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“A little glimpse of paradise”
Review of Madeira

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Suffolk
Level 1 Contributor
1 review
5 helpful votes
“A little glimpse of paradise”
Reviewed 8 December 2008

We had never been to Madeira before and we have just come back from a week spent in a friend's timeshare apartment in the Royal Orchid Hotel in Canico. I had done a lot of research before we left and I thought I knew what to expect. I had seen the photos and read the articles and read a whole book about levada walks. However the sheer scale of the island took my breath away - the views, the mountains, the plants, the sea where so much more (in everyway) than I had expected.
It took us just 30 minutes from touch down to sitting on our hotel balcony - the taxi ride was just 10 (quite exciting!) minutes. Our balcony looked out toward the Deserted Islands and we sat there and drank in the view as we planned the week. The first thing was shopping as we self catering and that meant a trip into the main town of Canico which the map showed as very close. It was very close but we had reckoned without the 300m height differenceand living in Suffolk, England that is nowhere more than 60m above sea level this was quite a shock! We toiled up the hill and came quite suddenly into this picture book square with a white painted church and old house and an "SA" supermarket! We di dour shopping and then had a meal in the hotel on the square - Recidencial Larreira - which was excellent - good food well served but not hurried.
The next day we caught the local bus from close the Hotel which whisked back up the hill to Canico on our way to Funchal. The bus we chose was the stopping bus which took 40 minutes to get the 5 miles to Funchal - there is an express bus too which uses the new motorway and that only takes 15 minutes but not such fun!
Funchal is hard to describe and the photos I have seen do not do it justice. On the face of it Funchal is a sprawl of white houses with red roofs filling the natural amphitheatre around the harbour but when you get up close you realise that this is a real living city and that the little houses are perched on very steep slopes rising as much as 2,000 feet above the harbour. The little streets and alleyways of the old town between the bus station and the Sao Laurenco palace are delightful and full of real shops and bars as used by local people who live here - and are not just there for tourists like us. The Market hall is very special - built in the early part on the twentieth century this art deco building houses the market for Funchal everyday. There are stall of all kinds but it was the fruit stalls that really caught my eye - fruits I had never heard of never mind tasted. The people were without exception friendly, helpful and unhurried and the traffic was busy but never intimidating or aggressive.
Later in the week we used the local bus to travel right across the island to Sao Vicente to visit the Volcano Centre and the Lava caves. This was interesting and quite well done but for me the highlight was the bus ride along the south coast to Ribiera Brava and then north across the mountain pass of Encumeada (some 1,000m above sea level) to Sao Vicente on the north coast.
During our visit we did two levada walks - both on our own and not as part of a organised walk. The first walk was from near Comacha along the Levada Dos Tornos westwards towards Monte. In all the walk was about 7 miles and stopped for lunch at the Jasmine Tea House. This was an excellent introduction as the going is quite easy because the levada was only built in the 1960s and is quite wide with a well established path. that said there are two tunnels on the section so you need your torches and a good hat will save your head from a bump or too.
Another day we walked along the older Levada da Canico from below Comacha to Assomeda - a much prettier route with lovely views. This was an older and much smaller levada with a narrower path and some quite steep drops down to the valley floor abour 1,000 feet below us in some sections.
I wish we had longer and had time to explore further afield and especially to have walked some of the high alitutde levadas.

Helpful?
5 Thank Sirisol
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
saint
1 review
4 helpful votes
“Walks though Beauty”
Reviewed 14 February 2008

I have just returned from holiday and back to work but could not go on without sharing with each traveller the lovely experience that my friends and i had.

i went on a trip to Madeira, The atlantic Pearl like "my guide" called it. we cought the Carnaval season that was awesome don't remember seeing so much fun, color, laughter, and beauty all in one parade even with a touch of rain. There were many people dancing, organizing and for sure waiting, delightful.

But that was only one night. from the first day i was there i met(luckly) a taxi driver that makes trips called levada walks, LOVELY. we asked if he could arrange some that we could do, and he did, we did all kinds depending on how we were and the programs we could do after the walks. it was divine. i dont remember meeting a person that can tell u all about each flower, monument, church, history, he knows it all at least the places that we went.

so like i enjoyed madeira so much i would like to share it with who reads this IT IS WORTH IT BELIEVE ME.

if you would like some help(and let me asure you i do this on my account) i advise u to contact Henry Garcia "MY GUIDE" so that you too can enjoy the beauty that madeira holds if it is not walks maybe he can arrange something else.

Henry Garcia
[---]
www.geocities.com/henry_garcia_tours

it is a trip u will adore... april is coming there will be a flower festivel

Helpful?
4 Thank lehina
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Santa Barbara, California
Level 5 Contributor
79 reviews
115 helpful votes
“Gorgeous flower-covered island - don't miss it!”
Reviewed 15 June 2007

Overnighting in Funchal, Madeira, after a cross-Atlantic cruise, we had a day to kill. We rented a car, as the guidebooks said Madeira was worth seeing.

