Wednesday, 25 January 2017

JST Adventure Part 2 - Madeira

 Madeira is a very beautiful Island, which I had never visited before although it had been my parents favourite holiday destination. This was one of the reasons I was attracted to this voyage as I wanted to see for myself what it was about the island that appealed to them.

After a 02.00hrs start from the Ilhas Desertas we arrived in Funchal harbour at 05.30 and were given shore leave after breakfast. A group of five of us decided to stay together and share the activities we wanted to do. This included a visit to the Botanical Gardens, Monte Toboggan ride and a trip on the Cable Car. As we had two wheelchairs with us the best solution was an agreeable taxi driver with a large people carrier. 

First stop was the Botanical Gardens.

There was a lot of work going on in the garden with gardeners busy distributing topsoil and replanting some areas. The island suffered severe wildfires in August 2016 and evidence of this could be seen around the edges of the gardens.

This palm tree with its scorched trunk seemed to be recovering and growing new leaves.

There was much colour and lovely planting throughout the garden.

The flowers and leaves of this tree looked very much like a hydrangea.

Orange bougainvillea and lime green ferns along this wall were a perfect combination. 

The formal terrace

These bright red salvia were a great contrast against all the shades of green.

Unknown but extraordinary plants that were growing to 8 - 10 feet tall.

There were many Geckos darting along the path and among the bougainvillea.

We had a relaxing time in the Gardens, which may have involved drinks and an ice cream or two. On our way back to the entrance we found this exotic area.

with beds filled with Bird of Paradise flowers

amazing cacti in flower

This cactus was covered in an enormous web with, I was told, an enormous resident.
I did not get close enough to look!

Our next stop was the Monte Toboggan Ride

Originally they began using toboggans in the mid 1800's to transport goods down the steep 5km hill between Monte and Funchal. Today they are a tourist attraction and thousands of people every year slide at high speed down the narrow streets in traditional wicker toboggans called carros de cesto (basket-cars!). They are controlled by two carreiros traditionally dressed in white cotton clothes and a straw hat, using their rubber soled boots as brakes.

The photos above were taken by Tony out Watch leader.

As we were a group of five a slightly larger toboggan was produced and three of us fitted in that and the other two in the normal toboggan. This would not normally have been my usual choice of attraction because I do not like fair ground rides and I'm not particularly fond of speeding down hills in an open wicker basket. However, wedged between two new found friends it was a great experience and not to be missed. Apparently, the toboggans do not reach the speeds they used to on the old friction free, slippery cobbles since the roads have been tarmacked. I was rather unnerved to discover the roads are still used by traffic and there are carreiros at junctions stopping cars to avoid collisions. There was official photographic evidence of our ride but the expression of horror on my face made me decide it was one souvenir I could live without.

Third and final attraction, the Cable Car

The taxi driver picked us up at the end of the toboggan ride and took us back up to Monte. We returned to Funchal Old Town on the Cable Car. It was quite tranquil travelling smoothly through the air looking at the vista of Funchal rooftops and the wide ocean bay.

 After a late lunch in a back street bar recommended by a bus driver (we wanted somewhere the locals ate rather than a tourist restaurant) and much hilarity with the proprietor,

The helpful bar owner who went down the street to the local shop to get the ice creams we requested.

we returned to Lord Nelson for a rest before eating out again that evening.

Apologies for the length of this post and I hope this is not becoming a boring recital of my holiday snaps. Well I guess it is, but please feel free to leave at any point. 

 The following day a tour of the island was organised for all those who wanted to go. A large percentage of the crew climbed onto a smart executive coach and we were taken on a whistle stop tour of some of Madeira's highlights. The coach made its way West along the Southern coast past Camara de Lobos, a traditional fishing village, where Winston Churchill loved to paint during his many visits to the Island. Our first stop was at Cabo Girao, the highest sea cliff in Europe and the second highest cliff in the world.

There is a glass viewing platform, which the intrepid ventured out onto but the view down below was not for those suffering from vertigo.

Spectacular views of the coastline.

The coach then took us to Ribeira Brava a small town on the South West coast. It had been very difficult to access this village until a two lane motorway was built several years ago. We had time to wander and admire the local market, quaint shops and pretty church.

Ribeira Brava is becoming popular with tourists as it has a small beach

Ceramic illustrations in the indoor market showed what was sold in each shop.

Local embroidery
Christmas displays were still up as Christmas is celebrated on the 6th January

We then headed North into the mountains and Encumeada where the temperature dropped by over 10 degrees. Our tour guide had promised us several seasons in one day and that was an accurate description. At the top of Encumeada the South and North coasts of the island are visible on a clear day.  

The roads throughout the island are spectacular

The cloud tumbled over the top  the mountain like a waterfall

It was very cloudy at the top of the mountain so no views for us.
We wound our way down through mountain passes to the village of Sao Vicente on the North coast where we had lunch. It was much cloudier and colder on this coast and looked rather forbidding.

The Atlantic waves pounded in on this coast

The cliffs, dark sea and cloud were very atmospheric

Following lunch we made our way West to an area famous for its viticulture. This is a much more sparsely populated place although there are some splendid Manor houses built on the wealth of wine production.

The last resort we visited on the North Coast was Porto Moniz famous for its natural swimming pools.

The weather had turned cold and grey and although the pools looked very inviting no one was braving the weather and distinctly chilly looking water.

It was time to head back to Funchal, back through the mountains where amazing waterfalls could be seen

The roads around the island have had much investment since Portugal joined the European Community. Seeing glimpses of the old coastal road made me very grateful for this!

We arrived back at Lord Nelson tired and amazed at the variety such a small Island could provided. It is an Island of contrasts - the large and growing metropolis of Funchal, small, unique fishing villages and mountain villages. The South and North coastlines of the island are dramatically different both in topography and climate. The Mountains and Sierra have their own unique features too. We only saw a very small part of this beautiful Island and I am sure there is a lot more to explore. The people are lovely too, helpful and charming. I do not think I have met more considerate motorists anywhere, but I guess when you drive on those steep twisting roads politeness and giving way to one another is essential for everything to work.

I can now understand why my parents loved this Island and I would very much like to return myself one day. 

To be continued (if you can bear another installment) with
Assisted climb and return home.

Photographs by Tony, Allan, Ken and Anne


  1. Madeira looks a wonderful place to visit with some very diverse scenery. I can see why you enjoyed your visit and your wish to return one day. I am looking forward to your next instalment of your great adventure. xx

    1. It is very beautiful Jan and has so much to offer with such a diverse landscape, not to mention warm sunshine in the South. It would be interesting to visit at a different time of year to see how the plant life changes. Last instalment tomorrow!

  2. Not boring at all! It was really interesting to see and read, and I want to say that I think you are so brave!!! To go on the basket chair and the cable car, neither are things I could do and you just did them seemingly without a thought. Very inspiring! So glad you enjoyed it. I look forward to the next part of the story!

    1. It is amazing what you do as part of a group Amy. I would not have chosen the toboggan ride or cable car normally but others wanted to go and I'm so glad now I went along with it. Both were great experiences.

  3. Madeira looks beautiful, particularly the tropical gardens. Bet you enjoyed the toboggan ride :) B x

    1. The botanical gardens were wonderful and there are many other gardens around Madeira which we did not have time to visit. A god excuse to go again, perhaps!

  4. Not in the least bored Anne and I'm thoroughly enjoying your holiday tales. Madeira looks wonderful and you have made me wish to visit for myself.

    1. I would thoroughly recommend Madeira as it offers so many options from sun worshiping to trekking in the mountains. I would love to return to see more of the beautiful gardens around the island and swim in the natural pools.


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