Apart from art, I love to travel and after a summer that was decidedly cool, we took advantage of the opportunity to get away in November and gave Madeira a go with it’s subtropical scenery and warm climate.
The landing was pretty steep and as we soon found out so was the terrain but a massive new roadwork project around the island means the 15 km to Funchal took us 15 minutes, which 15 years ago took over an hour.
We stayed in the very apt ‘Painters Cottage’, owned by Cristina who lived in a beautiful typical Madeiran mansion. in western Funchal, where the first settlers arrived and following Portuguese built some of their most beautiful homes. More residential with stunning views and away from the metropolis of the high rise hotels and busy roads, it felt very local with stunning views over the whole of the city, harbour and sea.
Our local shop (up the hill) sold great local fruit and veg with sides of beef hanging up in the see through fridge. It hasn’t changed for years and doesn’t need to. The pastelaria, bakery next door cooked bread from six to 10pm. Self catering the way to go for us and seriously cheap.
I certainly gets you fitter. We walked miles and often up quite steep endless inclines. It is very hilly outside the town centre and you would need to be a very confident driver to cope with the steep narrow roads here, but the buses were great as were the taxis. They travel fast and take a more rural route; think rollercoaster! but affords amazing views into how the locals live and the stunning valleys where bananas are planted in any piece of unused land. We can also recommend a jeep safari to see the real Madeira. Stunning but slightly hair raising and keep your head for heights.
Madeira has a reputation for attracting the ‘oldies’ and I think this is still the case, especially in the winter months. It was very evident that we were amongst the youngest of the current visitors. After feeling our feet, we quickly sought out a local hip bar at the end of the old town, It’s always worth just going a bit further around the corner to see what you can find, and we found a lovely tree lined courtyard above the sea with great cocktails, beer and outside dj’s and live music . We’d struck gold! There are snazzy shop fronts in the main town and the promenade is wide and stunning to walk, but the edge of the old town has a string of art painted doors and small cobbled roads which are filled with character. And definately go inside the churches.. I’ve never seen such ornate and detailed decoration.
In November, you seriously can get four seasons in one day on the island, but Funchal bay is unique as it maintains a sunny aspect so we based ourselves in this lovely town and did trips out to the Curral das Freiras (valley of the nuns), Camares dos Lobos and to Calheta where the stunning Mudas contemporary art gallery is now situated. Not to be missed for art lovers, the location is mind blowing with a great variety of quality modern art.
So what’s good…. The coffee, cafes, the weather, the blue skies, the scenery , the hair raising rides, the levada walking (but suggest guided where possible) and the interiors of the stunning ornate churches. The youngsters are friendly and most helpful . Shop at the collegio Jesuits, the university gift shop with the best gifts where all the profits go to support and provide bursaries for islanders.
There is a massive choice of fruit and several varieties passionfruit exist with pineapple bananas (yes, in one fruit ), the custard Apple (just that) and the millions of small intense perfumed bananas grown all over the island. The wine is good and cheap and you have to try traditional poncha, a mix of fresh lemon, sugar cane rum from the island mixed with honey, and Nikita, pineapple bits, white wine and ice cream. Pop into Reids hotel for a look around, but don’t buy any drinks or food. Seriously expensive!
What’s not so good… The food is ok in general ,but we weren’t blown away by anything apart from fruit, pastries and ice cream.. oh and limpets! No beaches a definite downside for us especially as it was a lot warmer than we expected. A two hour ferry ride to Porto Santo with fantastic beaches was a possibility but in Nov out of season. Top tip is to base yourselves in Funchal as most other towns felt remote, lacklustre and some decidedly tired. Funchal is where the money has been spent. Would we go back… Yes probably , but not for a year or two. 😉.