The islands of Madeira are situated of the North West Coast of Africa, in the Atlantic Ocean and are Portuguese. They lie above the Canary Islands but below the Azores. Traditionally these are a holiday destination for older holidaymakers. Typically the age of those holidaying on Madeira is fifty plus. When we visited a couple of years ago we were just the right age but that was not why we chose to visit.
Madeira is known as a floating garden. This is because of its sub-tropical climate. We had read that it was beautiful Island, had little if any trouble, would not be overrun with screaming children and was a great place to visit. Holidaying on Madeira is not the cheapest vacation you can take but it can represent good value.
We stayed a little way outside the Island's capital Funchal in a small resort called Canico De Baixo. Our accommodation was four star and a little more expensive than we would normally pay but it was worth it. Having had some holiday accommodation that left a lot to be desired the Oasis Atlantic was sheer heaven for us.
We visited Funchal on the local bus and found that the cable cars for Monte were just next to the bus station. Perfect. Our more recent holidays, such as this one, see us carrying a digital camera and so we were able to take some really good photographs.
THE CABLE CARS
You can pay for a single or return ticket on the cable cars. Many people choose to return via the traditional sleds which are pulled along the steep streets by local men. We watched these from the gardens and decided to give it a miss. If you choose this toboggan remember that you do not have to accept and pay for the photograph unless you really want it. Do not let yourself be pushed into buying. Similarly as you embark onto the cable cars you will be snapped, like it or not. This image is then flashed to the top via computer link ready for you to purchase as you disembark. Again say no if you do not want it.
The Cable cars were fun and do give you some spectacular views over Funchal and its bay. They are never extremely high as the earth rises from Funchal up to Monte. However I guess they are not for those with a fear of heights.
The small village of Monte has a few gardens open for you to wander around, for a fee of course. You can stroll around the village though and take in the lovely clean air and scenery. There is another Tropical Garden which we did not visit which is accessed via further cable cars from Monte.
We just visited the Tropical Gardens of Monte but oh what a visit.
Our visit to Monte Palace and gardens
Monte has a beautiful church or two, cafes and more. When we arrived at Monte village we just seemed to end up in front of the Monte Palace Gardens. It looked a good place to visit and while away an hour or so, and in we went. Included in the price of your entrance fee is a leaflet which has a map of the Gardens.
There are buildings which hold displays and these were interesting. When we visited, one had African art, another precious minerals of South America and another a Japanese display. These buildings were lovely and cool compared to the daytime heat and humidity. There could have been more but I cannot recall.
There were some toilets here and my advice is use them. You never know how long it may be before you find any more.
Near here there was a Japanese garden which was lovely and calm.
As you wander around the gardens you will come across all sorts of peculiarities, strange plants and flowers and different garden layouts. On we trekked like the explorers that we felt.
Two hours later we appeared to be in the depths of god knows where.
Looking around all we could see were trees and plants, but at least we had the map, I hear you say.
Well hubby is a lovely guy and not very bad tempered but when he blows he blows.
As the heat got to him, and I guess a feeling of desperation, we tried in vain to get to grips with the map. Too late. It was crushed into a tiny ball and pitched as far as he could throw it and I did not even dare to laugh out loud.
Of course we did later.
We found a lake, a waterfall and Monte Palace, which was not open to visitors but you could peek through the windows.
Another hour or two later we came across a restaurant. Hallelujah. As I hastily headed for the toilets Hubby got the sustenance ordered. When I returned he had also acquired another map as the restaurant had a ready supply on the counter.
A kindly waitress showed us just where we were and how to make our escape.
Don't get me wrong it was a lovely place and I would visit again but next time I would be prepared.
We just had not realised how big a place the gardens were.
Worth a visit?
Yes Monte and the gardens are definitely worth a visit. Monte sits high over Funchal and on a clear day the views are really special. The cable cars and toboggan rides add to the fun.
The toboggan though only takes you back part of the way into Funchal town and you will either have to walk the rest of the way or take a bus or taxi.
The cable cars take you back to near the bus station and the coastline of Funchal.
Set aside a whole day or decide to visit Monte more than once in order to give all of its attractions the attention they deserve. Remember tourist trinkets will be more expensive at places such as Monte. Shop in Funchal instead.
Even if you do not take a toboggan ride watch those that do for a great laugh.
Gardens of Monte Madeira
Funchal the capital of Madeira
The Island of Madeira is situated in the Atlantic Ocean. It is Portuguese and lies above the Canary Islands, below the Azores and off the North West coast of Africa.
The Island's capital is Funchal, which is also the name of the Island's modern airport. This airport is not actually located in Funchal though but is on the eastern side of the Island.
Our two-week vacation was spent in the small resort and village of Canico.
It was a short trip from there into Funchal by local bus. Some days we used our hotels free courtesy bus, for at least one way of the short journey. The bus timetable gave us more freedom about when to visit Funchal and our length of stay each visit.
Madeira is not British, but having being visited by so many British people over the years, it does retain some olde world British charm, unlike Great Britain these days. Just about all of the locals speak English and the currency is the Euro.
Madeira has a sub-tropical climate that suits we British perfectly. The temperature is fairly constant throughout the day and throughout the year. The temperature never rises or falls much out of the seventies. This climate is beneficial to Madeira's plants and you will find a wealth of flowers blossoming all year round.
