Subject: Madeira Travelogue - Part 1

Madeira is an island located approximately 1000 kilometres south west from Lisbon. The Madeiran archipelago is made up of Madeira and Porto Santo, which are inhabited, and the Ilhas Desertas, a group of uninhabited rocks.

It has one of the best climates in the world, as it is never too hot, with temperatures averaging 21-24 C during summer months. Even if Madeira is not a large island, you can find different climates in the same day.

This island is like a mountain rising from the ocean (with peaks more than 1800 metres high). For this reason, there are almost not beaches (and the few ones are stony beaches). If you love sandy beaches, you have to go the near Porto Santo island, which is totally different and has a wonderful sandy beach (you can go there by ferry, which takes about 2 hours, or by plane).

Because of its mountainous characteristic, as soon as you leave the coast to the inner regions, you immediately reach heights that can be easily over 1000 meters.

Normally the roads are narrow and winding. They require you to be a skilled driver. Average speed is normally 40 Kph. Anyway, even if there is a good bus service, I would suggest rent a car so that you are free to drive all around. We had a Nissan Micra, which is the perfect size for those roads. You won't use more than two full tanks to visit all the places of interest.

We rented through the Internet an apartment through Internet, located on one of the hills surrounding the capital, Funchal. The apartment was very nice and clean, with a wonderful view over Funchal bay, and the owner, Mr. Abel, is friendly and helpful.

You can found many good restaurants all around Funchal. They are located mainly in two areas: the Hotels area, located in the western part of the city, and the old city. We always preferred the little restaurants in the old city (but you better skip those more touristy, located in Rua D. Carlos I, and browse along the narrow back streets, especially Rua Santa Maria). Our favorite was Gaviao Novo in Rua Santa Maria, a little restaurant with a lovely owner, Ricardo. Absolutely skip all those ugly restaurants located along the Funchal Marina (you will notice that they are almost always empty).

Wednesday, July 19th

Our trip starts very early in the morning, with the SwissAir flight to Zurich. This time there is another traveler with us, our baby Shaila who is 20 months old. This was her first flight, but she behaved like an experienced traveler. From Zurich we had another flight to Oporto, and then the final flight (operated by TAP) to Funchal.

The landing at the Funchal airport is really spectacular. In fact, the airport is a short strip between the sea and the mountains, and the pilot of our Airbus had to make full use of the brakes when the plane touched the airstrip.

We picked up the car from the Budget counter and shortly after we were driving along the beautiful road, which takes from the airport to Funchal.

It was quite easy to find Mr. Abel's house. He was waiting for us and welcomed us very warmly. He speaks a very good English, but it was not necessary. Even speaking in our own languages, Italian and Portuguese, we could understand each other very well (moreover, Portuguese is in some ways similar to our dialect, Genoese).

In the evening, we went to the old city of Funchal, where are located many restaurants. We choose O Tapassol, where we had Grellhanda mista de peixe con gambas (mixed grilled fish with shrimps) and a white wine from Estremadura region (Planalto). Unfortunately, during all the night Nicoletta had stomach problems. A bad way to start our holidays. Fortunately Shaila didn't have any problem.

Thursday, July 20th

Nicoletta didn't sleep at all, and so she was very tired and weak. I went to the nearby market to buy some food for the following days, and a pineapple for Nicoletta (a great remedy for this kind of diseases). When I got back, she was a little better. After eating some pineapple, she decided to come with Shaila and me to the hotel Duas Torres, where the Budget's main office is located, to get the baby seat for Shaila.

We had lunch in the apartment and then, after Shaila's afternoon nap, we went out for our first visit to the capital.

Funchal is a nice city with an ancient atmosphere. We had a walk along the main streets that are around the Se' Catedral, like Rua da Alfandega and Avenida Arriaga, bustling with people and full of shops and cafes.

The Marina is a pleasant place for a walk too. There are a lot of restaurants, but many of them are too touristy and without any charm (one of them was formerly the Beatles' yacht). We decided to have dinner in our apartment so that Nicoletta could relax and rest for the next day. We had dinner while enjoying the amazing panorama of the Islas Desertas at the sunset.

Friday, July 21st

This morning we decided to visit the Mercado dos Lavradores, which on Fridays is particulary crowded. This covered market has two sections. The back section is dedicated to fish and seafood. You can see a great variety of fish splendidly exposed: tuna fish, parrot fish, pargos and espada (scabbard), which is a Madeira specialty. The front, and greater, section is dedicated to fruit, vegetables, flowers and handcrafts. It is an explosion of colors. Fresh fruit and vegetables are skillfully exposed. Women dressed in the traditional colorful costume sell exotic flowers of every type and color. Beautiful wicker works are exposed in the shops at the four sides of the market. We bought two tuna steaks, and some fruit and vegetables. Then we went back to our apartment. The tuna steaks, cooked with a tomato and onion sauce, were delicious.

After Shaila's nap we took the car and drove to Cabo Girao, the second highest cliff in the world (590 meters). You have to take the Via Rapida (route 220) to Ribeira Brava. After a few kilometers you find the exit to Cabo Girao. The miradouro (view point) at the top of the cliff is fantastic. The view ranges from the western coast to the Funchal's bay.

From here we drove back to Estreito de Camara de Lobos, through a wonderful landscape of terraced vineyards and banana plantations. We stopped at Camara de Lobos, an ancient and picturesque fishing village nested in a narrow bay. We had a stroll along the little streets lined with poor fishermen houses and along the little port's wharfs. Fishing boats are still made of wood and bright colored. At the top of the pier, near the lighthouse, a group of children were having fun diving into the sea, some of them with their clothes and shoes on. Shaila was very interested by these shouting children.

The local specialty is the Nikita, a drink made with pineapple, ice cream, beer and white wine. Another famous drink in Madeira is the Poncha (aguardiente, honey and lemon). We opted for a normal ice-cream, which we shared with our little Shaila.

End of Part 1

Stefano Dighero Genova - ITALY