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davidx Funchal - A travel report by David
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Funchal,  Portugal - flag Portugal -  Madeira
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davidx's travel reports

Madeira; Paradise or tourist trap? – Funchal area.

  13 votes
Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Historically, Madeira must have seemed a Paradise. Roads have been improved and living conditions have risen but has the plethora of new buildings, tunnels and a hotel city turned it into a tourist trap? .

Municipal building
Municipal building
To my surprise I have found a number of Internet friends ignorant about Madeira’s very existence so let’s start basic. Geographically it’s an island off the coast of West Africa, north of the Spanish Canary Islands. Politically it is one of Portugal’s autonomous regions. It has its own micro-climate and is never too hot or too cold for the great majority of people. Hence it enjoys [?] all the year round tourism and every year a hoard of winter-avoiders come for long breaks. It’s 37 miles long and 13 miles wide. The population is about 260,00 including the smaller island of Porto Santo and about half live in the capital, Funchal. However the actual number of people working or just wandering in Funchal at any time is inflated by tourism and particularly by huge floating housing estates called cruise ships. Funchal divides reasonably neatly into three parts. The west is the site many of Madeira’s best hotels, including the magnificent Reid’s Palace Hotel, where afternoon tea alone would have cost us more than either of us paid for our evening meal any night in the week we spent in Funchal. The east starts at the market [Mercado dos Lavradores – relating neither to dogs nor Canadians but workers.] Beyond this as far as the old fort there are a number of old streets parallel with the sea, teaming with restaurants but still a working class residential area. Between these lies the city central area with the municipal building, the cathedral and other churches, a fine theatre, a Toyota garage with some terrific tiles, a beautiful park of flowers, flowering trees and fountains and a veritable host of museums. High up is a house formerly owned by a wealthy wine merchant with excellent gardens, the Quinta das Cruzes, but this was regrettably closed during our visit for ‘disinfestation.’ [Gardens infested as well? The mind boggles!] In addition to this Funchal is a fine transport centre for the whole island. See last section for more on this.

Favourite spots:
Bird of Paradise flowers
Bird of Paradise flowers
It would be strange not to choose a garden in this land of magical flowers. I am keeping two for another report but. I chose to include the Botanical Gardens in this report for two reasons. First I think they may be in Funchal, although it’s a way from the centre. [25 minutes by bus.] Second, we almost clashed with a wedding group who had gone there for their photos and realised that the residents of Funchal treat it as one of their amenities. For some reason, perhaps the positioning of the house, they were slightly reminiscent of Monet’s garden at Giverny. There are parts dedicated to cacti and succulents, to flowers and trees native to Madeira and to agricultural and medicinal plants. We were particularly taken with the first. There is an exotic birds park adjacent that’s included in the entrance price – fine birds but I don’t like seeing the in such confined spaces. However I’m prepared to express gratitude to the white peacock for doing its display at the right time!

What's really great:
In the municipal building
In the municipal building
Essentially Madeira’s appeal lies in its outdoor charms, whether natural scenery or gardens. However a fair bit of bad weather could be an excuse for spending time in museums, of which there are many. However the Museu dos Azulejos [tile museum] and its adjacent Casa-Museu de Frederico Freitas, included in a single cheap ticket, are worth seeing whatever the weather. The first is not very large but it does spread over three floors in which tiles of all ages from the 14th century and from many countries are beautifully exhibited. Rightly, though sadly for us, photography is not permitted. The house – of a wealthy trader – is full of period furniture, ceramics, kitchen pots, artefacts of precious metal and paintings, all but the last being very much to my taste. We weren’t able to visit the Fincha das Cruzes, having struggled up an [almost!] vertical slope because in was closed for disinfestations – gardens and all. Tigers at large?? From all I hear, though, it’s marvellous.

Preparing tuna
Preparing tuna
From outside I see little attraction in the Mercado dos Lavradores. However, as soon as you go in you are surrounded by a mass of colour. The first area is a flower market where flowers that might cost pounds each here are sold for eurocents per bouquet. Then you come to the fruit and vegetable area with all sorts of tropical varieties. There are also substantial amounts of baskets and wicker-work, locally produced. At the end of this are steps both ways, the top floor being devoted to much the same things. The bottom floor is a land of fish, fish and more fish. Scabbard fish are a speciality here, found in deep waters and ugly as you can imagine – but delicious with quite a delicate flavour. Tuna and even turbot abound. I’m sure that the majority of the many ‘shoppers,’ like us, were staying in serviced accommodation with no intention of buying – just of satisfying their curiosity and their yearning for photos.

