Encumeada is a famous location in Madeira, because it adds to a natural beauty the circumstance of being the only point in the island allowing to see the north and south coasts. As a matter of fact, in most times clouds turn the views impossible, but even the clouds may be, sometimes a show for themselves.
More details in Serra d'Água
Round and about Funchal
Funchal boasts so many attractions that it is difficult to see or mention them all. Some have been mentioned in detail elsewhere but here are others worth a visit.
Mercado dos Lavradores
In the centre is the big art deco open roofed market building. In the fish market a dozen vendors are ready to chop off a tuna steak, filet an "espada"), or scoop up a kilo of limpets. The espada comes from deep water. This black scabbard fish is actually silvery in its native habitat. It is a local specialty often served with banana and tastes more like a desert than a main course.
Elsewhere in the market there is a hive of activity, noise, colour and high-energy. From the stalls you can buy tropical fruits, vegetables, spices, fish, meat and local crafts. Among the local crafts are wickerwork baskets.
If the market doesn’t contain enough exotic flowers for you then head 4km northeast of Funchal centre to the Botanic Garden. Located on the south side of a valley at an altitude of between 200 and 350 metres it has ideal conditions to support its rich and varied collection of plants and flowers. The garden combines harmonious shapes and contrasting colours with views of Funchal Bay and the surrounding mountains. Happily I was able see to one of the island’s traditional A-framed houses here.
The vegetation here includes more than 2000 plants from around the world. Notable are the orchids, arum lilies, the bird of paradise flowers, magnolias, azaleas, bromeliads, cactus, palm trees and ferns. The garden attempts to provide a balanced overview of diverse areas of the world, from the Himalayan blue palm tree to the Surinamese cherry tree and the Brazilian coffee, papaya and guava and of course those indigenous to Madeira and other Atlantic Islands, including plants used for culinary and medicinal purposes.
Exotic and rare birds in the aviary creating a cacophony of noise include cockatoos and loricos from the Asian tropical islands, parakeets from Australia and parrots from Brazil's rainforests.
The Frederico de Freitas Museum
An unusual museum is the Frederico de Freitas. It is a beautiful house with many rooms and holds the objects Frederico de Freitas, a lawyer, collected as a hobby. He willed the lot to the state, and now his house has been turned into a museum.
Frederico passion for collecting covers numerous objects and artefacts: furniture, ceramics, pottery and statuettes. The painted tiles are impressive - the Turkish, Moorish, Persian, Chinese and Dutch tiles must be worth a fortune. In addition there is about 2,000 mugs, trophies and vases. Besides these highlights the de Freitas collection also includes Madeiran artefacts, porcelain pieces, religious sculptures, ancient sacred paintings and Chinese and North African metal and woodwork. The museum is a treasure trove for antique lovers. It is definitely worth a visit. Perhaps because we visited on a Sunday we got in free!
- Museum Visits
- Arts and Culture
The Old Brandy Wine Lodge
No visit to Madeira would be complete without a visit to the Old Brandy Wine Lodge run by the Madeira Wine Company. Here is the place to find out the story behind the famous Madeira fortified wines.
The Company uses the Lodge, once a 17th century monastery, as an ageing store for thousands of litres of Madeira wines. Its four main brands are Blandy’s, Cossart Gordon, Leacock and Miles with the former two being the premium brands. Blandy wines are a little richer and heavier, while Cossart wines are more fruity and elegant, Leacock wines are sweeter than the other brands and Miles represents a lighter style.
We took the guided tour - entrance fee 4.2 Euros. This includes a visit to the private museum, which contains relics of the wine industry including wine presses worked by physical effort. The guide explained the history of wines especially the fortified wines and took us on a tour of the ageing areas. Fittingly the tour finished with a tasting session in the Max Romer Room and a chance to buy souvenirs.
