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.

 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.

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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;

Exploring Funchal

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.

 Quick History Lesson 

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

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

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.

 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.

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.

 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.

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.

This is the "going down the hill" video
This video is of where we first got on and took off!
This is the "toboggan loading & starting area" video

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, then click the "square" in the lower right corner of the video to make the video appear "full screen". Once the video has completed, push your computer's "escape key" to minimize the video again.

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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