Madeira Sercial

James & Amelia Gould
Sat 1 Sep 2007 18:18

7 – 13 Aug 2007:  Madeira (Part 1)


After two weeks in Porto Santo it was time to head to the lush green mountains of Madeira.  Madeira is made up of the highest points of a massive underwater mountain range, formed by volcanic eruptions 20 million years ago.  It rises to 5000m above the seabed, and the island geography consists of high mountains and precipitous cliffs – we soon learnt that there are only two directions in Madeira: up and down.  The rich volcanic soil and mild climate have given rise to Madeira’s famous forests and abundant watercourses.  We went there mainly to sample the wine…


As we approached the North Eastern corner of Madeira the sea state increased significantly as the seabed rose steeply from 2000m to 70m in just 3 miles.  It was a scary but exhilarating ride as we turned into the wind to go around the corner to the Baia da Abra, with mountainous seas towering astern as all that water got pushed up the steep underwater slope and under our little boat.  Once we were inside the shelter of the island the swell died down considerably and we had a very fast beam reach towards our chosen anchorage in the bay.  The wind was gusting 25 knots as we approached the anchorage, and we gingerly motored our way in, watching the echo-sounder closely.  Steep cliffs that dropped straight into the sea surrounded the bay, and despite the pilot book stating the bottom was sand and rock all we could see was solid rock – not a great place to anchor for the night.


As we were deliberating where to go, a knight in a shinning RIB approached; he was from the Quinta do Lorde marina around the corner and came to advertise the newly opened (and empty) marina.  We looked at the price list he proffered and decided that for the sake of a good nights sleep it was worth it.  It was a great decision - in all our travels so far we have not been to such a lovely marina.


Quinta do Lorde marina has wonderful facilities in new buildings (looked like a bit of a Disney Marina, including pastel coloured mock lighthouse…J) and the office staff (who speak perfect English) were amazingly helpful.  There was nothing they couldn’t arrange or advise upon, and Katya (the office manager) was incredibly enthusiastic about her home island (and pleasing to the eye as well…J), making us excited about all there was to explore.  The only problem was the marina’s remote location on the far north eastern corner of the island, with only seven buses a day to the capital Funchal.  This was not ideal for sightseeing, so after a couple of days we headed off to examine some of the other harbours on the island.


Quinta Do Lorde Marina – Remote but great.


Machico was where the first Portuguese settlers landed in Madeira.  The town nestles in a natural bay which shields it from the prevailing winds and forms a nice little anchorage.  There is a small black sand beach which wraps around the bay and has made Machico a tourist destination, but the town has maintained its old narrow street charm.  It was a pleasant place to spend a few days though the requirement for some retail therapy meant we had to move on to Funchal where all the shops are…



Rahula in Machico with the Main Highway

cutting through the cliff behind her.


On the way to Funchal we passed the remarkable airport runway.  As there is very little flat land in Madeira the runway was built at the edge of a cliff on stilts over the sea.  This was an amazing feat of engineering, and apparently pilots who land here need special training!  Seeing the runway made me think that we took the easy option by arriving from sea!



Madeira Airport Runway


As we arrived in Funchal we found that yet again we were the only boat at the anchorage so we picked a spot right in the middle and close to the beach.  There is a marina in Funchal, but all the pontoons are full and visiting yachts stack up against the concrete wall.  We preferred the relative peace of the rolly anchorage outside the marina.  Anchoring close to the beach had its drawbacks though – on our return to the boat one day we found it covered in little wet footprints.  The marina staff informed us that some kids had swam out to the boat and were using it as a jumping platform.  There appeared to be no damage and we didn’t mind too much.  It only became a nuisance when we were onboard and the kids constantly pestered us.


After our long sail to the archipelago and stay in Porto Santo we had a long list of things we needed to buy to replenish our onboard stocks.  So our first day in Funchal was spent searching for the chandlers, hardware shops and supermarkets (and shoe shops….J), then spending lots of money.  The main market was amazing, with the lower floor full of stalls selling beautiful local flowers which are so expensive and rare in England.  The fish market had stalls with huge slabs of tuna, measuring at least 80cm in diameter.  The tuna is so plentiful here it is 5 Euros a kilo; I remember paying £13 a kilo in Sainsbury’s!  Once the retail monster was satisfied it was time to do some sightseeing.