NOT chosen for the view!
NOT chosen for the view!
We stayed at the Hotel do Centro in Funchal. This is not one of those in the hotel zone of West Funchal and it has no great views. The one from our balcony is shown here. Its virtues are different and it definitely provided what we were wanting. For a start it is near to bus stops of all the companies; [near in this case meaning less than a quarter of an hour.] Second it’s comfortable and friendly with large en-suite rooms and hot water for bath, shower or bidet. Third, it only cost €50 a night for the two of us including breakfast of ham, cheese, rolls and jams [as much as required.] Fourthly there are no great slopes in walks around the city centre and the east side, whereas the hotel zone is up a steep hill, making courtesy buses essential. Lastly there is a supermarket next door and it’s only 6 minutes to the main market.

Rua de Santa Maria
Rua de Santa Maria
Daylight lasts well up to 20.15 and the sunset over the harbour and sea with the daily ferry returning from the neighbouring island of Porto Santo givers a very satisfying feeling. The harbour has usually emptied of cruise ships until the following morning. Although it is often said that you can’t eat before 20.00 or even 21,00 in Southern Europe –which I have only rarely found to be true – the streets of the old part of town seem to contain most of the world’s population with food in mind from about 17.30 onwards and you are likely to have a much longer wait for your meal if you leave it too late. It’s not difficult to find fado music live in the old town either.

In Jardim de São Francisco
In Jardim de São Francisco
Bang in the middle of Funchal, in the Avenida Arriaga, [where the cathedral, the fine theatre, the TIC and many wonderful flowering trees are to be found] is the Jardim de São Francisco. The hollyhocks form a fine display by the roadside and behind them are flowering trees, an array in late April of blue, mauve, scarlet, white and yellow flowers, together with ornamental pools and fountains.
All this plus a good café and clean public conveniences ensure that it is never short of people but there are not enough to destroy a real feeling of peace that is rare elsewhere in this bustling city.

Note the tiled spire of the cathedral
Note the tiled spire of the cathedral
Apart from cafés, we went to four restaurants for our evening meal, Three of these called for return visits, though only two got one because one was closed on weekend nights for food. Can it be coincidence that the fourth was the only one where we were hassled to come in? That did NOT call for a return. We went three times to the Portão restaurant and enjoyed all the main courses we tried. Pam raved over her octopus, which she had not ventured to try before. She also had scabbard fish [espada] with a banana based curry an tropical salmon [salmon with tropical fruit] on other nights and enjoyed both. I was particularly glad that I had discovered that ‘cherne’ means turbot on the last day and I thought to ask what the fish of the day was. Their zabaglione was really something to remember.
The three waiters were all very friendly and spoke impeccable English. I’ll cover the other restaurants in my second Madeiran report under Porto Moniz shortly

Other recommendations:
One of many flower stalls
One of many flower stalls
I always concentrate on public transport, since we always rely on it abroad – so here is some more about the buses. There are five separate private companies operating within or from Funchal. It’s hard to get really reliable information and anything, including my notes here should be confirmed at the relevant bus stop. There was one quite significant bus mentioned in the TIC timetable that did not run and that booklet doesn’t cover all the [few] buses that don’t operate in Funchal, like the Rodoeste bus 50 from Santa to São Felice.
Horarios de Funchal has various termini, which are shown on a small map in the TIC booklet [that only costs €1.40.] Two of the smaller companies have termini near the Monte cable-car. The S.A.M. bus station and that of Rodoeste are outside the main area of other termini but each has a major stop near the sea on opposite sides of the road, SAM nearest the sea. There is also an airport bus run by TAP Portugal.

Published on Saturday May 5th, 2007

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Thu, May 10 2007 - 08:00 PM rating by jorgesanchez

Otra vez escribiste un gran reportaje!

Sun, May 06 2007 - 09:51 PM rating by downundergal

As always chock full of traveller hints and your easy to read personal observations.

Sun, May 06 2007 - 09:31 AM rating by rangutan

This is very far the best of the "Funchal" Reports, the others are along my line of very lazy writing! David your photographic assistance in reports has improved 1000%, did you take a course? That it absolutely visable here and may be allowed to commend you for that, or after the next expected well-written report.....

Sun, May 06 2007 - 03:22 AM rating by marianne

Very complete and excellent photos. Do I see pam in one of them?

Sat, May 05 2007 - 12:06 PM rating by mistybleu

David, it seems like its been awhile since I've read one of your reports - definitely missed. Nice report.


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