A taste of Madeira

Sailing the world is full of surprises and often find ourselves in a place we had no intention to visit. Madeira is one such island – a surprising little gem in the big Atlantic.

During our time at Madeira, the weather was stable enough that we could anchor outside the Port and the town of Funchal. Some days though, a southerly swell would roll in, causing uncomfortable conditions. Fortunately those days weren’t accompanied by strong winds, so as long as we could handle the roll and didn’t fall out of bed, we didn’t have too much bother and didn’t notice any boats dragging anchor. The Port charges a small fee for boats anchored – we paid 6.50 Euros per night. The Port office is a twenty minute walk from the Marina; all the way around the main wharf and the office at the very end. Not very convenient so I imagine many yachts keep their dosh and skip town without paying.

The main city of Funchal is bustling with tourists; cruise-liners appear regularly at the docks. Some are so big, yet so quiet as they slip alongside the wharf without even a ripple to stir us from sleep. They are amazing to see up close, particularly from the deck of a 12m boat.

Funchal has delightfully cool streetscapes; passing by the Municipal Garden of Funchal with its playful nymphs and pigeons, the streets are lined with cafes and eateries; the centuries old Gothic Funchal Cathedral stands in the centre of the city; vendors sell hot roasted chestnuts in brown paper bags or sweet smelling tropical fruit from covered stands.

For views of the city and harbour, a chairlift conveys tourists up the hill to Monte. From here, a popular tourist attraction is the Wicker Sled Ride – the “Carreiros of Funchal“. It’s fun to watch as they push and ride the sleds down the hill – 30 Euros for a short thrill.

Madeira is famous for hiking and there are hundreds of graded walks around the mountains and forests. The bus system is fairly good for getting around, although to see more of the island, a car is probably the best bet. Madeira is an island at the top of a dormant volcano, that rises almost six kilometres from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. The “Pico Ruivo” is the highest peak in Madeira with 1862 meters of altitude, followed by “Pico do Areeiro” and “Pico das Torres”. We didn’t walk any difficult hikes during our time in Madeira; these days we seem to operate better at sea-level!

Catching the number 56 bus, we had views of the peaks as we rode over the island to the small town of Santana. After a snack lunch, we visited the thatched triangle typical Madeiran houses on display, sampled some potent Madeira punch then hopped on the number 103 bus which took us around the eastern side of the island, passing through many tunnels along the way.

Typical houses in Madeira

Famous Portuguese footballer, Cristiano Ronaldo was born in Funchal, Madeira in 1985. Considered the World’s best footballer (it says so on his statue), his achievements are enthusiastically celebrated across Madeira – the International Airport on the south coast changed its name in 2017 to honour him; along the waterfront, the CR7 Museum is entirely dedicated to this famous lad from Madeira.

Madeira’s International Airport is considered one of the world’s most dangerous airports due to its location and construction. When we sailed to Funchal, we watched as planes circled then land along this alleged perilous runway.

The Nun’s Valley hike was an enjoyable day out. With the end of daylight savings not until the end of October, the sun doesn’t rise until almost 8:15am. Our plan to catch the number 81 bus to the Eira do Serrado hike at 9am had us getting up in the dark. It was worth it to beat the crowds.

Narrow, windy, steep roads reminded us of Reunion Island. To ride the bus here is a thrill in itself. Not as hard-core as the bus drivers in Nepal, but the guy driving bus number 81 certainly had a lead-foot and took each corner at full speed.

The ride up the hill didn’t last long (thankfully), and we were up at Eira do Serrado by 9.45am. The lookout over the village of Curral da Freiras is spectacular and the walk down to the village took only an hour or so.

In the quiet village a few cafes are open for tourists – the La Perla restaurant overlooking the valley was inexpensive and we enjoyed a cheap and cheerful lunch. From Curral da Freiras, the number 81 bus carried us back to town by 2pm. An easy day hiking and back in time to go for a swim (did I mention we’ve swum more times in the past two weeks than in the past four years!).

Madeira has been a nice surprise on our travels and has a lot to offer for those interested in hiking, eating and a temperate climate. But now we are heading south to continue our passage across the Atlantic.

Until next time…

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Sailing the world aboard Blue Heeler
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