The Company buys grapes from farmers around the island. The company winery at Mercês processes the grapes. The wine ferments in stainless steel containers at controlled temperatures, some of which are at Brandy Wine Lodge. The MWC makes its own casks at the Mercês winery though we saw examples of the cooper’s tools and art.
Both Merces and The Old Blandy Wine Lodge between them store five million litres of wine. The Merces lodge also houses the laboratory, tasting room, quality control, bottling and packing. The Old Blandy Wine Lodge caters more for tourist interest but is also an important storage area for the wines ageing in their barrels.
In the last ten years the MWC has reinvigorated the image of Madeira wine. New brands like Colheita, Harvest and Alvada have stimulated interest and created increased demand especially from new and younger wine drinkers. The most important export markets are the U.K., U. S., Belgium, Japan and Switzerland.
Many of the old vintages now appear only on auctions or in shops specializing in old Madeira wine. The oldest wines date from 1860 and 1870. Tasting rooms for vintages and blends, shops and the new “Arcadas de São Francisco” shopping centre are behind the lodge.
We supplemented our tour with a visit to the gardens of Quinta do Palheiro Ferreiro (formerly known as Blandy’s Gardens), a short bus ride from Funchal. This property has been in the hands of the Blandy family for more than a century. The gardens, which have terraces tumbling down the steep hillside, are famous for their camellias. They hold the distinctive charming and peaceful atmosphere of an English country house helped by pools and fountains. Unfortunately the house itself is not open to the public.
John Blandy who founded the company now bearing his name originally first set foot on the island as a British soldier in 1807.
- Museum Visits
- Historical Travel
Madeira Story Centre
The Madeira Story Centre is in the Old Town opposite the cable car station. For those wanting to know about the island and its history it is an essential stop.
The interactive museum transports visitors through Madeira’s great historic events. Born out of fire and molten rock 14 million years ago the islands origins are obvious if you travel round the island. But it can also be seen from the starting point of the time journey - a multifunctional panoramic terrace equipped with telescopes providing superb views of the Old Town. Level ground is rare in Madeira with the airport having to protrude into the sea to gain enough level space. Madeira contains the highest sea cliffs in Europe.
Portuguese João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira made their discovery of Maderia in 1419. Although credited with the first discovery, evidence from Italian and Catalan maps from the 14th century, suggests an earlier discovery date of 1350.
During their period of maritime expansion the Portuguese colonising the empty but heavily wooded island. In the 16th century, Madeira suffered attacks from Algerian, Moors, French and English Pirates. The infamous nobleman, Bertrand de Montluc ravaged Funchal, taking exquisite gold and silver art pieces from the churches, and stealing sugar and fine wines. Terrified by the attacks the nuns picked up their habits and fled inland to a deep valley only recently reached by road tunnel.
In the 17th century Madeira gained importance as a replenishing port on the trading routes between Europe and the New World. During the Napoleonic Wars Britain protected the islands under a treaty with Portugal. By allowing Madeira’s wine to ship direct to British colonies the British helped create Madeira's booming wine trade. Strangely kegs that had made a round voyage contained wine tasting better than it had before shipping. But why people wondered? Could it be the rocking movement, the sea air or temperature changes? Higher temperature when crossing the equator proved the cause, and is temperature is now factored into the maturing process.
In the 20th century tourism overtook the wine industry. Here also Britain played a part with the first hydroplane service being from Southampton. Churchill loved to come to paint the village of Câmara de Lobos - endearing the island to some. Many British explorers and travellers settled here, originating a strong community of landowners and traders, which with other nationalities helped give Madeira a diverse cosmopolitan heritage.
The Centre’s permanent exhibitions covers the themes: Volcanic Origin, Discovery Legends, Discovering Madeira, Turmoil and Trade, Strategic Island, Flourishing Madeira, Post-navigation Era and Exploring Madeira. To round off the visit the Story Centre has an attractively decorated theme café and a souvenir shop with exclusive Madeira-related articles.
