If you have been following my post, I had mistakenly arrived at Porto Santo Island next to Africa, instead of arriving in Porto on the mainland of Portugal. Thereafter, I took a ferry to Madeira Island.
The ferry arrived at the port in Funchal and there were loads of taxis waiting. I pre-booked a hostel in advance and it was a 10-minute walk, so I decided to go on foot. As I walked along the promenade, I noticed that Madeira had a good amount of tourists and she was way livelier compared to Porto Santo. It was nice to see lots of people, buses cruising around, kids playing with the fountain, etc. The second thing I noticed was the CR7 Hotel.
I assumed that this had some connection with Cristiano Ronaldo and I was correct. There was a hotel and a museum dedicated/branded(?) to Ronaldo. There was also a museum dedicated to him, so I took a few pictures at the entrance and with his monument, but did not go inside the museum.
I did not know Ronaldo was from Madeira, but the connection clicked at that point. I had just watched Portugal play in the Confederation Cup in Russia about an hour prior to my arrival and was happy to be in Portuguese territory, despite on a Sunday. Ronaldo was worshipped like a God there. The airport in Madeira was named after him and there was a statue too!
The walk to the 29 Madeira Hostel got a bit harder, as I had to go uphill for about five minutes. Upon arriving at the hostel around 5pm, there was a sign stating that the person will be back at 7pm (was this a long siesta or the person was out watching football?). Geeze! I was sweating like a pig going uphill and now, I had nowhere to go, but to a bar to watch the afternoon football game. I found a decent bar down the hill (I had to go up again later) and ordered Poncha, a local alcoholic drink made out of lemon and honey, but it was really sweet and not my kind of drink at that moment (I tried homemade Poncha at another bar in old town and they were delicious). I sat there watching the game and checked in to the hostel at 7pm finally.
The hostel was nice and cozy. It was very clean and I was in a 6-bed dorm. It seemed like the hostel was not full and there were three other empty beds. Nice!
I only had two nights before returning to Madrid and thus, I went for an evening walk around the city center. Since it was a Sunday, the streets were rather empty by 7:30pm and most of the shops were closed. I walked to the old town area and walked around Santa Maria Street, which had beautiful artwork on the walls and doors.
I snapped up a bunch of pictures. These artwork were completed by local artists and gave a completely different vibe to the street. The street was only for pedestrian and countless amounts of restaurants and bars were lined here. Since I was alone, I did not want to eat at the restaurant by myself. I hate doing that.
Instead, I had dinner at one of the supermarket food court, which had an awesome offer (“Happy Hour”) of 50% off on all food from 9pm until closing. The eating area had around 30 tables, but it was really full and loads of people in line to take advantage of the leftover promotion. The line got pretty long with around 20 people starting from around 8:50pm.
It took a while to get dark, so I walked along the main avenues and bigger side streets. There were lots of things to see. I wanted to go check out one of the wineries to try Madeira wine (similar to Port wine), but it was a Sunday, so I could not.
I went to bed early that night, since I had a full day ahead of me. I booked a half day tour for the morning and the evening to explore the market and the old town.
The next morning, I went on a tour around the Funchal area. We did not go that far, but it was all within a 20-minute drive from one point to the other. We first started off at Miradouro Pico Dos Barcelos, which had a beautiful panoramic view of the city from higher ground. There were some souvenir stores, cafes and children’s play area, but we only stayed there for about 20 minutes. It could get hot in the afternoon, but shade was provided along the trees. This place was definitely worth stopping.
Then, we climbed a windy road for about 20 minutes to get to the top of the Valley of the Nuns (Camara de Lobos). At the zenith, there was an observation point with a small hotel, gift store and restaurant to accommodate tourists. I took a short walk up the steep foot path to get to the viewing gallery. There were beautiful views of the valley where the nuns once escaped raiders centuries ago. I have to say that the view was actually phenomenal and reminded me of the times when I went hiking in Reunion Island. FYI, Reunion Island is a French territory east of Madagascar. If you have not been there, you should visit there for at least a week.
