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krisek Madeira - A travel report by Krys
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Madeira,  Portugal - flag Portugal -  Madeira
15713 readers

krisek's travel reports

Not just a beach holiday place!

  11 votes
Page: 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
I went to Madeira for a weekend. This upset the locals a little, as they had been used to tourists staying at least for a week. I had a cheap ticket from easyJet and just wanted to check whether the island was really boring, just like many people told me.

Sao Lorenco
Sao Lorenco
I saw the capital city in the dark. It was already fully decorated for Christmas, but the lights were not illuminated (mid November 2007). I started wandering about the city when the street lights came on. There were few people around. It rained a little. I took my rain jacket with me, but it was too hot for me, so I packed it in my backpack. Then, I almost regretted that I took it with me. I had too much to carry. However, later in the night, temperature dropped and I was actually very happy that I had it. I tried to remember the layout of the city from the Google Map application, which I checked two weeks before. I could not remember details. I wanted to see the main square and a few historical places, but did not know which way to go. This is what happens when one does not take a map with him. It was dark and certain areas I wandered into did not look as a very friendly neighbourhood. I was in Africa and I had to remember that some places might be dodgy for a lost tourist with a fat camera swinging from the shoulder. I turned back, had dinner and went to bed.

I slept in. I took seriously too long in the morning and if I had any plans made for that day, they were not going to work anymore. I told the receptionist exactly that. I enquired about public transport to see a selection of places featured in the postcards displayed in the lobby. He claimed it was not going to be easy. It was Sunday and it was late. I then picked one of the places, Santana, and asked about taxi fares. Ha! I had to negotiate.

After a few over-the-phone fare wrestling sessions, I was on the verge of giving up and just spend the day in Funchal. However, the receptionist came up with an idea that I rented a car with a driver. I would prefer to drive myself, but he claimed that it would be too expensive due to insurance. If the rental was not busy that day, they could give me one of the mechanics to drive me to that place for half the price (€70). I agreed to that!

Favourite spots:
Madeira Sao Lorenco
Madeira Sao Lorenco
My driver’s name was Ze. He was the best thing that happened to me on Madeira. Ze was exceptionally friendly. I was really impressed! I was treated like a king. He was patient with me while I was trotting through the mud to take photographs from an optimal position. The good lad went an extra mile, actually a good few miles, to show me more than I expected from this short trip. I do not even think that I was paying for that much. Little I knew that Ze was planning to stop by the Sao Lorenco peninsula on the way to Santana, the place I agreed with the boss to visit. That was his first great surprise for me.

The peninsula was long and picturesque. The road did not lead to the very end of it. Instead, it stopped at the view point, just before an observatory of some kind. That was enough for me. I stayed about twenty minutes contemplating the views and snapping a few photographs. It was almost raining, so I could not stay too long. My camera was not waterproof!

What's really great:
Santana, my primary destination, was a small place with traditional reed-roof houses. When I got there, I knew that it was not what I had expected. I thought the houses would be located in a park or something and that there would be more of them. It was not like that. Actually, Ze was not sure where those houses were exactly, when I asked him. I was a little concerned that we were not going to find them. Fortunately, they were right by the road.

They were built in a row, one by one, yet each had its own little garden around. It was obvious that they served as a museum, but I think it was not very long ago that people actually lived in them. Now, they house little shops with traditional handicraft and as a place for tourists to visit.

Santana was located on the hill, and the little houses were overlooking steep slopes towards the northern coast. I really liked that. I wish there were many more of these houses, not just five or six, but it was a good trip.

Ze took me along the North Coast as far as São Vicente. We passed through São Jorge, Ponta Delgada, Boa Ventura. The landscape was pretty dramatic - high cliffs, green mountains, pretty little villages.

At Ponta Delgada, there were two more of the traditional houses. Their construction was very similar but they looked slightly different than those in Santana. Interestingly, one of them had two entrances. It was odd, because both were leading to the same room. After Ponta Delgada, Ze lost his way. He wanted to show me something in the mountains. That was strange, I thought. For Madeira is such a small island. Ze had lived in there all his life - he should know the island really well. He stopped and asked a very old doña. She mumbled a lot and did not know what he wanted. We found the way and reached São Vicente. It was not very interesting. This is where we turned back to Funchal. And still on they way Ze stopped at a local, atmospheric bar and bought me Madeira’s famous punch!

