by Aidan O'Rourke Photographer Writer
Island in the Atlantic, 625 miles (1000km) south-southwest of Portugal, not far from the African coast. An autonomous region of Portugal, capital Funchal. Famous for its varied landscape with rare plants, trees and flowers and of course Madeira wine.
Why visit Madeira?
The magnificent sight of hilly Funchal from the cruise liner or the spectacular ride along the highway from Funchal airport are reasons in themselves for visiting. A place with style and character, laid back in a chic Portuguese sort of way, beautiful gardens with fascinating flora, fauna and art, a small island with a big variety of landscapes, some virtually untouched by human hand, great food, especially seafood, and the rich and satisfying Madeira wine.
Travel to Madeira
Fly to Madeira on direct charter flights from the UK and Europe, or on scheduled flights, many via Lisbon. Perhaps the best way to visit is by stepping off one of the cruise liners which regularly stop here. Note: the new Funchal Airport opened 2000 is compact and convenient. Madeira is 1605 miles / 1394 nautical miles or (2582 km) south-southwest of Manchester UK.
Transport in Madeira
Tour operators provide buses between the Airport and your accommodation. Other options include buses, hire cars and the ubiquitous yellow and blue taxis. Cruise passengers can take one or two day guided tours in Funchal and around the island. For an adventurous ride up the hillside in Funchal take the cable car, and for a thrilling ride part of the way down, take the famous Funchal toboggan.
Funchal is a spectacular sight, its houses extending far up the hills on all sides of the bay. The cable car provides great vantage points, to avoid shooting through glass, point the camera through the open window. The mountainous landscape and offshore islands are spectacular. Plants, flowers, birds and art in the beautiful gardens are photogenic as are brightly coloured vegetables in the markets. The streets of Funchal are lively and have lots of traditional charm.
All levels of accommodation are on offer here to a very high standard. Book an inclusive tour through a travel agent or try finding your own accommodation via the internet. We stayed at the excellently appointed Quinta das Vistas Palace Gardens hotel with spectacular balcony views of Funchal. It may well be cheaper to book directly via the hotel website www.quintadasvistasmadeira.com
Food and drink
A reason in itself for visiting, the food is Portuguese style with some Madeira specialities. There are many seafood dishes and exotic fruits you won't find anywhere else. Everywhere you go, Madeira wine is on offer. It's regarded by connoisseurs to be superior any other wine of its type. The older it is the better. Always drink lighter and drier first, then darker and sweeter.
Mobile coverage in the capital Funchal is very good. There are some internet cafes. Some hotels have wifi. There is free wifi at Funchal Airport.
Money The euro is the standard unit of currency. There are plenty of cash machines for withdrawing cash. Credit cards are widely accepted.
Portuguese sounds chic and exotic though in comparison to Spanish virtually incomprehensible. English is widely spoken and understood.
Watch out for...
Don't eat too much - the food is delicious - Don't drink too much - Madeira wine is best consumed in small quantities. The crime rate is relatively low, but it's wise to take the usual precautions. If you're coming ashore from your cruise ship you may like Madeira so much you'll lose track of the time, so don't be late back!
I recommend the informative and slightly eccentric www.madeira-web.com
Words and photos by Aidan O'Rourke
Here are some Madeira sites and pages that have been selected and recommended to me:
www.hotelpauldomar.com Hotel pioneering the vinotherapy concept, currently being extended to other hotels on the island.
Port Authority site
Sport event sites
www.newendeavour.com (old scientific illustrations)
www.ceha-madeira.net/escravos/escravo4.htm (Slavery in Madeira)
www.ceha-madeira.net/escravos/escravo6.htm (Slaves with or without sugar)
Other sites www.cm-funchal.pt www.funchal500anos.com www.pnm.pt