Madeira is a hiker’s dream. The whole island is criss-crossed with trails up mountains and alongside Levadas (irrigation channels). Sunny and I, we’re not hikers, but we like walking and exploring so we knew we wanted to do a couple of walks while we were in Madeira – especially seeing as we had the rental car as a lot of the trails are difficult to get to without one. There’s a handy website that lists all the walks based on level of difficulty and distance and overall time, and based on that information we picked Pico Ruivo. The highest peak in Madeira at 1861m, the website stated that the 5 kilometre walk up Pico Ruivo was an easy one over the ridge and would only take three hours to complete. Brilliant, it was the one I was hoping to do and considering some of the walks apparently could take up to thirteen hours I thought we’d lucked out.
Holy whoa. If that walk was easy, I don’t even want to know what a tough one looks like! We drove up winding roads to the car park and then began the 5 kilometre walk along the ridge towards Pico Ruivo. We climbed up and down steps and wobbled along an uneven, narrow stone path with a terrifying drop on one side and the wind battering us from the other. There were hardcore hikers there with walking sticks, proper boots and all-weather anoraks and I was there hopping rocks in my converse and leather jacket. It was a hell of a hike, but worth it. The trail took us up into the clouds and the view from the top was incredible. I’m telling you guys, Madeira is a total stunner. 🙂
I’ve been stuck in bed for the past three days with the flu (I normally love Autumn, but this year? Nope). So looking back at these pictures whilst bundled up under a duvet and surrounded by hundreds of snotty tissues is – not gonna lie – a little bit depressing!
Anyway, Funchal. Such a colourful city! I’d always had it stuck in my mind that Madeira was the sort of place over-sixties went to get a lil’ bit of sun – no idea why – perhaps I’d never heard of anyone younger go and rave about it. I was so far off the mark, because the steep streets were enough to make my knees and hips creak let alone those of a sixty year old! It’s a beautiful place with colourful houses that sprawl from the sea up the mountain-side into the clouds. Birds of Paradise and Banana Trees grow along the roadside and in gardens and the water is probably the clearest (and coldest!) I’ve ever seen. The people were so lovely – especially considering I hadn’t had time to learn a few Portuguese phrases other than Bom Dia and Obrigada and had to constantly utter those dreaded words, “Do you speak English?” And the weather – even in late October – was up in the twenties every day.
Although a sprawling city, it’s very easy to get around – the buses are fab and nothing is far – and you can pretty much see everything in a day if you storm it, or three if you stroll it. So, here are my top 4 things to see!
1. Mercado dos Lavradores (Worker’s Market)
If you’re like me and can’t go to a new city without seeing a market then you’ll want to make sure you stop by the Mercado dos Lavradores. It’s right on the edge of Old Town and the cloisters inside are full of stalls with locally produced fresh fruit and veg and flowers along with an accompanying fish hall where you can watch the fresh catch being gutted. It’s definitely worth stopping by to see what’s on offer and to taste some unusual fruit, but beware! The fruit sold by the vendors is pricey! We got wrangled by a vendor upstairs who had us taste three different varieties of passionfruit and banana. We thought we’d buy a couple of each to snack on later and it ended up costing TEN EUROS. For fruit!!! Browse, taste, take pictures – but just be aware than you can buy fruit that’s just as good and half the price from the supermarket around the corner. It’s great, but definitely a bit of a tourist trap.
2. The Painted Doors of Old Town
Take some time to stroll around the narrow streets of old town and enjoy the art! In an effort to reviltalise the peeling walls and splintered shutters, the Funchal city council called on local artists and designers to repaint the doors and walls and turn old town into a gallery. There are over two hundred doors that have been given a face lift, and every single one is different. Definitely worth a wander. 🙂
3. Belmond Reid’s Palace
I definitely get this from my Mum, but I love having a snoop in swanky hotels when I’m on holiday, and in Funchal, Belmond Reid’s is The One. Built on the cliffs overlooking the sea and Funchal, the powder pink building has been the hotel of choice for famous visitors (like Winston Churchill and Gregory Peck) for over a century. I felt a bit cheeky poking my head through the door, but the people at the front desk were more than happy for us to have a snoop around.
4. Monte & Monte Palace Tropical Gardens
Be sure to take the cable car from the beach front up to Monte – it’s cheap and you get a fantastic view of the terracotta rooftops creeping up the mountainside and the sea twinkling away. There are a few things to see in Monte itself. Originally I’d planned to go and see the Botanical Garden (which can usually be reached by another cable car from Monte), but unfortunately it had been damaged in the fires over the summer and so you couldn’t get to it. But the Tropical Gardens, apparently, are far better anyway. Full of exotic plants, the garden covers 70,000 square metres down the side of Monte Hill with paths, bridges, steps and walkways zigzagging everywhere. Definitely somewhere worth getting lost one afternoon 🙂
Once you’ve seen the gardens and the church (Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Monte – Our Lady of the Mountain) you can either take the cable car back down the mountain, or toboggan it! The Toboggan Run is one of the most popular attractions in Funchal where visitors can sit in a wicker basket and be pushed down the mountain by two carreiros dressed in white with rubber heels as brakes. A little expensive perhaps, but a lot of fun!
Funchal is an easy city to enjoy getting lost in. 🙂 Obviously, there’s plenty more to see than just the above; there’s the Christiano Ronaldo Museum (CR7) if you’re into that, The Forum near São Martinho is great for shopping, and the Civic Buildings in the centre are definitely worth a snoop to see the traditional “Azulejos” (blue, painted tiles). Another favourite was going to see a football match up in the mountains but I think I’ll do a separate post on that so stayed tuned.