A week in Madeira

Funchal, Monte and Mercado dos Lavradores

Exploring Funchal

Up in time for the 8 - 10am continental breakfast (the staple slice of toast, sliced cheese, meat slices, eggs and cake, with tea and some sort of coffee), we spent Saturday finding our feet.

Madeira is colourful and filled with crazy flora. The roads down to the centre of Funchal were lined with beautiful trees in a purple blossom, and preparations were already starting for the flower festival which we’d miss by a couple of days.

We stopped at the grassy Carlton Park overlooking the Marina before walking down to the commercial district. Funchal is broken up by roads and concrete waterways clearly designed to avoid flash flooding. The sun shone on our faces and we felt warm, behind us dark, brooding clouds grew.

Mercado dos Lavradores

Quite by accident we found ourselves in Funchal’s Mercado dos Lavradores, a market selling the island’s local produce. Here fishermen showcased their latest catch; in the fish hall men hacked at tuna with machetes, their huge heads discarded on the floor; Skabbard lay out for all to see, decapitated on request.

From the interesting yet macabre market the road took us down to the beach, if you can call it that. A volcanic black sandy bay with seagulls and protected by a sea wall. We perched for a picnic lunch as the storm descended. Quickly eating up our chorizo and fresh bread, washed down with some Um Bongo, before the heavens opened; we ran for cover to the cable car ticket office. They buttoned down the hatches and closed the cars whilst the brief storm passed. Down here it was only heavy rain, up in Monte, the other end of the cable cars, it had turned to hail. “It’s worst when it comes from the sea and the mountains”.

Then it was a different place, as quickly as it had arrived the storm disappeared, revealing clear blue skies and a hot sunshine. Wet weather gear, available at an instant, is a must have. All the puddles dried up and by a fountain we gobbled up some Madeira honey cake.


When the cable cars reopened we took the 20 minute trip up to Monte, a €15 roundtrip. Sam’s fear of heights materialised when we sat down, first from the delayed closing of the car doors, then the swaying and the sudden rocking as the car passed large green masts. Whilst Sam grabbed on for dear life, I hopped around shooting all sorts of photos as we climbed up the mountain, much to Sam’s annoyance I asked her to pose, “pull a worried look,” I said.

At the top we toured the grounds of a remote hotel then the Church of Nossa Senhora; with doors that beautifully looked down onto Funchal and the sea below. A wedding stopped us going in. On the road beneath the church were men in white with straw hats, and after a tipple of alcohol they pushed tourists down hill on huge wooden toboggans; the famous Monte toboggan ride. Descending the road amongst the occasional car, the men used their steel tipped shoes to brake and turn. In the distance a bus brought the men back up, and a truck carried the seats to the starting point. The cable car doesn’t stay open in the evening, and we rushed back to make one of the last cars back down. As the car approached the edge, Sam’s fears doubled, and she gripped my hand all the way down.

Arsenio’s restaurant

In the old town for the evening we dodged the touts and the capitalised menus they held, even if they were charming and knew the word “fiddlesticks”. We deliberated a lot, and no place really stood out amongst the plethora of tourist eateries. Eventually, our bellies pressuring us, we sat down at Arsenio’s, outside on Rua de Santa Maria. Our waiter was grumpy and said little and our food choices were conservative.

The barbecued mains were cooked to perfection and with their seasoning tasted fabulous. Relaxed and with a view of the street we watched tourists peruse menus against the golden glow of the setting sun. Cars traversed impossibly tight corners under the watching eye of a policeman, and young-uns grew rowdy at the bar opposite. Soon the restaurant was full, and locals stopped by to talk to their friends outside. An old man shouted, “Live music, fado singing”, which we, for a long time, misheard as “father singing”; with each shout we strained to hear clearly. At 8pm the traditional music started, and then we left, catching the orange number 2 bus back to Vila Vicencia.

Hiking levadas along Ribeira dos Soccoridos →