The Madeira Story Centre is open daily from 10.00 to 18.00 hrs. Depending on your interest, the tour around the exhibitions takes from 1 to 2 hours and costs only one Euro. Put the Story Centre on your must see list!
- Historical Travel
- Museum Visits
On the first day of our holiday we took the giddy ride high above Funcha’s red roofs on the cable car near to our hotel. The cars sway up to the scenically beautiful village of Monte perched in the hills overlooking Funchal. This small village, 6 km away from the centre of the capital, was formerly a health resort for Europe's high society. Most stayed at the palatial homes that merchants set up to live in pleasant surroundings and from which to run their wine empires.
Presumably the guests used the earlier method of ascent, which was by a rack railway. In 1930 after 37 years service, the train exploded - considering the steepness of the climb it seems hardly surprising but unfortunately it killed several people. The viaducts and bottom station still remain.
The cable journey takes about 15 minutes and ends at its station near the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens. The gardens take advantage of a natural gully to set out terraced gardens, gushing waterfalls and tranquil lakes. Hundreds of plants grow here including an olive tree planted by the Romans in 300BC.
Tiled wall displays around the garden tell the history of Portugal. Another unusual feature is a richly adorned vase - the world’s tallest. On the first and second floor of the Monte Museum Palace, contained in the Gardens, are displays of present-day Zimbabwe sculpture. These are astonishing in their range and high quality. The ground floor contains mineral and gem collections amassed by Jose Berardo from many countries, several displayed in natural settings.
A short distance from the garden is the richly decorated twin towered pilgrimage church ‘Nossa Senhora do Monte’. Here lies the Austrian ex-monarch Emperor Charles I. He found exile on the island after having abdicated during the First World War. He and his family stayed in the historic and lovely manor house ‘Quinta do Monte’, set in a tranquil setting among beautiful gardens. Only six months after his arrival in 2004 he died of pneumonia.
In a street next to the church is the start of the famous toboggan run – described by Hemingway as the most exhilarating ride of his life. Two drivers dressed in straw boaters, white shirts and goatskin boots pushed us down the steep roads in a toboggan. Their chatter almost in my ear made it difficult to know if they were talking between themselves or to me. The toboggans are large wicker baskets, attached to waxed wooden runners, once used to transport produce down to Funchal market.
During our hair-raising two-kilometre descent the basket hurtled down almost vertical slopes, narrowly avoiding passing cars and potholes in the road, with only the drivers’ goatskin boots (that act as brakes) to stop us. The run goes halfway to Funchal centre. We walked the rest and although the hill proved steep it was a pleasant 20-30 minute stroll through a quiet neighbourhood with lovely views of the harbour below.
- Historical Travel
Cathedral of Funchal
Architectural design is one of my interests. As magnificent design often goes with religious faith I like to view buildings glorify deities.
Funchal Cathedral is one of the top 10 attractions in the island. However, from outside the Cathedral, the simple rough white stucco and brownish basalt building with its granite clock tower is not all that impressive. Described as 'an unsightly pile' by one observer with a gloomy interior and a reminder, if you need one that Madeira's greatest charms lie out-of-doors. Spoken I suspect by an outdoor type who enjoys sunlight and fresh air. However although standing on the square of Campo do Duque, in the town centre, Funchal Cathedral cramped by the buildings on three sides looks as though it wants to hide away.
Dating from 1517 the Cathedral it is one of Funchal’s few remaining buildings from the early days of colonisation. The architecture therefore takes on a different mix of styles than does later buildings. Among these are south European Gothic and Moorish and locally based influences.
After entering through the Gothic doorway there is plenty to admire. The ceiling of carved cedar inlaid with ivory is Moorish. Ten Gothic arches connect the naves. The dim natural light comes from eight narrow windows, a rose window on the facade and a few spear-shaped windows above the high altar. The back wall behind the Baroque altar contains a panel covered with magnificent gold-framed paintings by Flemish and Portuguese artists including one from the 17th century depicting the ‘Last Supper’.
