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PORTUGAL
Fall 2003

Azores | Madeira | Lisbon | Algarve

Madeira (1) | Madeira (2)

It was time to get up close to the breathtaking mountains, valleys and cliffs of Madeira so we opted to take a guided levada walk offered by Nature Meetings. The levadas are an amazing network of primitive manmade irrigation canals and footpaths that exist throughout the interior of the island. There are many walks offered ranging from 2 to 6 hours in duration and graded easy to difficult. We opted for the Levada do Norte walk between Boa Morte and Cabo Girao which was 2.5 hours. The guide and driver picked us up at the hotel at 08:45. The walk took us around the Valley Campanario with nice views over fertile terraces, rural villages, vineyards and the Atlantic Ocean. The walk was easy and if there was a difficult spot, the guide was there to help. The guide was exceptionally informative, emphasizing Nature Meetings' dedication to responsible and sustainable ecological tourism. Best of all Nuno was personable and had a nice sense of humor. There are gates along the way that control the flow of the water. The farmers pay for the water by the length of time the gates are open for supplying their individual reservoirs. At the completion of the walk, we stopped at a roadside cafe and Nuno invited the members of the group to enjoy their beverage of choice. Most chose beer, but Linda opted for her beloved Olá Magnum Classic, remarkably good chocolate covered ice cream on a wooden stick. The levada walking experience was informative and stimulating to mind and body.

We moved down the hillside to the Cliff Bay, which is in the middle of the downtown hotel area at the shore, within walking distance of the old town center and marina. Situated on a stunning headland location, the hotel has splendid views of Funchal and the ocean is at the doorstep. The spacious lobby, in multi-textured earth tones, gave us a feeling of supreme comfort. The staff was very professional and caring. Our room was spacious and airy with a large balcony over the sea. The furniture and furnishings were of fine quality and design and fresh flowers added a personal touch. There was room to roam in the bathroom with bath, separate shower and bidet. Normally it would be difficult to leave accommodations like this, but the surrounding gardens and pools invited a closer look. On the way we looked at the restaurants, bars, lounges, health spa and recreation areas, all of which were first rate facilities. The upper fresh water pool is connected to the lower salt water pool by elevator, where there is direct access to the ocean if you choose to swim there. The Cliff Bay is a unique blend of luxury and leisure. We took a fix of the fresh sea air before the twenty minute walk to the center of the city and the old town.
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Along Avenida Sa Carneiro is the Parque de Santa Catarina, with a chapel of the same name, and further along the Avenida Arriaga is the Jardin Municipal both of which not only have a great variety of plants and flowers but offer fantastic views of the ocean and the surrounding cliffs. Here in the middle of the city you can relax and enjoy all that nature has to offer. Down by the marina is the beautiful 17th century fortress the Palacio de São Lourenco. Av. Arriga leads to the Se, the 15th/16th century Cathedral with a striking main chapel, golden wooden altars and a Moorish roof. The Praca Colombo just behind is the center of a busy pedestrian shopping area. The nearby Praca do Municipio is home to the Town Hall, which occupies a smashing 18th century palace, and the Igreja do Colegio with beautiful colored marble and art work.

On the doorstep of the old town is the Mercado dos Lavradores (farmers market). In the fish market in the rear, the long tables were strewn with all the beauties we had been devouring. A colorful array of flowers, fruits and vegetables are displayed on two levels up front. The tropical fruits, mango, tamarico, philodendao, banana and pineapple were abundant and appealing. It was a wonderful opportunity to see the islands' stunning array of flowers all in one place. The oldest part of the city still has the original dwellings and shops lining the narrow streets and seductive alleyways that travelers love to explore and photograph. Rua Santa Maria led us to the picture perfect 15th century Capela do Corpo Santo and next to the ocean the Forte de São Tiago which is home to the Museu de Arte Contemporanea. The city of Funchal, nestled into the foothills of the mountains and fronted by the ocean, is like a beautiful floating amphitheatre.
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We headed a few km west of Funchal, just below the village of Estreito, to have dinner at the Adega da Quinta restaurant which is popular for serving Madeira's typical country food. Alas, it was closed. Not all was lost because on our list was the Bacchus Gourmet Restaurant located in the nearby Quinta do Estreito whose ownership is the same as the Adega da Quinta. The Quinta is part of the Charming Hotels of Madeira group, which offers traditional, elegant hotels located in refurbished Madeiran quintas reflecting the local culture and heritage.

The main house of this property has been totally restored as home to the Bacchus Restaurant, Vintage Bar and the Library on the top floor. It's a luxurious retreat on the southern slopes of the main wine producing area of Madeira. Consistent with the rest of the property, the restaurant is done in a comfortable contemporary style that is casually elegant. We were happy there was a non-smoking dining room and delighted with the large wicker chairs at the tables. The table settings were of fine quality china, silver and crystal and each course was served with a silver cover that was removed simultaneously from both of our plates. That sounds formal but it was fun because of the friendly attitude of the servers.

