A visit to Funchal Madeira
We were onboard the Norwegian Cruise Lines Epic on a repositioning cruise from Port Canaveral, FL to Barcelona with various stops along the way - the second stop being Funchal.
Funchal is 3,797 sea miles from Port Canaveral and 648 sea miles southwest of Portugal. Funchal is the largest city, the municipal seat and the capital of Portugal's Autonomous Region of Madeira, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean. The city has a population of 111,892, making it the sixth largest city in Portugal, and has been the capital of Madeira for more than five centuries. Because of its high cultural and historical value, Funchal is one of Portugal's main tourist attractions. It is also popular as a destination for New Year's Eve, and it is the leading Portuguese port on cruise liner dockings.
If you have never been to Funchal & either you are planning a trip there, or you just want to know more about it, here are some good sources of information;
This was day 10 of our transatlantic cruise on the Norwegian Epic, and even though Funchal is only 599 miles from Ponta Delgada, the ship took 36 hours to travel here. This had more to do with avoiding docking at night and extra port charges than it did ship's speed!
If you look at a map of Funchal you will be able to see that the harbor is larger than the Ponta Delgada harbor and the cruise ship pier has a much broader approach allowing the ship to utilize the turning basin. We still "backed into" our berthing location, because it allows the ship to easily depart the harbor.
Our first Funchal visit location was the Teleferico do Funchal, a 3,200 meter cable car ride to nearly the top of Monte. We purchased only one way tickets, as our goal was to ride the "wicker basket carts" (think toboggans) of Monte back down the hill.
The toboggan ride covers a two kilometer course in a little less than ten minutes and it is an exciting way to get back down to the city! The toboggan ride has been in existence for over 100 years, and yes there have been infrequent accidents.
The city views from the cable car are very good, and once we arrived at the top, we found that there were a number of people waiting to ride the toboggans. This was undoubtedly due to the number of cruise ships in the harbor that day.
The first "waiting in a long line" tactic we tried was I kept our place in line while Celeste explored the garden and the Church of Our Lady of Monte above the toboggan area. This allowed us to eradicate perhaps 30 minutes and we then realized that the line was moving slowly because the toboggan "guides" were not quite all on duty yet. They were arriving by bus and walking past us, so we knew that we still had some time to kill.
So we decided to go exploring above the toboggan starting area and just wait until the crowd thinned out. As you can see in these pictures, the view from the road we hiked up on was excellent. After our hike and prior to joining the toboggan line, we decided to enjoy an espresso & pastry at the Cafe do Parque.
The area at the top of Monte is partially surrounded by the Monte Palace Tropical Garden and above that is a suburban area where we hiked up the Caminho do Ferro. That road ascends quickly towards the real top of Monte so all of the views of the city from that location are superb.
You can see in one of the above images where we had just started the toboggan ride, as well as one of the places where we slowed to turn a corner. But we didn't get very many pictures as the toboggan was moving down the hill at a rapid pace. The very last image above is the toboggan ride stopping area.
You may have noticed in one of the above pictures, that a car was driving through the starting area, yes that is correct as the toboggan ride utilizes city streets all the way down to the end point.
It may not look like we were going fast in the videos, and I admit that since the toboggan was low to the ground that our perspective might have made it seem faster, but it definitely felt like we were flying!
We caught a taxi from the toboggan end-point to the edge of Funchal, as we wanted to do some exploration of the city. By the time we exited the taxi, it was lunch time and we found ourselves in the Praca do Carmo plaza where the Sabores Restaurant resides. We took a quick read of their posted menu and decided that since it was such a beautiful day that we sit in their outside seating area and have lunch.
After we finished our lunch, we decided to hike further down the hill to the Mercado does Lavradores. This is a combined two story shopping center with a fish market, an open air vegetable market as well as a flower market as well as many other small shops.
There are a variety of goods available here, including things like; Leather goods, hats & purses made from cork, and other local crafts. Entertaining place to visit, but the prices seemed to be in "tourist level" mode.
After completing our adventure at the Mercado does Lavradores, we decided to head back to the ship, as it was mid-afternoon and the ship was still several miles from where we were - and - the ship was scheduled to depart at 4:30PM.
To return to the ship, all we had to do was walk a bit further down the hill to where the Avenue do Mar (the street that parallels the harbor) is located, turn right and commence a leisurely stroll back to the harbor and enjoy the sights along the way.
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