I’m writing this on the balcony, listening to the waves wash over rocks. No seagulls though, as Madeira seems to have more pigeons than seagulls. One comes and sits on the rails next to me, checking to see whether I am eating, before flying off in disgust. I will give you a quick tour of the rest of Madeira. Then you can add it to your list of places to visit. Coming in January/February was brilliant, because we had hot sun, cool wind, and very few other tourists. But perhaps we were lucky with the weather, it would have been gloomy if it had rained all the time. Either way, we needed summer clothes for the too-hot-to-sit-for-more-than-10-minutes sunny days, and warm clothes for the cold evenings. Wish I’d known that before we came. Also wish I had packed my walking boots because when it rained, it really rained, and all the walks we did were basically up, or down, the steep side of a mountain. Not much call for flip-flops because the streets are all cobbled.
The north side of the island seems to be always under cloud or in the shade of the mountain. We need to remember to take jumpers when we drive north. There are some brilliant natural swimming pools, built into the rocks, and we had fun swimming there, watching the waves crash over the rocks while protected by the edge of the pool. It was freezing though.
We stayed in the old town of Funchal. I am looking across orange-tiled roofs as I write, the cable-car sweeping past in the distance. If I walk down to street level, I am met with uneven cobblestone roads, palm trees, painted doors. Painted doors are a thing here.
The plants on Madeira are brilliant, it really does feel like a tropical island, even in the winter. There also seem to be very few insects, which is a bonus. One day we walked up the mountain to the botanical gardens. This was not worth the effort. Perhaps it’s seasonal and we were unlucky, but the plants growing wild were better. The garden in Funchal was disappointing. In contrast, the garden of Monte Palace was beautiful, with exotic plants, and vibrant colours, and water features. There were little displays of African art and mineral crystals, plus a taste of Madeira wine all included in the ticket price. Worth the cable-car ride to get there.
One other disappointment was the fruit market in Funchal. It’s basically a tourist-trap, with aggressive stallholders trying to entice you to buy their fruit. I read online that they tend to soak fruit in sugar, offer some to tourists to taste, then sell the not-so-sweet fruit at inflated prices. It was worth a visit, just to look, but don’t buy any fruit! If you walk round the corner, there is a big supermarket, where you can buy all the same fruit at a much better price. It annoyed me that they were so blatantly ripping-off tourist. But maybe that happens in every city in the world.
It is, however, worth trying some of the fruit after you have bought it from the supermarket. There is the big green ‘custard apple’ which is white inside with big black seeds. It tastes of custard. The ‘delicious fruit’ (Monstera delicious) is the fruit of the cheese plant (the one with holey leaves in your auntie’s house). It tastes like a pineapple crossed with a banana, and is poisonous before it’s ripe (so only eat the soft ones). The peel falls off in hexagonal segments when ripe, and the inside is slightly slimy (like a banana). The ‘English tomato’ is not an English tomato and I thought it tasted more like a red version of kiwi fruit. The skin was very bitter, so not great if you take a bite, and you should scoop out the acidic seeds with a spoon. I didn’t like it much. Some of the more delicious local fruits were the bananas and avocados.
The water is carried around the island in levadas, which are sort of long drainage ditches. It’s possible to hike beside them, as they all have maintenance paths next to them, though some are dangerous. We followed the Levada do Risco to a waterfall, and the walk was beautiful (but incredibly steep, so hard work walking back to the car).
Santana has some examples (mostly modern copies) of tent-shaped houses that were typical in Madeira in the past. They are pretty, but I preferred the church of St. Ana (which is what they named the mother of Mary—I didn’t know that).
One day we did a tour of Blandy’s and learnt about the production of Madeira wine. It used to be fortified with rum, made from the sugar cane on the island. But the EU stopped that, saying a wine needed to be made only from grapes, so now they import the strong grape alcohol that fortifies it. There are different flavours, depending on the grape used. It tastes very like sherry, I think, and is nice to sip after a meal. Restaurants offer it, or limoncello, (which I’m not so keen on) when you pay the bill.
Eating on the island is very easy, and there are no queues in February, so we never needed to book. Most restaurants have outside eating, and it was often chilly but okay in a thick sweater. The food is nice, very like in Italy or Spain, and we found the staff friendly and helpful. Everyone speaks excellent English, and the menus are always available in English. Importantly for me, all the eateries seem very clean, with good hygiene procedures. Covid rules here seem less strict than in Zurich, but everyone wears masks in restaurants unless sitting.
If you want some winter sun, come to Madeira. England seems a long way away, and I can feel my batteries recharging. The perfect place for a holiday.
Thanks for reading. Hope you have something nice today too.
Love, Anne x
My next few blogs will all be about the Lent challenge that I am going to attempt. More next week…
Excellent blog that will make you want to visit Madeira. . .