Funchal, Madeira - "the floating Garden"


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. It is the largest city and the capital of Madeira. It’s population is about 111,892 and it has been the capital of Madeira for more the five hundred years. The name is derived from the Portuguese word "funcho" (fennel) and the suffix "-al", to denote "a plantation of fennel".

Madeira is sometimes called the “Floating Garden”. Flowers bloom year round on the island and there are gardens and parks all over the city of Funchal. My camera captured a few of the flowers and flowering trees as we toured the city. I kept thinking about my grandmother while I was there. She was from Portugal and plants and flowers were a big part of her life; lovingly caring for them on her front porch. I conjured an image of her in my mind…a big smile on her face, happy to see the flowers that adorn the city.

The ship took 36 hours to travel from Ponte Delgada to Funchal. It’s only 607 miles so we suspect that the ship slowed down to arrive early in the morning to allow us time to visit the city.

We didn’t book a ship excursion. Everything there is to do in town is close distance to the port and it’s easy enough to walk or take taxis which was more cost effective than the ship excursions.

 Quick History Lesson 

Funchal began around 1424, when the island was divided into two captaincies, and the zones that would become the urbanized core of Funchal would be founded by João Gonçalves Zarco who settled there with members of his family. Owing to its geographic location, the site became an important maritime port, whereas its productive soils became a focus of new settlers. Its coastal position, the most productive on the island, quickly permitted Funchal to develop an urban core and surpass the populations of other settlements, which slowly gravitated around it.

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.

 The above information was extracted from Wikipedia.

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;

We took a taxi to the Teleferica Do Funchal (cable car) so that we could head up to Monte to take the famous toboggan ride back down. Since we weren’t going to come back down we got a one way fair to the top which was 11 euro per adult. If you wish to see the botanical garden (via another cable car from the top) the cost would have been 31,40 euro per person. We didn’t do the garden but it hindsight I wish we had.

This building is where you purchase your tickets for the gondola ride to the top of Monte, and the queue seen in this picture gives you a pretty good idea of how popular this cable car is!

Keep in mind that the Teleferica cable car does not open until 9 AM and the Toboggan run opens at around the same time. This means that people queue at the cable car and also at the toboggan run which means the lines can take some time to get through. Especially when the boat excursion cut in front with people from the tours. Next time we go we would probably visit the botanical garden or the town of Funchal first and plan to go up late morning after the initial crowds die down.
 Quick History Lesson 

There was a "cog train" ("Pombal Railway") that operated between 1893 and 1943 which would take passengers from the city of Funchal to the top of Monte. There was additional service to Terreiro da Luta as well.

The current Teleferico Funchal building is sitting on the original location of the Pombal Railway station where the cog train started from.

 The above information was extracted from Wikipedia.

The cable car views allowed us to see the layout of the city and the harbor below. Mostly white houses with orange tile roofs make up the city. The hills are steep to the point that I’m not sure I’d be comfortable driving until I got used to it. Think San Francisco on a smaller scale, with narrower streets and sometimes steeper hills.

At the top, there was an overlook to get more photos and some gardens. It was a short walk down around the corner to the toboggan area and the Church on top of Monte.

 Quick History Lesson 

In 1470 a chapel (dedicated to Nossa Senhora da Encarnação) was built on the Church of Our Lady of Monte site by Adão Gonçalves Ferreira, the first man born in Madeira. On 10 June 1741, the first stone of the current Church dedicated to Our Lady of Monte was laid. A few months after the church was completed, the Church was seriously affected by an earthquake on 31 March 1748. It was rebuilt and on 20 December 1818 the Church was finally consecrated by the Archbishop of Meliapor and administrator of the Diocese D. Frei Joaquim de Meneses e Ataíde.

Emperor Charles I of Austria died in exile on Madeira and was laid to rest in the church.

 The above information was extracted from Wikipedia.

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 along the Caminho do Ferro. The road quickly ascends to where it is above all the houses on the city-side, so the views (all the way to the harbor) were superb.

 Quick History Lesson 

The Monte Palace Tropical Garden opened to the public in 1991. This masterpiece was put together by José Berardo and includes one of the most important tile collections in Portugal. The tiles exhibited amidst the tropical vegetation represent several ages, coming from palaces, churches, chapels and private houses throughout the former Portuguese empire. Most of them describe social, cultural and religious events. From these we point out a door from the 18th century, framed by a chapel’s frontispiece, with two lateral figures holding the stones of the 10 Commandments and a sword; and 40 tile panels telling the Portuguese history, beginning with the kingdom of Dom Afonso Henriques and ending with a panel dedicated to the Third Republic.

 The above information was extracted from Wikipedia.

Carreiros do Monte (Toboggan run)

The toboggan run is about 2Km long and you can reach 48km per hour in spots. 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. Be sure to take a look at our videos (below) of our toboggan ride!

"Going down the hill"
Toboggan Ride Start!
Toboggan loading area

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!

 YouTube Tip 

Click any video to start it playing, and then when the YouTube "video controls" appear at the bottom of the video, then click the "square" in the lower right corner of the video to make the video appear "full screen" & then click the "play" button.
Once the video has completed, push your computer's "escape key" to minimize the video again.

Down the hill to Funchal

We caught a taxi from the end point of the toboggan ride to the edge of the city and did some exploring. We found ourselves at Praca do Carmo plaza at lunch time where there were numerous restaurants. We ate lunch at Restaurante Sabores where we sat outside. We endulged ourselves with a bottle of Vinho Verde, some fresh fish, french fries and I had an excellent omelete.

Negotiate with the taxi drivers if you want a quick and reasonably priced trip down. Otherwise you can take the bus - there is a stop very close to the end of the toboggan ride.

After lunch with headed over to Mercado dos Lavradores - which was a combined shopping center and open air vegetable and fish market. There were tourist shops with cork make goods, local crafts, and the obligatory t-shirts. We saw many people from the ship here. Note that we didn’t have a map or anything we just wandered into these places. The town is pretty compact and it was not difficult to find interesting things to see.

After liking what we saw on our short visit to Madeira Terry did some deeper research and found that there are some beautiful hikes and scenery outside of the city of Funchal and much more to see and do - and we both agreed that we should place Madeira onto our list of places that we would like to revisit & spend more time there.

As an example, go to YouTube and enter "Madeira Hiking" and you will get a large list of some amazing videos, here are several good ones - and there are many more;

Suggested links for Funchal Madeira

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