There is plenty to see and do in Funchal.  There are museums to amuse a range of interests from a old style mansion house to a toy museum (which I wasn’t allowed to go to… Harrumph…J)  and a natural history museum.  There are also several botanical gardens to choose from, as a testament to how rich and fertile the island is.  We took the new cable car to Monte, perched on the mountain high above Funchal.  We arrived the day before a national holiday (Festival of our Lady) so the whole area was decorated with brightly coloured rosettes and had a festival atmosphere, with stalls selling all sorts of goodies.  This is where we sampled our first proper Bolo do Caco - a local bread made of chorizo mixed into a soggy dough, then the rolls are cooked on a hotplate.  The bread is served hot with a generous helping of garlic and parsley butter.  It is delicious, though it is compulsory that both partners eat it due to the vast amount of garlic.  James liked it so much that he felt he needed to sample the bread from more than one stall…(Only in the interest of culinary research!  It was worth it as I have now perfected the recipe and it is ideal ‘boat bread’ as it doesn’t need much gas!…J)


Funchal Cable Car

Monte Festival of Our Lady


Monte is the starting point of the famous wicker toboggans that were the old mode of transport for getting down to Funchal.  The toboggans are steered by two toboggan men who run alongside, and can hit speeds of 10 MPH.  They are now run solely for tourists (at suitably inflated prices).  We watched these sledges hurtling down the hillside wearing the tarmac smooth from their frequent passes, deliberating whether to have a go.  We decided not to spend the money, but when my dad came to visit the following week he persuaded us that this was something to be experienced…  So the three of us squeezed into a basket and down we went – the resulting video is on the website.  (I am not screaming in fear in the video, honest.  It is an excited cry! A) (She was bad enough on the cable car…J)


Monte Toboggan


Right next to our anchorage in Funchal there was a huge yacht in a concrete pen on the beach surrounded by little floating lifeboats.  The Vagrant is a 36m long luxury yacht built in 1941 which had been owned  by (among other millionaires) the Beatles and Donovan.  It ran aground in the Canaries in 1977, then it was salvaged and brought to Madeira where it became a café and restaurant.  The restaurant onboard the yacht looked a little too posh for unemployed yacht bums like us, so we went for dinner in the café around the yacht, where the tables are in little canopied lifeboats.  It was so tacky it was great!  (The only trouble was the naff, 80’s style, permed crooner who was possibly even more tone deaf than A and insisted on showing off how powerful his amplifier was every night we were in the anchorage!  We only hope the restaurant didn’t pay him.  Personally if I had a gun I would have shot him, or at least his keyboard…J)


Vagrant Café Lifeboat – Can you spot Rahula?!


As Madeira was once a prosperous centre of Portuguese trade, exporting sugar cane and wine to the rest of the world, Funchal is full of grand manor houses.  We visited Quinta das Cruzes which was once the home of the second donee of Funchal and is now a museum.  The museum had an interesting collection of furniture, pictures and silverware from the glory days of Funchal, including a hammock which was used to ferry the gentry around the town (it didn’t look very comfortable…A).  The house also had a really pretty garden where orchids and funny shaped trees were interspersed with architecture rescued from since destroyed buildings.


Gentry’s Hammock

Dragon Tree


Manueline Window


The entry for Madeira in a book we have onboard called 1000 places to see before you die mentions the Reid’s Palace Hotel in Funchal as a must.  The hotel was opened in 1891 and has hosted a variety of dignitaries and celebrities including Winston Churchill and George Bernard Shaw.  We planned to go for afternoon tea, but unfortunately our timing was off, and we arrived at lunchtime.  We discovered that the hotel no longer accepts riff raff off the streets, and only opens its restaurants to outsiders for afternoon tea (prior reservation and shirt & tie essential).  It was all too snooty, but we snuck in past reception for a look around anyway.  As expected it was all very plush, with immaculately kept gardens and old-fashioned expensive décor.  James marvelled at the urinals, which had special foot covers to make sure that men do not pee over their smartly polished shoes.  (Every wardroom should have them to avoid unsightly back-splash on newly bulled shoes.  Not that it would matter to the likes of HighamJ)  That is what you pay 300 Euros a night for!


Reid’s Palace Hotel urinals


We explored the rest of Madeira by car and with my dad when he came to visit.  More on that in Part 2!