A touch of humour is shown as well. Carved into the canonical stalls are various figures of men and strange animals. For example, a reading donkey, a pig that begs for alms, and a drunken monkey. Other more believable carvings include acrobats, a clown and a prisoner. Most of the figures represent the daily chores of working the land, harvesting and pressing grapes.
The cathedral contains the original font, pulpit and the small high altar. To find more of the original contents of the cathedral it is necessary to wander through Funchal’s museums as these hold various items. The Palacio Episcopal and the Museo de Arte Sacro contain some of these. The highlight of which represents a processional cross, given by King Dom Manuel I - one of the most remarkable pieces in all Portuguese territory.
It also contains the most remarkable collection of Flemish paintings from the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th century. Madeira’s sugar exports represented one of the most important wealth creators of the Portuguese trading post in Antwerp. This explains the presence of these paintings, as well as some important sculptures, on the island, as they often served as means of payment. Also worth mentioning are some interesting Portuguese paintings, especially the great work of Fernão Gomes dating from the end of the 16th century.
About 16 km from Funchal, this is one of the oldest settlements in Madeira, with the name coming from the stream that comes from the mountain. It may become furious under strong rain (brava means wild, or furious) and that happened a couple of years ago during the severe flooding.
The small pebble beach was invaded by tons of debris, but didn't spoil the beauty of the place.
More details in Ribeira Brava
I must confess that I would never go to Portela by my own - it was a new name for me, meaning nothing. Well, it was a very good surprise, with, maybe, the best views that I had in Madeira.
That's it - you will only know the island if you explore it in detail.
My Portela page is poor, but, it was a good moment
- National/State Park
When crossing from the south to the northern coast, in the middle of the area, we arrive to S. Vicente. It´s a nice small town, with a wide but rough pebble beach, with a restaurant in the centre of it.
More details in São Vicente
Paul da Serra
The top of the island is wild, with dramatic landscape dotted with cows pasturing in a flora that should be preserved, what means a discrete local conflict. With good roads, the visit is easy and doesn't demand much time, unless you want to explore one of the "levadas".
Specific page in Ponta do Sol
- National/State Park
Pico de Barcelos
Maybe the best sightseeing point over Funchal is Pico de Barcelos, 335 meters above sea level. It stays close to town, and allows wide views over the most populated part of the coast - from Funchal to Câmara de Lobos. It is also possible to see the Desert islands
More details in Funchal
Câmara de Lobos
All the island is prepared to show its beautiful spots, whith men and nature combining to get the best final result. The steep hills are very helpful to open wide views, and flowers give the final touch.
However, some point have a special charm, such as Câmara de Lobos, not far from Funchal, embracing a small harbour protected by the high mountain. We had there a very good dinner, but (silly me!) I didn't retain the restaurant´s name.
Camache - famous for its wicker-making.
If you take a walk around the town you will find the stacks of freshly cut willow canes.These are then soaked in water and stripped of their bark,then boiled which makes them pliable enough to weave.
The large shop in the town is where you will find every conceivable item made out of wicker.If you go down to the lower floor you will find the weavers working.
- Arts and Culture
Take the coastal walk to Praia Formosa
The walk along the coastal footpath from the Lido area to Praia Formosa beach makes for an enjoyable and interesting couple of hours.The level ground with a few steep inclines means that it is a reasonably easy walk.It is advisable to take water with you,although there are places on route to stop for a coffee or cold drink.Just before you reach Praia Formosa beach you will enter a lit pedestrian tunnel,where in a couple of places you can watch the sea below.
- Hiking and Walking
Probably the most interesting town on the island,as it was the landing point of the discoverers of Madeira on the 1st July 1419.
The town makes a nice starting point for a number of 'levada' walks.If you enjoy swimming and sunbathing the town also boasts one of the best sandy beaches on the island.The main income comes from agriculture,fishing and tourism.A small harbour can be found on the left of the beach.