less than 17 degrees, in Funchal. For me, I found an island paradise. I made acquaintances that became welcoming friends. Give it a try, I promise you will definitely not be disappointed.
Written by statesidecruiser on 24 Apr, 2008
12/28/2007: Funchal, Madeira:As we approach the port of Funchal on this Portuguese island, majestic peaks suddenly appear out of the mist. The volcanic island is punctuated by high, rocky peaks and the crater of an extinct volcano. The entire island is…Read More
12/28/2007: Funchal, Madeira:As we approach the port of Funchal on this Portuguese island, majestic peaks suddenly appear out of the mist. The volcanic island is punctuated by high, rocky peaks and the crater of an extinct volcano. The entire island is only 35 miles long and 13 miles wide. Roads climb and drop dramatically from one ravine to another. Funchal is the capital of the Madeira Islands. It is also the largest city. The city is named for fennel which grows in abundance there. Two nature reserve islands are part of the municipality and are located 100 miles south of the city. In the 16th century Funchal was an important port of call between the Indies and the New World. It was known as a wealthy place and was the port from which Madeira sugar and wine were shipped. Madeira’s fertile soil and perfect climate lead to an abundance of flowers and vegetation. Today we visit the ancient fishing village of Cabo Girao which is located just below the second highest sea cliff in the world. Looking down from a height of almost 1500 feet, the city of Funchal, the seacoast, and the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean are spread out before us. There is great beauty in all of it.Back in Funchal City, we tour a fascinating embroidery factory where every step in the creation of fine pieces is done carefully and artfully by hand. We climb the ancient stairs of highly polished hardwood from floor to floor, ascending at least 6 stories. Each level contains new wonders. The embroidery is flawless. The workers are totally immersed in their tasks of designing patterns, drawing them, covering the thin paper with pin pricks in the exact spots, rolling ink over the patterns inch by inch, stitching, hand washing, ironing each piece, and placing the distinctive company seal in one corner of the finished product. It is amazing to watch the process from start to the completion of each finely crafted product. From there we walk to the produce market where we enjoy viewing and purchasing items from a colorful array of tropical and sub-tropical fruits and vegetables. Other market offerings are flowers, freshly caught fish, and hand crafts. Close