We shamble up by car more than a precipitous hill. There are low houses on the right side. A few stone stairs at each front door to balance the steep slope and cut from the desperately narrow road. A deep gorge is on the opposite side. I see down the blue Atlantic and the people as tiny as ants. I have number one gears speed, my old Renault roars, and gasps. The clutch begins to smoke. I hold the steering wheel firmly with my sweaty hands. Just don’t stop! Because I’m going to have to reverse down the hill. I’m fainting. The local Fittipaldi appears suddenly from the top opposite, at least by the big tank car! There is no other option, just to squeeze back between the two stairs, which I use as a stop, and pray that somebody does not open doors or shutters… Even this is Madeira.
The island Madeira is the autonomous region of Portugal and has approximately 57 x 22 km. It is also nicknamed the “Floating Garden of the Atlantic”. Rightly. The volcanic subsoil, pleasant climate, and humidity are well-mixed conditions for vegetation.
Capital city of Madeira Funchal – some tips and insights
- Zona Velha – the oldest part of Funchal is just the thing. It consists of narrow, cobbled streets with small shops full of magnets, keychains, clothes, Madeiran wine, or works of art. They alternate with cafés and restaurants with outdoor seating. In one of them, be sure to have Espada con banana. This is a fried fish similar to an eel with grilled banana and it is excellent. The prices are very favorable here, the price of the complete menu, including the appetizer and dessert, costs €12 – €18.
- Monte toboggan – take the cable car to Mount Monte and ride down on sleigh as fast as a whirlwind. Right, on the sleigh in the summer. With two guides who are either holding you back or pushing you. Depending on the circumstances. Notice their soles – they have them reinforced with rubber from the tire. Approximately 2 km long ride of sled takes 10 minutes and costs €30 for two persons.
- Mercado dos Lavradores – buy true Madeiran bananas in an amazing, colorful marketplace. They grow them here in large quantities. They are exported to Portugal only because of the EU reportedly concluded that their curvature was insufficient. Or too big? If you notice black, long fish lay on the counter, it’s Espada (you ate them with grilled banana). They have spooky bulging eyes, supposedly because of rapid pressure decrease during fishing. They live in great depth.
- Hotel Ritz – enjoy a coffee on the terrace of this magnificent hotel, which has been here for over 100 years, and observe the relaxed atmosphere of the capital
- Poncha – after a walk through the botanical garden, have a drink of fresh orange juice with Madeiran rum, sweetened with honey from orange blossoms
- Cruise ship The Santa Maria de Colombo – take a three-hour cruise on an “exact” replica of Christopher Columbus’ Galeon to Cabo Girão rock, which is the second-highest cliff in Europe (580m). Those who have the courage and a healthy heart can jump across the deck into the icy water. By the way, he was a joker, this Christopher. He did not confess that he had a diesel engine below decks.
Madeira Art of Open Doors
The Zona Velha was old and deteriorating part of the capital. In 2010, José Maria Montero had the idea – to have artists paint on the doors of abandoned shops and homes. He asked more than 100 artists to participate in the Arte Portas Abertas project. Entering was easy: pick a door and create whatever you want on it. Around 200 works of art have been created until today using various techniques – painting, clay, metal, glass, stones, ceramic tiles, and even the keys on a computer keyboard. The name of the project means the Art of Open Doors and captures the main idea – to attract people and culture to this part of the city. And it works excellently. By the way, if you want to see all 200 doors it will be a long stroll.
Santana – houses like in a fairy tale
These picturesque houses now stand only in the open-air museum in Santana. Palheiros, as they are called in Madeira, were used by shepherds a long time ago. These wooden houses were small, they could disassemble, and the shepherds only slept in them or hid from the rain.
Porto Moniz is located on the north coast of Madeira. It is a small village with 1600 inhabitants, whose main attraction are natural pools with sea water. They have an area of 3800 m², with a depth of approximately 2m. They are formed by volcanic lava and the ocean water flows freely into them. Therefore, only a few hardy people bathed in them. At the beginning of June, the water was only 18 degrees. However, the pools are open all year round.
Pico do Arieiro
To Madeira’s second-highest peak you can go by car. It is 1818 m tall and in addition to beautiful views, frequent inversion, it is the starting point for a mountain hike. Tourists will enjoy hiking in Madeira. They will fall in love with tens of kilometers of trails through the mountains, along the levadas (these are narrow water channels) and the coast.
Funchal Airport only for the more courageous
Finally, something about arrival and departure. Have a glass of Madeira wine before. The runway is short, situated between the ocean and rocky cliffs, much of which stands on 180 pillars above the water. Funchal Airport is one of the 10 most dangerous in the world. Uff. Pilots flying here must have special training. Our pilot managed to land on the first try, but we landed so steeply that I was deaf all the next day.
All my photos from the trip to Madeira are here
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