Highlights of Madeira

Date visited: November 2011

Currently in the middle of England’s lockdown 2 (Nov 2020) and time for another throwback post! Last Sunday was spent somewhat productively uploading thousands of old photos from an old hard drive and up in the cloud into OneDrive. This was the first in a long time we had looked at most of these pictures as they had been buried away in a box for the best part of 5 years. They were backed up and put there just before we packed up for a year to set off on our 2016 worldwide travels.

This is one of the great advantages of travel blogs… no longer are our memories hidden away on a hard drive under the bed, these particular ones have now been resurrected and turned into another post!

Sculpture in Funchal

This time we look back on a week spent on the island of Madeira in November 2011 to celebrate our first wedding anniversary! We were based in Funchal, the capital for the week and from here we traversed across the island on a number of day trips. For ease, we had booked a package holiday with Tui on a half board basis.

We were slightly alarmed as we came into land at Funchal and were reminded by a fellow passenger that this airport had been the scene of two disasters in 1977 where within 4 weeks, two separate planes had crashed while trying to land on its short runway. At huge cost, a 200 m runway extension was built in the mid 1980’s. Phew…

Funchal

Known as the ‘Pearl of the Atlantic’ Madeira is a volcanic Portuguese island located in the Atlantic Ocean approximately 250 miles to the north of the Canary Islands and is along the same southerly line as Bermuda, 2700 miles to the west.

We spent our first day exploring Funchal, a 15 minute walk from the hotel. Funchal is a popular cruise destination and most days at least one or more huge cruise ships were docked in the marina.

At the time neither Chris or I had experienced an ocean cruise and as we walked along the sunny promenade and into Funchal we tried to imagine what it would be like, staying in a massive floating hotel for a week or two and stopping off at different places… this wasn’t going to happen for another 5 years until South America in November 2016…

Madeira wine tasting

Located in the centre of Funchal are several Madeira wine lodges. We called into Blandy’s Wine Lodge where we had a tour of its 17th century Franciscan monastery building which was followed by a wine tasting experience. Back then we didn’t have to book the tour although it might be worth checking the website to find out if this is now necessary.

Cable car to Monte

Funchal has a cable car which takes you from the Old Town up to a leafy district called Monte. The ride takes about 15 minutes.

Toboggan (random couple)

Rather than a pleasant and smooth return journey in the cable car you can risk life and limb in a basket toboggan! This unique form of transport is popular with tourists – the two men run along pushing the toboggan back down the hill to Funchal!

Stopping for a rest while walking back to Funchal

Chris and I walked around Monte for a bit, had a snack and decided that rather than take the toboggan we would walk back down the hill to Funchal. We underestimated the distance and the walk seemed to go on forever, but eventually we got there and continued exploring…

Funchal Cathedral

Funchal’s 15th century gothic cathedral was constructed using thousands of tons of volcanic rocks.

Funchal Botanical Gardens
Funchal Botanical Gardens

Over 2,000 species of exotic plants can be seen at the botanical gardens including orchids, ferns and cacti.

Sao Joao do Pico Fortress (Funchal)
Sao Joao do Pico Fortress

If you are feeling energetic you can walk up the steep streets to the Sao Joao do Pico Fortress which rewards you with more amazing views of the city.

Christopher Colombus sculpture

Christopher Columbus, the Italian explorer who in 1942 sailed across the Atlantic and ‘discovered’ America. He stayed in Funchal on 3 occasions during the 1400’s.

Farmers Market

Designed in the 1940’s, the Funchal farmers market sells a vast range of exotic fruit, vegetables and flowers and locally caught fish. The market sellers let you taste the fruit and although the produce can be expensive the market is worth a wander round.

Exploring Madeira

The centre of Madeira is craggy and mountainous and we took several day trips throughout the week to the north, east and south of the island. Madeira has an impressive road infrastructure system with over 100 tunnels carved out through the mountains. These cut through the centre of the island and save many hours of driving around winding mountain roads.

Nuns Valley

In the remote centre of the island is Curral Das Freiras, otherwise known as the Valley of Nuns. This village was built on the crater of an extinct volcano originally as a place where nuns would hide when pirates were attacking Funchal. The above photo was taken from the Eira do Serrado lookout point at 1053 m altitude.

Câmara de lobos

Câmara de lobos is a picturesque fishing village along the south of the island and is thought to be the site of the original ‘discovery’ of Madeira. Lobos is a variation of the Portuguese word seal, the name being taken as a result of a large colony being present at the time.

Fish drying in Câmara de lobos

Câmara de lobos is technically a district of Funchal and as such it is easy to visit from the capital. You can do this independently by taking a local bus.

Poncha

Made with rum, lemon and honey, poncha is a traditional drink from Madeira; we tried this while in the Câmara de Lobos fishing village. Yum! This can almost be considered healthy 🙂

Cabo Girao

Overlooking Câmara de lobos are the dramatic cliffs of Cabo Girao. We peered over the edge which at 580 m is one of the highest sea cliffs in Europe.

Sao Vincente
Sao Vicente

As part of another excursion we travelled to the north of the island and visited Sao Vicente another gorgeous little coastal village. Situated in a valley surrounded by nature, there are waterfalls, dramatic rock formations and volcanic beaches to explore. We visited the Sao Vicente caves which are popular with tourists.

Wild volcanic coastline near Sao Vincente
Santana

Also located on the north coast is Santana where you can see ,traditional stone houses with steep, triangular-shaped thatched roofs, blue window frames and wooden shutters. These are known as Casas Típicas de Santana these were used as both homes and stables for hundreds of years. 

Laura at Madeira’s east coast

The east coast of Madeira is also stunning, this is at Ponta de São Lourenço, the easternmost point of the island. It would be spectacular to hike along this part of the coast.

Mountain village

As well as dramatic coastal hikes Madeira is famous for its levada hikes. Levadas are irrigation channels which are unique to Madeira and there are many hiking trails which follow them.

View from Pico do Arieiro

We were driven up through the clouds to the Pico do Arieiro viewpoint, the third highest peak of Madeira. The highest peak at 1862 meters is called Pico Ruivo and can only be reached by foot. 

Chris in the clouds on the Pico do Arieiro viewing platform

Accommodation

Hotel Savoy Gardens

Previously known as the Savoy Gardens we spent our week in what is now called the Tui Blue Madeira Gardens. From what we remember we had a steep little hike up the hill to get to the hotel and it was around 15 minutes walk to the Old Town of Funchal. My trip notes from back then mentioned the evening buffet meals and breakfasts were excellent… I hope this is still the case!

We’ve taken very few package holidays in recent years, preferring the freedom to organise everything ourselves. However this post has reminded me that sometimes it is easy to make one single booking and let the travel company organise it for you, even if it is just the flights and the accommodation. As long as there is a good cancellation policy, this is definitely the less stressful option in these present uncertain times…

Funchal by night

With a range of interesting places to visit, some dramatic scenery and its own unique feel, in our view, Madeira is the perfect place for a week long holiday. While the island does have a reputation as a magnet for the retired, its rugged hiking trails and mountains attract many younger people. It is apparently particularly pretty in the spring when an abundance of tropical flowers are in full colourful bloom.

The evening of our first wedding anniversary

It was lovely to spend a quiet lockdown Sunday afternoon reminiscing and bringing to life a holiday from 9 years ago. People say that one shouldn’t spend their time living in either the past or the future but in terms of travel it is currently difficult to live in any kind of present! This reminded me to feel grateful for past experiences and hopeful for future ones 🙂

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