From the observation point, we proceeded downhill through a tunnel to get to the small village which was completely surrounded by mountains. There was not much to do in the village except to buy souvenirs, eat and take pictures of the scenery. There was a small church, which I went into, but nothing to brag about.
This village was famous for chestnuts and they sold all kinds of things with chestnuts. First of all, I started off with a plate of grilled chestnuts (around 15 pieces), chestnut cake, then finished off with chestnut alcohol. Everything I tasted there was great. There were only a few restaurants, so it will be hard to miss when in this village. Sorry, I don’t quite remember the name of the restaurant.
Madeira was a pretty big island compared to Porto Santo. The ride from the center to the airport took around 25 minutes and that was probably only about 1/10 of the distance around the entire island. There were plenty of activities on the island, but I was unable to do much, since it was a short 48-hour stay. If you have read my previous blog on Porto Santo, I had mistakenly come to the islands of Portugal after a failed attempt in going to Porto.
Here are some of the other activities that you could do:
· Beaches – there were plenty of beaches on the island. After all, it was an island. The beaches on Porto Santo island were better and nicer and with sand, while the ones on Madeira were rocky.
· Visit the old town of Funchal
· Walk around Funchal port and get lost in one of the windy streets
· Cable car to the top of the mountain with a great view of Funchal
. Relax at the numerous parks
· Go hiking to the numerous mountains
I went to the fruit market with an Iraqi girl that I met on the trip. The market was right next to the entrance of old town and was bustling with tourists. I don’t think the locals really buy anything in this market. On both the first and second floors, there were plenty of stores selling exotic fruits, mainly unique passion fruits from Reunion and all over the world.
The clerks will let you test the passion fruits and they taste really great since they are loaded with sugar. If you end up buying any of the passion fruits, they don’t taste so sweet like the ones that you try. Besides, they charge 20 Euros per kilo on average, which was a complete rip off. I bought passion fruits for 5 Euros per kilo when I lived in Paris.
They were imported from Reunion or Guadeloupe. What I am trying to tell you is to enjoy the free samples, but do not buy the passion fruits, unless you really want to. If you go a few blocks out of the old town area, passion fruits were sold for 5-8 Euros per kilo. The cool thing was that there were various varieties of passion fruits from Madeira. They ranged from the normal kind to banana looking ones, corn looking ones, mango looking ones, and other odd shapes.
Since I was there on a Sunday and Monday night, I did not see much nightlife, but supposedly, the bars in old town gets pretty busy on the weekends. I did see a good amount of bars on the main street filled with tourists and plenty of Poncha to try. There were several different flavors of Poncha, but I have to say that my favorite one was the original, lemon flavor.
· Currency – Euro
· Money Exchange – There were several money exchanges and ATM machines all over town. You will see a lot of Cristiano Ronaldo pictures at the bank. I believe one of the bank sponsors him.
· Internet was widely available everywhere and sometimes free at public spaces.
· Language – Portuguese is the official language, but a lot of people speak English since tourism is the moneymaker there.
Where to stay
I stayed at the 29 Madeira Hostel for a two nights, which was number one on TripAdvisor at that time. There were a handful of hostels all around town and you can also find hotels that range all the way from two to five stars. You can also stay at the Cristiano Ronaldo (CR7) Hotel by the pier. The CR7 museum was located inside the hotel as well.
Where to eat
There were plenty of restaurants all around town. The old town area was mainly for tourists and there were very few locals = prices were inflated and better to stick with local joints away from the old town.
- If you have a chance to check out another island, it may be a good option to go to Porto Santo Island via ferry for the day or for one night.
- Renting a car may be a good idea, since the island is relatively big and you may be able to cover more tourists spots that way.
- Don’t plan on buying any of the passion fruits at the central market next to the old town. They make you try different kinds of passion fruits and you end up buying it for 20 Euros per kilo, which is outrageous. I bought passion fruit in France for 5 Euros per kilo, which came from Reunion Island. Also, the passion fruit that they give as a sample will be loaded with sugar, when they say “this is natural.” Yeah right!
- Booking a tour was easy and very well organized. I enjoyed the tour, since there was a proper pick up and drop off and hassle free.
I visited in June 2017.