What an understatement! While the island is quite small, it has enough things to do to take up at least 2-3 days - or a relaxing week. It's not beaches that are the attraction (there really aren't any), it's the incredible rugged beauty, the flowers everywhere, the cleanliness, the amazing road system and the beautiful hand embroidery for which the island is famous. (It's also famous for Madeira wine, but that's better sampled there and bought at home than lugged around and/or seized at airport security checks.)

The biggest surprise was the mountainous character of the island. Winding roads and frequent tunnels will take you up as high as 6000 feet, the flora changing as you rise. And these mountains are STEEP, with fantastic views at every turn.

Everywhere are flowers - wild, in gardens and offered for sale on the streets and in the markets. The moderate sub-tropical climate makes it easy to produce a wide range of stunning blooms..

Madeirans are obviously proud of their country, and they keep it clean - streets, highways, seashores. Sure, you can find some trash if you look hard, but in comparison to most destinations, the place is immaculate.

Funchal is a pleasant, compact town that invites walking. For a fun diversion, take the aerial tram up to Monte and the wicker toboggan (really!) part way back down. There are a number of shops that sell the exquisite, if expensive, hand embroidery, and a late afternoon stop for tea or a beer outside a cafe will reward you with glimpses of busy Maderians.

The road system is amazing, if confusing - you may have to go opposite your destination to finally arrive there. Just keep trying. With precious little level land, building tunnels and bridges is nothing to the Madeirans - even the airport's runway is built partly out over the sea.

Added to a night at a hotel that also surpassed our expectations, our short stay in Maderia left us wishing we had much more time to enjoy this lovely island.

Helpful?
6 Thank winetripper
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Swindon, United Kingdom
Level 2 Contributor
6 reviews
40 helpful votes
“The Magic of Madeira”
Reviewed 20 April 2007

The Magic of Madeira
Sitting on the balcony, sea view, a beautiful sunset and a glass of refreshingly chilled wine! The end to a perfect day! How idyllic! Still that’s Madeira. An island of outstanding natural beauty, Madeira has been described as “The Floating Garden of the Atlantic”. Very apt because, travelling around, one encounters myriads of blossoms in gardens and by the wayside. An Island of Contrasts! As one rises in height, twenty-two microclimates are experienced, passing from Sub-Tropical to North European. Four climates in one day are experienced, just by crossing the Island. In Madeira, it rains every day, somewhere. They even have a weather station, available twenty fours a day, to advise where to get the best suntan.
An ideal location for an energetic holiday, Madeira is just as suited for total relaxation. Enjoy walking? Offering over two thousand kilometres of walkways, Madeira is ideal for you. There are a multitude of Companies queuing up to guide you around the varying degrees of difficulty. Grade One is a “stroll in the park.” With a Grade Five you’re positively mountaineering, not for the faint hearted. The Levadas are a series of irrigation channels built hundreds of years ago. Life and limbs were lost to construct these “wonders” which cling precariously to the cliff face, bringing life giving sustenance to the crops and farm life. Fresh air and exercise, as an expert guide instructs you on the flora and fauna. What a superb day!
Just want to chill? No problem. You’re spoilt for choice. Every grade of hotel offers comfortable accommodation, most with heated swimming pools, all within a stone’s throw of restaurants where the fare is reasonably priced and definitely international. Something for everyone!
Madeira splits itself into three, East, West, and Nun’s Valley being the central split in breathtaking scenery. Each is totally different. Every visitor goes home with their own ideas but they all have one thing in common. They have all had a wonderful time. Memories taken on board, most will leave the island vowing to return. Most have booked for a week, and wished that they had made it two.
The Madeirense, as they are known locally, are very friendly people. Very proud of their history, they offer a warm welcome, and don’t need any bidding to share their customs and culture to anyone who is willing to lend an ear.
There are various ways of seeing the island. Why not book a coach excursion? Mini bus tours are also available for smaller groups. For the more independent, all the taxi drivers will take you around at very reasonable prices. What can be better than a local showing you his homeland and giving you personal knowledge? Probably, you will get the opportunity to visit the places that most excursions fail to see.
Going west, you will gasp at the cascading waterfalls as they plummet hundreds of feet, drenching the cars as they pass underneath. Cabo Girao, thought to be the highest cliff face in Europe and the third in the world. Eagles soar as you drop vertically 589 metres to the sea. You’ve already passed through Camera do Lobos, a petite fishing village made famous by Winston Churchill in his multitude of paintings, whilst staying at The Reid’s Palace Hotel, the Madeira equivalent of “Raffles.” Incidentally, this is a marvellous venue to experience “afternoon tea.” It is said that some of the residents of Camera do Lobos still live in caves and survive, frugally, by begging and fishing from the rocks.
Passing along the coast you meet Ribeira Brava, a sleepy fishing town situated at the mouth of the river bearing the same name, which means “wild stream” in translation. Boca de Encomeada is a mountain pass, which takes you northwards from Ribeira Brava to Sao Vicente. Climbing to a height of 1004 metres, provided the visibility is clear, the viewpoint affords magnificent vistas of both the North and South. Sao Vincent is tranquillity personified. Famous for the 17th Century Baroque Church, the pedestrian only streets offer the visitor the opportunity to travel back in time and achieve solace and solitude.
On the Northwest tip you will find Porto do Moniz. This was a whaling station for many years and boasts numerous natural volcanic rock pools, which accommodate both visitor and local alike wishing for a refreshing Atlantic dip.
Finish off your tour of the West with a crossing of the Paul do Serra. Totally flat, a bleak vastness on the top of the Island, where the temperature, and weather can change in an instant. The residents are cows, sheep and goats, but you will be awe-inspired by the views of the countless ravines and valleys dropping thousands of feet below.
Going East, you will begin to realise why Madeira earned its name as an “Island of Contrasts.” Rising out of Funchal, temperatures certainly get chilly. “Ribeira Frio” (Chilly River), is a hamlet nestled high. The degrees drop sharply as you enter the eucalyptus and pine tree forests. Reaching Pico Areiro you are on top of a mountain, the third highest at 1818 metres and the only peak accessible by transport. On the day that I drove up, I was full of anticipation of panoramas beyond my wildest dreams. Sadly, the clouds had fallen and I drank my heart-warming coffee surrounded by mist and drizzle.
To demonstrate this point further, later that afternoon, I called at Santana on the North East Point. Dropping down the car temperature gauge increased and the sun shone once more. The unusual A-Frame houses are the focal point here. Hundreds of coaches pull up daily and visitors photograph, in consternation, as to whether people actually live in these thatched curiosities.

