Let’s brighten up the grey skies and January drizzle with a throwback to the clifftops, banana trees and pastel houses of Madeira, shall we? Or more specifically, Câmara de Lobos. Just around the corner from the capital, Funchal, Câmara de Lobos is a pretty little town tucked away in a horse-shoe shaped harbour with colourful houses, clear waters and plenty of nice places to eat. Apparently, it was the original landing site of the explorer, João Gonçalves Zarco, who discovered Madeira in 1419. But I didn’t know any of that back in October when we parked up there for a stroll and an ice-cream. 🙂
While we were walking around the harbour we stopped to watch this kid who came along with a bucket, a loaf of bread and fishing rod. He broke the loaf into tiny pieces and began fishing. Sunny – who likes to think of himself as a bit of an angler (“If I went on The Island with Bear Grylls I’d be out there fishing every day!”) – went over and watched and asked the kid in broken Portuguese what he was up to. I think even the kid was surprised when he actually managed to catch something, and said that he was going to take it home to his Mum so she could cook it for dinner. Bless! Mind you, to me it looked a bit small for that – the sort of fish you’d chuck in a fish tank not onto a plate… 🙂
If you’re starting to look into your travel plans for 2017 I’d definitely recommend Madeira; it’s such a beautiful island, and there’s a bit of something for everyone 🙂
I don’t think we went to a restaurant in Madeira where football wasn’t playing on a TV in the corner. Not a massive surprise; this is the country that gave the world Cristiano Ronaldo after all. Anyway, while we were staying in Funchal we got the chance to go and see his home team – Nacional – play Sporting Lisbon. It involved driving up some very steep, narrow and winding roads in the dark to a stadium perched on the side of a mountain and shrouded in clouds. In all honesty, it was more Sunny’s thing than mine – it has to be said, I’m not a huge fan of football – but I was lured there with the promise of street food. 🙂
There weren’t any pie and mash shops, no burger stalls or newsagents – just one option. Bolo do Caco com Chourico. I had no idea about it at the time, but apparently it’s a traditional Madeiran bread that’s cooked on a stone and filled with garlic butter and other fillings – in this case, Chorizo. It was warm, it was soft, it was lush. If they served these at games back in the UK then I’d probably go along more often! 🙂
The game itself wasn’t exactly the most exciting of games. Not a single goal in the whole 90 minutes! But the Nacional fans sitting around us seemed pleased with a draw anyway, and it was interesting watching the clouds passing over the roof of the stand (the views from the stadium during the day must be amazing!). The most exciting part for me (other than the food) was when Sunny accidentally dropped one of the peanuts he was eating into the hood of the man sitting in the row in front of him.
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.
I’m going to throw an idea out there that’s going to sound a little strange. Madeira is like a sub-tropical Iceland. Okay, I can tell you’re pulling a face right now and I know it’s weird, but try and stick with me on this one. When Sunny and I booked our trip to Madeira and researched where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do while we were there, we kept saying that phrase over and over again. And although it sounds really strange to pair two places that are so different when it comes to temperature and scenery, a lot of what we loved about Iceland we saw in Madeira. Obviously they’re both islands, but it’s not that – they’re both islands that are quite unlike anywhere else and rock at being quirky and unique. The locals are lovely, the scenery is stunning and often strange in its own way, and they’re both places that are just made for adventurers. 🙂
We almost didn’t land in Madeira. Two and a half hours into our three hour flight the Captain made an announcement that the winds on the island had gone outside the “safe range” and that if they didn’t drop again we’d have to divert to Lisbon. It was at that moment that Sunny decided to come clean and y’know just casually drop the bomb that Madeira happens to be one of the most dangerous airports in the world to land in. For someone who’s completely terrified of flying, this wasn’t great news. See, the short runway is built on stilts on the side of Madeira’s rocky coastline and susceptible to high winds and turbulence. A lot of the time planes try to land only to pull up at the last minute because they can’t make the landing! Fortunately for us after taxying around for an extra hour the winds dropped into the safe range just in time – and only just! – so we did land, but it was a wobbily one!
We stayed in the capital Funchal for three days, then took a Ferry to Porto Santo for some beach time and then came back (two days late – but that’s another story!) to explore the rest of the island by car. You can do it by going with tour operators who will take you by bus to various tourist spots around the island but for us, doing it by car offered way more freedom – even if driving was really, really scary at times! We got to see far more of Madeira than we would have if we’d resorted to getting around via coach. We climbed mountains and clifftops and stopped for Espresso in tiny cafes in even tinier villages and it was lovely 🙂
Away from Funchal the roads in Madeira are narrow and wind up and down the mountains and along the cliffs. Up to a certain height you’ll see banana trees and Bird of Paradise growing all over the place and when you break through the clouds everything changes and you’ll see Agapanthus and Hydrangia. Because we were there in October a lot of the flowers were finishing, but I bet if you went in the summer they’d all be in bloom at the roadside. There are lots of lizards and we even saw a Monarch Butterfly while walking around Funchal which was amazing… even though it wouldn’t stay still for a photo 😦
In the UK when you see that someone’s painted their bungalow bright pink your first thought is, “Ugh, what were they thinking?” in Madeira it’s weird if you don’t. Not only that, but they build houses and roads in places you’d think it was dangerous/impossible to. There are houses on the edge of cliffs and tunnels that burrow miles into the mountainside so that the highway can get through.
I was surprised how much I loved Madeira and even more surprised that more young people don’t go there. If you like holidays where you can enjoy a bit of everything – sun, adventuring, city culture – then it’s definitely worth a look.