I stayed at Hotel Imperatiz (***, €38) near the conference centre and Madeira Casino. It was an old hotel and the room was rather smelly. The odour was so bad that I had to open the balcony door, to let some fresh air. It was raining very badly (a true tropical torrential downpour) but I decided to take the risk of water getting into the room. The rooms were complete with little kitchenette, and the bathroom was relatively clean. The furniture was probably from the 1970s, but I was only staying one night, so I did not care.

On Madeira there was obviously a myriad of hotels, majority of which were catering for mass tourism, visitors with an objective to fry on the beach, read a book, etc. Few accommodation options were focused on independent travellers, but not too stress - some of them are listed on popular travel and hotels websites.

Funchal Christmas decorations
Funchal Christmas decorations
After dinner I looked around, but found it boring. It was Saturday and I could not believe that there was no action anywhere! I have not stumbled across any club or a decent bar! I was sure that I did not know where to look. I wandered around the old town, and apart from closed shops and a few poor restaurants, I found nothing. I was disappointed. I should have hooked up with a local! Of course there was a casino, next to my hotel, but I was not sure that was the type of nightlife I was looking for. I saw a group of people along the costal street, but they were just hovering around McDonalds and some little eateries. Anyway, I was a little tired from partying heavily on Friday night, so I would have collapsed shortly after finding a boogie place, I suppose...

Golden Gate Grand Cafe
Golden Gate Grand Cafe
Fortunately, there it was - a perfect place - Golden Gate Grand Cafe. It was truly grand. It looked expensive. The waiters and waitresses were classically dressed. The upper balcony that went around the building was filled with a single row of tables protected by a striped marquise from the elements. White table cloths, elegant glassware, reed armchairs, comfy cushions... All that. And it was placed on the side of the main drag leading from the casino to the old town - perfect for people watching! They had beautifully chilled beer, the service was attentive and it seemed like the young, bold and beautiful liked to hang there. Actually, the thirtysomethings did, too.

Then, there was the pier of course. In the night, there was nothing to do there, but during the day it was packed with people.

Other places to chill and meet others were scattered around the island. A few viewpoint bars, waterfront cafes and atmospheric little taverns in the mountains serving sweet madeira wine and punch.

Madeira north coast
Madeira north coast
I expected that Funchal would boast a number of good quality seafood restaurants. Or, a few good restaurants of any type. I was not so. I must have been looking for almost an hour in the part of the city, which was supposed to be the centre. Oh yeah, there were restaurants around alright, but there were all rather poor. They looked like low quality greasy cafes. Brrr! The menus offered peculiar dishes in the range of burgers, minced meat steaks (that's burger, right?), chips dripping with lard, pork chops, and... that's it. I was really hungry by then, but I just could not force myself to order anything there. My disappointment was growing and growing.

I kept looking. I eventually came across a Chinese restaurant, whose classic menu carried curry shrimps, shrimps Sichuan, sweet-sour prawn, won ton soup, spring rolls, paper prawn. By the time I turned to the third page, my reason was overtaken by hunger. So, although really against my rules (must try local food), I decided to try it.

Other recommendations:
Madeira north coast
Madeira north coast
There is so much more to Madeira than just beaches. The centre of the island, the mountains offer endless trekking possibilities. The mountains are so wild, that one has to be rather careful and stick to the paths. People get lost in those.

It is probably a good idea to check weather. When I visited, it was dump and rain prevented me from enjoying the outdoors to the full. In the mountains, the mist obscured the views and made the paths slippery. Although I am not a beach person, I would not mind sitting in a beach bar and soak up the sun (it was November!). Pushing it a little, one could tour around the island in a day. It is so compact. But to explore each coast more thoroughly, a day for each, south and north, would probably be about right.

Fortunately, Madeira is set to become an affordable destination due to easyJet. My ticket was £60 (USD 120) return, all taxes included! The rest of prices are on par with the rest of Portugal.

Published on Tuesday February 12th, 2008

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Fri, Mar 14 2008 - 01:50 PM rating by alfonsovasco

madeira means wood in portuguese.

Wed, Feb 13 2008 - 06:09 AM rating by rangutan

Similar to some of my 'blitztrips' but I could never write as smooth and detailed like this. Well done!

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