Madeira 1. Many months ago, I believed, rightly, I would be in need of a shortish break in the gloomy month of November, involving not too much travel, and not too much organisation. I couldn’t find a wildlife holiday to suit, but when I saw advertised a week’s ‘package’ in Madeira, flying from Bristol, I decided to go for it.
An early start on Monday, 14th November, meant I was on the island by 10.30 a.m. and at my hotel shortly afterwards. A galao (milky coffee) and a pastel de nata (a delicious custard tart – I had four more during the week) later, and time spent in the hotel’s lounge with my guidebooks, filled the time in nicely before my room was ready by 1.00 p.m., and I soon set off with the rest of the day to myself. The BBC weather forecast had said that the Monday and Tuesday would be showery, and the rest of the week fine. It was wrong only about the Tuesday – that turned out to be fine too.
Monday, yes, I was dodging showers, but it was warm, and I enjoyed exploring downtown Funchal, the capital of the island, which is an autonomous region of Portugal. I started with lunch, a sardine salad, taken in the café of the small municipal gardens. With my umbrella up in my left hand. I then made my way, recommended by my Lonely Planet guidebook, to the Madeira Experience, a showing in English of a 30-minute film about the history of the island, and an excellent start it made to my week.
Funchal is on the south coast of this volcanic island, 57 kilometres (35 miles) long and 22 (14) wide, and from the Experience is was only a few metres to the sea front. My first picture was taken (between the showers) looking to the east.
Looking sea-wards, I was reminded that it is an incredibly popular cruise destination. While the population of the island is some 280,000, we were informed that over a million visitors come to stay on the island each year, and a further half million visit it from the cruise liners. It has to be said that given the sort of holiday I was on, it was impossible to escape the fact that for 200 years, tourism has been the island’s main industry.
I walked on westwards, past a statue of someone called Christian Rinaldo – some sporting character who is apparently Madeira’s main claim to fame – and I’m sorry but my photo of the statue came out blurred. No, I’m not sorry. Moreover it was next to a museum dedicated to his story, run by his sister. Oh, and they’re about to rename the airport after him…
Anyway, I turned inland, which inevitably meant climbing – the island of Madeira is just the top of the 6 km high volcanic complex – and I made my way past the governor’s residence into the Parque de Santa Catalina.
Back along a shopping street, and a very welcome sit-down for a coffee, before going into the modest 16th-century Cathedral, called just Sé,
the principal interests of which are its carved cedar ceiling, inlaid with shell, rope and white clay, and the main altar.
That was enough exploring for one day, which had started at 3.30 a.m. (no time change, indeed Madeira is well to the west of the UK, due south of Iceland in fact).
The following day, Tuesday, I met up with the other members of the group, a coachload of some 24, picked up from our four various hotels, the others all being well away from the old centre. The morning was to be spent exploring Funchal itself, with an emphasis on traditional Madeiran trade activities. We started at the Mercado dos Lavradores, and very colourful this market was.
This was at the entrance, and indeed all over Madeira was to be found lovely ceramic tiling.
Upstairs, the traders pestered in a way that those downstairs hadn’t. Perhaps it was because they were selling items that tourists could more easily transport – dried fruits and herbs, beautifully presented, just as the fresh food was. Indeed, but for the pestering I might have bought some of the former, but I was only to pleased to scuttle downstairs again.
(To be continued…)