Lying hundreds of kilometres off the west coast of Africa, Funchal, on the subtropical island of Madeira is the perfect place to soak up the sunshine in the spring or summer. The temperature rarely ever exceeds 25 C on this rugged, but beautiful island.
Overlooking the Atlantic ocean, clinging to the edge of the mountainous interior, Funchal ’s steep, cobbled streets, historic buildings, and abundant food markets separated by colourful gardens.
Madeira discovered by Joao Golzalvez Zorca in the 15th century (1419) century, belongs to Portugal with an autonomous political status. It is a also a free trade zone. When the now famous captain discovered Madeira, it was uninhabited and covered with dense forests.
Funchal’s name comes from the word fennel (funcho), which the first settlers found growing in abundance across the island. They promptly uprooted most, planting sugarcane and vine instead.
The governor of the island and all the settlers decided to set fire to the virgin forests to create farmland, and it is said that the fire burned for seven years. The soil became very fertile and vines were imported from Mediterranean countries. In time Madeira became a sought after stop merchants ships plying the oceans between the United Kingdom and European mainland’s so as to provision vessels.
Madeira is closer to Africa than Europe and the island’s tropical temperatures provide ample subtropical fruits, vegetables, and abundant fish from the Atlantic Ocean. Avocado, kiwi, papaya, custard apple and passion fruit, along with regular fruits and produce dominate markets; Funchal’s Mercado de Lavadores offers all these fruits, and hybridized ones to the visitor. Flowers grow abundantly in the sunny climate and much of the harvest is exported to mainland Portugal and beyond. The botanically interested visitor can spend a whole day in this two-storey building and discover many flowers less well known in Europe and North America.
Funchal’s botanical Gardens overlooking the shiny Atlantic Ocean are high recommended. The museum of Antiquity and History of Madeira is full of beautiful silverware, nautical instruments of yore, and even a few medieval boats.
The old town with its cafes, historic buildings, and many stores, is worth a full day, particularly if you are interested in tasting Madeira wines free of charge. Madeira’s wineries, of which there are seven, pour their wines for tourists and offer guided tours, explaining the lengthy process to produce the world’s longest lived wines. You can still find 18th century Madeira wines in London’s wine auctions. (Check out Christie’s and Sotheby’s web sites for details).
Thye Gothic cathedral is definitely worth a visit with its intricate woodcarvings and ivory with Moorish patterns weaved in red, gold, and blue. Exploring the 140 km. Network of levadas (mini canals for irrigation) is definitely recommended not only for educational purposes but also to witness how persistence and hard work can achieve works of great use.
There are several companies offering full-day excursions to the other side of Madeira, including lunch at a typical restaurant offering scabbard fish (only found around the waters of Madeira). The scenery is a s beautiful and as fascinating as in lush tropical places.
Back in Funchal you can visit the casino located in stupendous building in a park. There are many hotels, bed and breakfast to choose from.
Restaurants abound both in the old-town and neighbouring satellite villages. The food is always fresh, lovingly prepared, and local.
Getting there: Several airlines fly to Funchal including, Transat from Toronto, Easyjet from London, and TAP from Lisbon.
|Writer – Hrayr Berberoglu – E-mail – Read his books?
Professor B offers seminars to companies and interested parties on any category of wine, chocolates, chocolates and wine, olive oils, vinegars and dressings, at a reasonable cost.