Today was my last full day on Madeira and I decided to explore Funchal. Although I had been staying there a few days already, I had been busy with all-day trips outside of the city and had not ventured out of the old quarter, where my flat was located. I started with taking the cable car to Monte, a suburb high up in the mountains behind the city, to visit the Monte Palace Gardens, one of Madeira’s main tourist attractions. I bought a combination ticket for cable car and “gardens” at the ticket office and enjoyed interesting views over the city on the long ride up.
When I got to the top, I found that my combination ticket was not for the Monte Palace Gardens, whose entrance was right next to the cable car station, but for the official city Botanical Gardens. To reach the latter required me to take another cable car going half-way back down the mountain. My annoyance quickly passed as I explored a series of very interesting displays of Madeira’s plant life and enjoyed coffee and cake on a terrace looking out over Funchal to the sea. I particularly enjoyed the huge cacti and the dragon trees. An added bonus was that I had the place almost entirely to myself.
From the Botanical Gardens, I returned to the centre of Funchal to explore the city. It had a nice laid-back feeling, many old buildings and very few tourists. There were no real “must visit” places that would feature in lists of “1000 things to see before you die”, but the city centre was pretty and a pleasant place just to stroll around for a few hours. There were lots of small shops, gardens, and public squares.
My route took in a museum set in the house of Zarco, the city founder, and the cathedral. It ended with Madeira wine tasting at Blandy’s wine merchants, where I discovered that in addition to the sweet Madeira that is popular in the UK, there were also semi-dry and dry varieties. Even the dry one tasted sweet to me, just less so than the others. But I like Madeira wine, so it was a great way to end my stroll.
The evening I had dinner in the open air at the restaurant in the old fort directly in front of my house. The food and service were excellent. I took the option of the wine set. In London this would involve precisely measured rations of each wine, but here the staff filled up my glasses whenever they were half full. As the evening progressed, a bright full moon rose over the battlements of the fort and bathed the courtyard in soft light. The evening was perfect and helped me forget for a moment that I had to return to London’s rain and Covid the next day.
I left Madeira after nearly two weeks with a desire to come back. There were some things I hadn’t managed to do during my visit – like the walk on my first day that got rained off, or the Monte Palace Gardens. But most of all it would be nice to stay in Funchal, chill out in the sun and do some swimming or diving whilst everyone back home is shivering with the onset of winter.