This is a serious trip down memory lane for us. This was our first holiday together and we figured: let’s leave everyone behind and find the farthest place
on Earth in Europe. Madeira is known as the island of flowers, of levadas, and for you soccer fans out there, yes, it’s also known for Cristiano Ronaldo.
Funchal is the capital of Madeira. It is also an excellent base to start all your trips on and around the island. It has lots of attractive streets, parks, corners, and those tricky steep hills. The atmosphere on a summer’s evening is wonderfully relaxed.
Botanical Gardens These gardens are high up in the mountains, overlooking the town. It’s only 3 km and you can try to hike there, but even on a cooler day it is a real work-out. You can get there by bus or cable car as well. The cable car gives you a particularly nice view over the town and the harbour. There is a lot of walking up and down stairs in these gardens, but it also means that you sometimes have wonderful views, especially in the Japanese garden.
Toboggan. If you want to go from the Botanical Gardens back down to town again, take a detour via Monte village. There you will have a most unlikely alternative for going down the mountain: the toboggan. You step in a basket with wooden ledges for wheels. You’re hurtled down the mountain and a guy in a white shirt, pants and accompanying hat will try to use his weight as a brake, to keep you from crashing into corners. You have to like it, but if so, believe us, it’s exhilarating! We even walked back up the mountain to go down in the toboggan just one more time…
Mercado dos Lavradores. The local market in the old town – fruit and veggie galore! When you’re done, go and walk the streets around the market. It’s a wonderful part of Funchal to get in sync with its atmosphere.
Fort Pico. Also higher up in the mountains around Funchal. It overlooks the town and bay and has a small but interesting exhibition about Madeira and the fort (well, at least they did in 2004…).
Blandy’s. Anything and everything you ever wanted to learn about Madeira wine. How it’s made, how it tastes. Impressive and tasty!
The Harbour. The whole stretch of nice look out posts, piers with fishermen, the modern-day harbour. If you’re lucky you get to see a huge cruise ship coming and going (quite the sight to see it manoeuvre in and out of a small harbour!). You will also find a replica of Santa Maria Colombo, Columbus’ flagship. These medieval people were daredevils to venture out to sea in little ships like this!
Accommodation & Restaurants
Luckily, we found an aparthotel right in the heart of the old Town of Funchal. It was just of a nice small square and in walking distance of the seaside and the rest of town. Hotel Apartamento da Se is really worth your while, it is affordable and spacious. Our room also had a fridge and small stove – and it’s a delight to head out to the local market and supermarket and get fresh vegetables, delicious bread and dried sausages and fruit for diner!
In terms of food, you can get anything you like in Funchal. There’s cheap fast food, and there’s expensive food. A huge amount of fish restaurants are located near the sea, but watch out some are really not that good. A nice place in town you should consider is Cafe do Teatro. Looking every bit the trendy restaurant, the food was great, too.
But best of all is local street food. On every corner there is a fruit stall with delicious, ripe peaches, cherries and grapes. And a terrific snack is Bolo do Caco, a sweet potato and garlic bread optional with cheese, optional with bacon, optional with anything delicious.