Madeira: Day 1 & 2 – Exploring Funchal

Day 1: Funchal is the capital city of Portugal's Madeira archipelago. It's backed by hills, and known for its harbour, gardens and Madeira wine cellars. We thoroughly enjoyed our explorations....

This is the most relaxed flight we have ever taken! We are usually up at dawn and bleary eyed! This flight however was from Gatwick at the very sensible time of 14h30 which meant we had time to park and have lunch including bellinis! There is no time change travelling to Portugal or Madeira and we had a relaxed flight landing at 7pm after a 20minute delay on taking off. On arrival things were fairly chaotic with very long queues to provide your Covid 19 documentation. As it happened we had not required the tests as we were already double vaccinated. Unfortunately our car hire was off site which was rather annoying as there was no place on the mini bus for the four of us. I then made the mistake of taking a yellow taxi to our hotel for the first night – Top Tip – only use Bolt. Incredible value for money but can only take two passengers at a time during Covid restrictions….however given that each ride was only a couple of Euros this really did not matter.

Our Hotel Port Mare in Porto Bay had lovely views and plenty on offer including an on site spa, 4 restaurants, 6 Bars and 5 swimming pools – this would make an ideal and economical place to base yourself for a holiday here. We were starving so headed straight for dinner to the recommended Italian Il Basilico. We ordered ponchas all round … they are quite small so another round soon followed – they are also very strong! The rum is 50%!! This is a delicious traditional alcoholic drink made with aguardente de cana (distilled from sugar cane juice), honey, sugar and either lemon or orange juice. Needless to say we were quite squiffy!

We were up bright and early for breakfast and reviewed our plans for the day. It was only when we googled the location of the cable car that we realised it was not in operation on weekends! So we drove into Funchal and parked underground near the entrance to the market – the steepest incline ever! As we came out of the car park exit the girls spotted a shop – absolute bargains! Every item was less than 10Euros, so an unscheduled shopping spree occurred! We then headed over to the flower market – strelitzias (bird of paradise) is the national flower. There were also plenty of proteas – very reminiscent of South African flora.

Next stop was the fruit market… BEWARE! We met a charming young man who offered us samples of all the jack fruit, dragon fruit, various species of mango etc etc all of which was on display. It truly was the most delicious and sweet tasting fruit we had ever had the pleasure of eating. We selected one of each fruit that we had enjoyed, a total of six items … Paul went off to pay and came back fuming – he had just been fleeced for EUR48!!! Most expensive fruit on the planet – we soothed ourselves by saying that it truly, truly was delicious.

We then walked through to the fish market. Usually this place is bustling but with Covid it was much quieter. I felt a little sad to see the many Espada (black scabbardfish) being gutted. These elongated eel like fish look scary with their large fang like teeth and moon shaped eyes – this is because they live in complete darkness at depths of 180-1,700m and no one has ever seen one alive! The fish move upwards in the water column at night to feed at middle depths on crustaceans and other fish. This is when the fisherman go out and drop very long lines with multiple hooks in order to catch the fish. This fish dish is on all menus and accompanied by cooked banana, although the locals say that this presentation is really only for tourists.

We were really disappointed that the cable car was not in operation so we took two Bolts to the Botanical Gardens.

They have a spectacular array of cacti! Also an interesting museum.

We then called for another two Bolts which arrived in a few minutes to transport us to the Tropical Gardens (which is actually where we had intended to go in the first place but had thought they were the Botanical Gardens!) Hee! Hee! This place is a true haven of peace – real Zen time. They had a remarkable display of gems which were very impressive. There was also a display of Zimbabwean art! It is a lovely place for an amble. Again, the species of flora all abound in Southern Africa so the smell really took me back to my childhood in Durban!

We were really excited for the next part of our itinerary – Tobogganing! We left the tropical gardens and walked the short distance to the starting point and paid 30Euros per wicker basket. It truly is one of the craziest things – such fun!

This flower in particular took me back to when I was 11 years old and when my favourite teacher of all time, Mrs Weir (who was from up North in the UK) took us out into the fields and we all picked up a flower each. She then sat down and told us the story of ‘Princess Spathodea’ who had to flee the ball before midnight like Cinderella, with her blonde hair flowing behind her wearing a dazzling red ball gown – it had us all enraptured and I have never forgotten the species.

We had worked up quite an appetite by now! So we ordered two Bolts to drop us off at the Old Town…. the cobbled street called Rua de Santa Maria is in old town Funchal (Zona Velha) and use to be a really bad neighbourhood. Photographer José Maria Zyberchem wanted to bring this historic street back to life and make it a centre of art, and so he started the Painted Doors Project. This area is now transformed and has become a top tourist attraction with many restaurants. Doors have been known to be sold to international tourists taking a piece of Mederia back home with them!!

By now we were starving.

It was time to leave Funchal and head off to our accommodation for the night … Glamping on a Cliff – which deserves a whole page to itself….

Go Back to: Madeira or Move forward to Day 3: Glamping

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