For some while Mandy had expressed a desire to visit Madeira. We almost went in 2010, but decided that my knee probably wasn’t going to be up to the walking we’d likely do there, but in 2011 we went.
We booked a week in the Quinta Da Penha De Franca in Funchal, which looked a nice enough hotel in the brochure, on a B&B basis.
Friday 19th August
We had a nice leisurely 2:30PM flight out of Gatwick, so we arrived about 11:30 (in the vain hope of getting some seats together on the Thomson charter flight). We wandered around the shops, grabbed a snack lunch from Boots and then boarded the flight on time.
The flight was ok to Madeira and we actually got food on board, which we hadn’t expected and, for charter flight food, it was pretty edible, which is always a bonus. I even found there was enough legroom for me (at only 5’ 9” it seems unreasonable for me to be cramped on any flight. God knows what it’s like for my 6’ 3” mate – Maybe that’s why they like cruises so much!) for a change.
As we swung into Funchal airport I was a little alarmed to see a major part of the runway is built on stilts (A colleague later told me that before the runway was so short they had to short fuel the planes to get off the ground and refuel in mainland Portugal)! However, we touched down without it collapsing and disembarked. As we reached the shelter of the terminal though the heavens opened and delivered a torrential downpour which left us wondering if we were facing another week of rain, this just warm and torrential, in contrast to the cold and drizzly we’d mainly suffered throughout the British summer of 2011.
The tour company had laid on a taxi transfer for us for the 20 minute drive along the coast to Funchal and as we drove along our first impressions were positive. Madeira seemed semi-tropical (the clouds soon dispersing after the downpour) with plenty of vegetation and seemed remarkably mountainous. We knew there were mountains, but I hadn’t realised how quickly they rose from the sea, even Funchal being remarkably hilly.
Bananas grow everywhere in Madeira
As we pulled into the drive of the Penha De Franca things looked good. It’s a smallish hotel by Funchal standards and quite old originally, but it’s been extensively, but tastefully (and appropriately) modernised and extended to provide a very personal, authentic feeling hotel based around the old ‘Quinta’ house, which houses some of the rooms. I was smitten and remained so; it is a lovely hotel, full of character and charm that the soulless glitz of the Carlton Pestana, Casino or other luxury mega-hotels couldn’t dream of matching.
View from our balcony over pool and ocean
Our room in the newer garden wing (there is another part of the hotel, called the Penha De Franca Mar, down by the sea front with more pools and access to the ocean) was roomy enough for 3 (Lauren didn’t come with us this year) with a good sized bathroom and a balcony affording a view over the gardens and the Atlantic ocean. It was everything I hoped it would be really, although Ryan was disappointed the Wi-Fi didn’t reach the room (only being available in the Tea Room/Lounge near reception).
View from our balcony over the gardens
After unpacking we made our way downhill to Funchal Centre. It was about a 10 minute walk to the edge of the centre and another 5 into it proper, where we found a small cafe which provided us with a light snack at a remarkably affordable price (always a positive!).
Fountain in Funchal by night
We didn’t do much exploring that evening as we planned to see more of Funchal the following day.
Saturday 20th August
We had an excellent breakfast in the garden restaurant and then made our way up to the Carlton Pestana hotel where I arranged to complete an Advanced Open Water diving course over the next couple of days.
Fountain in Funchal Gardens
We then walked back to Funchal, exploring the small gardens in the centre and wandering around the shops and sights.
Wall lizards are everywhere in Funchal
Fort in Funchal, now museum.
Brooding clouds hovering over Monte about Funchal centre
We eventually found ourselves in the Farmer’s Market, full of produce from the local and also a fish market, where we marvelled at the huge Tuna and frankly hideous Espadas (or Scabbard Fish) which live at great depth but we were assured taste great – They are a great speciality of Madeira, but it is true that you wouldn’t chose to eat one on looks alone with their black, almost eel like bodies and huge eyes.
The Fish Market
The busy, colourful Farmer's Market
After a good look around town, we made our way back to the hotel and spent an hour or so in and around the pool in the garden and then, after showering, made our way just across the road to a small Italian restaurant (Bernini’s) where we had a pleasant meal (albeit not very Madeiran!).
Jacaranda Trees in Municipal Gardens
Bird of Paradise Plant in hotel grounds
Quinta De Penha De Franca grounds
Funchal square as evening draws in
Sunday 21st August
I was off diving for a couple of days, so Mandy and Ryan had booked a couple of excursions.
On the Sunday, they went on a Land Rover Safari that took them up into the highlands of Madeira, onto the Paul de Serra plateau and then back around the north west coast and onto the westerly most point, Ponta Do Pargo.
Cattle on the highlands
View down to the sea from the high plateau
Steve (the driver), Ryan and the Land Rover
The tour took in lush mountains too
Bumping along offroad
They also stopped in a small town that was being prepared with flowers in the streets for a forthcoming festival or wedding (it wasn’t completely clear).
Charming teenager at Ponta Do Pargo
High cliffs on west coast
Colourful flower decorated church
They had a good time by all accounts, with an entertaining driver and a good lunch. Ryan had an Espetada, long skewers with lumps of steak on them (a local meal) which he seemed to love!
Ryan's lunch - Espetada - Meat on a sword!
The only negative either had to say was that after lunch it was merely a sight-seeing trip with no off-roading excursions, so Mandy said they’d probably have only done a half day had they known that, but they did got to see a lot of the island we wouldn’t see the rest of the week, so it seemed a worthwhile trip.
In the evening, we wandered back into town and had a snack at the Cafe Funchal again (I had an Octopus Roll – Like a burger in a bun, but with Octopus instead of a burger! It was surprisingly good and not at all rubbery) before walking back to the hotel with one of their excellent (and cheap!) ice creams, always generously piled up.
Monday 22nd August
I was diving again, so Ryan and Mandy took themselves to Monte, high above Funchal, via the cable car that runs from the centre of town and had a ride down the steep hill in a basket on skids!
Cable car to Monte
Charming teenager in a cable car
View over Funchal from Cable car
The tradition goes that people used to use these baskets to get produce down from the terraces high above Funchal to the market and harbour. Nowadays they’re strictly for tourists and they skate down open roads with the operators (for want of a better word, I’m sure they have a proper name!) alternately pulling and using rubber soled shoes to brake and steer down the steep hills.
Men pull and guide sledges downhill
We met back at the hotel and had a swim and a bit of sunbathe and a shower to get the salt water (the pools in Madeiran hotels seem to be mostly salt water we noticed).
Steep roads back to centre of Funchal
We then rather unimaginatively decided to have a curry for dinner having found the Taj Mahal Indian Restaurant right next to the Carlton Pestana. The food was very good, but it was the most expensive meal we ate that week and not as good as some of the cheaper ones, to be honest. Still, if, like Ryan, you really need a curry in Madeira, it is good quality.