When we visited, in early September, there were huge hydrangea flowers growing wild on even bigger plants. Travelling around the Island you will find that the flora and fauna varies depending on the region that you are visiting.
We visited Funchal quite a few times when were holidaying in Madeira. It is a busy, bustling place with lots of bars, cafes, museums, shops, hotels, restaurants and more. It has a real cosmopolitan feel.
Most of the Island's population live in Funchal and so it is always busy.
You will find that the main roads around Funchal and Madeira are in very good order. The people of Madeira have worked hard to make Funchal and the whole Island an easy place to get around.
As the centre of the Island is mountainous and Madeira is a volcanic Island the terrain was difficult many years ago. Travelling away from Funchal you may still come across narrow and high roads but the views are spectacular.
Plenty of visitors to the Island choose to stay in or near to Funchal.
The hotels around the Island tend to be first class but they can be pricey. However if you shop around you may find a bargain. Do not expect bargain bucket prices though.
There are no yobs or lager louts on Madeira or in Funchal. Some young locals do resent the tourists a little but it is not plain to see. On the whole the people of Madeira will welcome you with open arms.
Funchal has a large market which is a great place to visit. You can buy cheap, delicious fruits and flowers here. Such items are much larger than back home in the UK for example and extremely fresh.
Take a look in the fish market section to see the catch of the day. We saw the local black fish called Espada for sale here. It looks horrific but is a local delicacy. Make sure that you ask the restaurant to bone it for you though before eating.
There was a local traditional dance troupe playing and dancing close to the market when we visited on a Saturday. Later in the evening this same dance troupe were entertaining at our hotel in Canico. I guess Saturday is their busy day.
Near the bus station there are cable cars that will take you up to the village of Monte which sits high above Funchal. There are some beautiful gardens up there, toboggan rides, cafes, churches, shops and spectacular views.
As you can see from some of my photos there were some terrible fires when we visited Madeira. These had been started by local farmers who had issues with the government over land. The smoke in the mountains looked really fierce some days but Funchal survived unscathed. There have been similar fires more recently.
As Madeira does not have an air-force as such fighting these fires was difficult. The fire services could only reach so far and so some fires were just left to fizzle out.
Funchal has great shopping and plenty of banks with cash points. It also has a cathedral that dates back to the 1400s and is well worth a visit.
Blandy's Wine Lodge is in the centre of Funchal and you can visit and sample some great tasting Madeira, the local wine.
Just wandering around the streets of Funchal is fascinating and there are channels between the main streets so that the winter rains can pour down from the mountains. In summer these channels are full of flowers. Small bridges allow you to cross over the streets.
There are sculptures all over the place and many are modern and quite impressive.
The coastline of Funchal has two distinct halves, before and after the main harbour. From this harbour you can take a ferry or helicopter over to the smaller, much quieter Island of Porto Santo. Unlike Funchal and Madeira in general it has a long golden sandy beach.
Funchal just has a few volcanic rock beaches.
Boat trips out of Funchal include a day trip on the Santa Maria, which is a replica of Columbus's vessel.
At the sea front there is a large yacht which once belonged to The Beatles. It is now moored and is a cafe.
Near here there is a large Balloon which makes for a good meeting place as it is easy to spot and find.
There are lots of little cafes and even one that is made up of small boats. These are fine for a quick snack or drink but not really ideal for dining out.
There are local open topped buses that offer a tour around the Island's Capital, Funchal.
Book a boat trip whilst near the harbour for simply sightseeing or to try a little fishing or whale spotting.
Above the ferry port and harbour there is the Santa Caterina park, a hotel and Casino.
Travel around to the other half of Funchal and you will find a Lido and the world famous Reid's Palace Hotel. Even if you cannot afford to stay at Reid's you can take afternoon tea on the terrace for a reasonable cost.
Make sure that you try Espetado at least once during your visit. This meal has chunks of beef which arrive at your table hung from a large metal hook. It sounds odd but is delicious.
Is Funchal for me?
Funchal has plenty to see and do but it is not what I would call lively. There are no loud clubs, drunks or parties into the night. It does have good food and drink, pleasant company and a relaxed and welcoming feel.
Funchal is probably not well suited for families and children. Yes, I know some holiday there and enjoy it, but there are few traditional family attractions.
On the whole the average age of tourists in Funchal and Madeira is 50.
We chose not to stay in Funchal and were glad as we needed to relax.
However if we visit again I would be happy to stay in Funchal itself as long as the actual location was right. Some parts of Funchal have hotels all on top of each other. The best hotels soon get booked up and can be expensive. Although Funchal is bustling it is not excessively so, if you compare it to other capital cities.
Madeira is a clean Island, with lovely fresh air (apart from the fires when we visited) and a charm all of its own. When we visited a small town in the north west of the Island we were fascinated to watch two local ladies cleaning the street. As we sat eating lunch these ladies fussed and cleaned the street until it was spotless. Perhaps our towns ought to have more female street cleaners.
When we visited Funchal had some scam merchants on its streets. They will try and tell you that you have won some item or another on a free lottery ticket and then reel you in. If you are not careful you could waste hours trying to get away. Worse still you could be conned into joining ridiculous holiday schemes.
DO NOT GIVE THESE PEOPLE THE TIME OF DAY.
By now they will have no doubt moved on to another means of conning tourists.
However, remember that if an offer seems to good to be true then it probably is, and is a scam.
Funchal the capital of Madeira
Visiting Santana on the Island of Madeira
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