Friends from Germany plan to spend their vacation in Madeira this year. Madeira is both a fortified Portuguese wine and a Portuguese island in the Atlantic. I’m assuming they are going to the island. We had short visits on re-positioning cruises in 2007, 2009, and 2012 (see Funchal, December 2012). There is something about the place that calls out to me
The principal city, Funchal, derives its name from the Portuguese word for fennel. It is situated on a beautiful long horseshoe-shaped bay backed by steep hills. The island was uninhabited until 1419. Today Funchal has a little over one hundred thousand people — large enough to support interesting shops and cafes but small enough to enjoy walking.
The streets are narrow, quaint and pedestrian friendly. There are pleasant cafes everywhere and enough interesting shops to satisfy the shopper in the group as well as entertain those more interested in looking than buying.
Around a hundred years ago, they brought milk down from the hills in large baskets on runners. But since then, they have made more money giving tourists rides down the hill. As we stood waiting for our chance to get in, a voice behind us said “keep your arms and hands inside the basket at all times.” Alie said “that sounds just like a Disney World announcement. Joe Farago, whom you probably have seen on one “infomercial” or another, replied “I am the voice of the Disney World announcements.” He and his companion Sheri Hood, the clever author of The Fearful Fairy, a children’s book, turned out to be two of the most interesting people we have met on a cruise.
Twice on our visits, the city was decorated for Christmas, and light displays were everywhere. But on each occasion, our ship left before dark. However the city market is plenty colorful and decorative, so I went there to satisfy my desire for elaborate displays.
It is pleasant to sit outside the blue and white tiled Ritz Bakery enjoying coffee and a pastry while listening to street musicians. Pastel de Belem in Funchal, when fresh, is very good if not quite up to the Lisbon classic.
Poinsettias on Madeira are not just Christmas plants, they are wonderful shrubs in people’s yards. There are flowers everywhere. Indeed, one also should go beyond Funchal, beautiful as it is. Madeira is a volcanic island with high hills and steep eroded gullies, some ending in small harbor towns like Brava Ribeira or Camara de Lobos, a favorite painting spot for Winston Churchill.
Stop at an overlook for a view of Cabo Girão, at 1900 feet, the highest seaside cliff in Europe, and perhaps sip “poncha,” a rum, lemon and honey drink.
The only Madeira wine I have tasted was sweet, but it can be bought in dry, medium or sweet and aged from 3 years to 20 plus. In other words, you can spend a little or a lot.
This post’s title nostalgically recalls a song by Flanders and Swann, successfully recorded by the folksinger Lou Gottlieb of the 1960s group “The Limelighters.” It was funny. It is about alcohol and seduction. I imagine it offends someone now.
Click on images to enlarge.