The menu offered many tempting dishes and thanks to the knowledgeable staff we were able to make excellent choices. We sipped a superb red Douro wine, Cabeca de Burro, while enjoying a house offered serving of smoked salmon. This gave the kitchen the 20 minutes needed to prepare Linda's mille feuilles of goat cheese with raspberry sauce. I had a salted codfish crepe with chives and grated Parmeggiano. Both were exquisite as were the filet of lamb on a bed of roasted peppers with avocado and rosemary and supreme of sea bream with Parmigiano and grilled vegetables. The dessert of the day was delicious white and dark chocolate mousse. This was a completely different dining experience than we had set out for, but hey, all's well that ends well.
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Breakfast at the Cliff Bay is served in the bright powder blue and white Rose Garden Restaurant, where buffet style meals are served. The breakfast buffet was incredible. The made-to-order omelet station is surrounded by a wonderful assortment of hot items. Fresh fruits were abundant both whole and in salads and plump dates, figs and prunes were plentiful. Lots of impressive breads and rolls, vegetables, meats, gravlax, cheeses and much more made decision making very difficult. The service was perfect, as soon as a dish was finished someone was there to whisk it away.

Before going off to visit a few museums we used the Internet point next to the reception desk which is provided for guests at no charge. We picked up a brochure at the hotel desk for audio-guides and arranged to rent them for our visit to the town. We found them to be a great crash course on Funchal and thought that they’d be excellent for cruise passengers with time-limited port stays.

The Quinta das Cruzes Museum, Calcada do Pico 1, is a fine example of the Quintas Madeirenses which differ from the Portuguese Quintas. It includes a mansion, chapel, cemetery, summer house, park and gardens and a kitchen garden. The mainland Portuguese quintas normally consist of a large country house and farmland. This estate was bought by the Government in 1946 and turned into a museum. The furniture displayed is of Portuguese and Foreign origin (mainly English). Much of the Portuguese furniture dates back to the 17th century and is made of Caixa de Acucar (wood from sugar boxes). The boxes date back to the end of the 15th century when sugar production and exportation was a main contributor to the economy of the island. The boxes in which the sugar was shipped were made of Brazilian Mahogany. The gold and silver art pieces and jewelry are from Portugal and other European Countries. The ceramics are mostly of Portuguese origin while the porcelain is Chinese and European. There is a small collection of art and sculpture. It was another lovely day and we enjoyed a stroll around the park and gardens.

The Museum of Sacred Art, Rua do Bispo, 21 is in the old Episcopal Palace which was built from the 16th to 18th centuries. The collection is in two groupings, Flemish and Portuguese art. The Flemish is significant because of the commercial contacts with Flanders from the 15th century to the mid 16th as a consequence of the sugar trade. The Portuguese group consists of art from the beginning of the mid 16th century to the 18th and liturgical vestments. Paintings, sculptures, silver and gold are in both the Flemish and Portuguese collections.
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Enough culture, time to learn about the world famous Madeira Wine, and no better place to do this than at the Old Blandy Wine Lodge. The Madeira Wine Company owns the Blandy (world's leading brand of premium quality Madeira), Cossart Gordon, Leacock, and Miles brands. The wood and stone lodge is a perfect environment for these exhibits. We started in the museum to discover the history (books on wine trade back to 1774) and the wine making and aging process. Marvelous paintings by German artists adorn the walls of the cantina where you learn about and can sample the various types. After tasting the 4 types of 10 year old "Special Reserve" wines, we decided we liked the Verdelho medium dry the best. The others were Special-dry, Bual-medium rich, and Malmsey-Rich. Across the way is a room lined with bottles where one can sample and buy the Vintage varieties.

The wine tasting was a great start to an excellent lunch at the poolside cervejaria restaurant of the Crowne Plaza next door to the Cliff Bay. The hotel design is very dramatic. We walked into the huge, high stark white lobby that sits over the sea. This modern drama follows thru the design of all the facilities of the two stunning towers. Viewing the gorgeous pool area and the ocean was a delightful way to enjoy a seafood lunch. We shared grilled Lapas and a shrimp cocktail and we both had grilled carneiro, a red colored fish with firm, white flesh, perfectly prepared, tasty and moist with crisp skin. We felt guilty about ordering a hot fudge sundae. Our delightful waitress told us not to worry, we could go to the health and fitness center or play squash, tennis, basketball or volleyball - after we could get a word in, we told her we were not guests of the hotel. She smiled and told us we could take a long walk. It sounded like a good idea so we walked to the Cliff Bay next door and used the facilities there.

Machico is a fishing town 25km east of Funchal which has a pretty fort and Manueline parish church. On the nearby hillside is Machico Bodiao, a small village where we discovered the unpretentious Restaurante O Escondidinho. It is family run with a very large open kitchen in the rear and lots of seating. We went to the fresh fish display and picked out a beauty to share. While we were waiting, the manager brought us a mixed salad and vegetable soup starters. The fish was grilled with olive oil and garlic and was "to die for" in fact we died twice because the home cut golden fries were in the same category. The Monte Velho wine from Alentejano was further proof of the fine quality of Portuguese wines. Our desserts, passion fruit cake and natas pie, were stupendous. It was fitting that our last dinner in Madeira was one we won't soon forget.

Mammoth infrastructure construction is ongoing creating new roads and tunnels that will make it very easy to reach all parts of the interior and coasts. We saw how the hospitality industry is spreading out to take advantage of this ease of movement which will give visitors more choices of environment in which to stay and more reasons to find their way to Madeira for some "magic moments".

One more visit to the Rose Garden for breakfast and we were off to the airport for our 1 1/2 hour SATA flight to Lisbon.
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Madeira (1) | Madeira (2)

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