You may know Madeira as a delicious, tawny, fortified wine; but, Madeira is also a small archipelago of beautiful of Portuguese islands, located about 600 miles southwest of Lisbon and off the northwest coast of Africa.
The capital city of Funchal is a featured port on some transatlantic crossings and world cruises, including Holland America’s 2017 Grand World Voyage. In fact, Funchal will be a memorable final port call before the ms Amsterdam returns to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after a full circumnavigation of the globe.
Abundant Island Beauty
So, what can you do with your day on the main island of Madeira? You can count on the natural beauty to stimulate your senses. There are beaches, but this isn’t just a beach destination. Madeira is a mountainous island with dramatic, rocky shorelines and sheer cliffs that rise from the water.
There are dense forests of laurel and eucalyptus, flowering Jacaranda trees, exotic palms and an incredible abundance of flowers, especially in the spring. If you like to be active, Madeira is an ideal place for a hiking excursion in one of several nature reserves.
Exploring the Old Town
Funchal’s Old Town is the place to get acquainted with Madeira’s history, architecture, cuisine and art. Narrow cobblestoned streets run between rows of vintage buildings (some dating back to the 15th century), now occupied by cafes, shops and pubs. Stop into a pub and try the poncho, a traditional drink made of distilled sugar cane, honey and lemon. As you stroll, look up to admire the terra cotta roofs, and down to enjoy colorful mosaic pavements. Also, be sure to walk down Rue Santa Maria to admire a public art project called Arte de Portas Abertas. You’ll see more than 200 works of art, all painted or constructed on the doorways of Rue Santa Maria.In an old movie theater, the interactive exhibits of the Madeira Story Centre tell the entire history of Madeira, from its volcanic formation to attacks by pirate ships, the arrival of the first seaplane and much more. You may also have the opportunity to tour an embroidery works; Madeira is known around the world for the work of its embroidery artisans.
A Feast of Island Fruits
A visit to the Mercado dos Lavradores (Farmer’s Market) will tempt your tastebuds. There are piles of gorgeous and exotic fruits, including English tomatoes, custard apples (they taste like a smooth, fruity custard), philodendron fruit, passion fruit and Madeira bananas (smaller and sweeter than the ones you’re accustomed to). There are vegetables, meat and fish, spices, leather and wicker goods, too. Go in through the market’s main entrance, which is decorated with tiles that have been hand-painted with regional scenes.
Toboggan Rides and Botanical Wonders
It rarely snows on Madeira, and then only on the highest peaks, but you can take a toboggan ride at any time of year. Start with a cable car ride up to the parish of Monte; you’ll come back down as a passenger on a wicker-and-wood toboggan, guided by to experienced tobogganers dressed in white clothes, straw hats, and black rubber boots double as brakes. It’s a unique thrill!
About three miles up the hill from the center of Funchal lies Madeira’s Jardim Botanico. There are colorful plants laid out in intricate mosaic patterns; exhibits of more than two thousand flowers, both native and from around the world; and collections of palms, ferns and cacti. Inside the garden, Louro Bird Park lets you get close to beautiful and rare birds, from cockatoos to dwarf parrots. There’s also a small natural history museum, where a terrace café offers a wonderful view.
Tastes of Madeira
If you love tasting the food and wine of the ports you visit, you’ll have that opportunity in Funchal. Funchal has four historic fortresses, and one of them – Fortress Sao Tiago – has a wine room where you can learn about the making of Madeira and other Portuguese wines. Then, you’ll be treated to a tasting of wines paired with traditional Portuguese foods, such as salted cod, black scabbardfish, flavorful sausages, savory cheeses and cinnamon-spiced pastries.
Madeira is a small island, but there’s even more to do. You can golf, visit a busy fishing village, or take a drive through breathtaking scenery. To select a cruise itinerary that will take you to Funchal, talk with your cruise travel professional.
Ready to enjoy this stop in the Holland America World Cruise?
Contact our team today to start planning!