The natural divide to the island is Curral das Freiras, better known as The Nun’s Valley. This was the place the rich nuns of Funchal would flee to when 17th Century pirates ravaged and pillaged the City. Madeira was originally a volcano, with the village thought to be the centre of the crater. Indeed, there are actually residents who have never been outside and have never ventured into Funchal in their lifetime. One road in! One road out! Not for vertigo sufferers, you wind the narrow passage with virtually enough room for cars to pass each other. People on the inside think that they have the advantage. They can’t fear the thousand feet drops. Little do they realise, whilst ascending, they are on the outside on the way back down.
Then there is the firewater. Centre of the Island’s cherry growing industry, the locals have invented a brew from this fruit, Ginja, which if taken in abundance, makes people happy and then, consequently, want to fall asleep. They also have a festival dedicated to the chestnut where everyone imbibes in a liqueur with a similar effect.
The reason that I fell in love with Madeira, and I think that you will agree with me, is that it offers something for everyone. The average age group who visit is 45+. As there are no real beaches, this tends to keep the younger families away. All the hotels offer evening entertainment, including the local Folklorico. There is a Casino for those who fancy a flutter. If not, give it a try anyway. They have four splendid cabarets, including dinner, in a separate Show bar. As I mentioned earlier, the choice of ways to explore the Island are many. Walking difficulties are not a deterrent. The Funchal bus service is cheap and regular, operating 24 hours a day. The taxis are friendly and courteous. Funchal proudly boasts its 15th Century Se’ Cathedral. On a flat promenade, the ex Yacht of the Beatles, now known as “The Vagrant,” lures passers by with its restaurant fare. Pavement musicians entertain both visitor and local alike, as they sip their beers and coffees along the front. It would be a sin not to visit the Lodges, to sample and choose your own personal taste in Madeira Wine, a drink mentioned by William Shakespeare. For the history buff, I lost count of how many museums offered exhibitions in subjects varying from electricity and photography to linen, lace, china and porcelain. The Mercado dos Lavradores (Workers Market) is a true cornucopia, portrayed on many a picture postcard. On entering the portals the senses are attacked. Costume wearing flower sellers mingle with the fruit, fish and vegetables, each tempting the appetite. The major tour companies offer packages departing from all the major UK airports. Flight time is just under four hours and a landing at Funchal airport will guarantee an interesting start to your holiday. In conclusion, Madeira is an all year round destination where temperatures never exceed 28 degrees and are rarely less than 17 degrees, in Funchal. For me, I found an island paradise. I made acquaintances that became welcoming friends. Give it a try, I promise you will definitely not be disappointed. You too will want to return, I promise!

Helpful?
7 Thank TulceaWriter
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
A TripAdvisor Member
“old world charm”
Reviewed 21 August 2004

Madeira is one of the greatest secrets of Europe. I've been to Madeira 4x between 1995 and 2003. I am going back to see the firewoks on 12/31! I stay in Funchal everytime I go to madeira. I've been to the whole island and everything is worth seeing. The food along with the weather are the best thing about Madeira!!!!!!!!!

Helpful?
1 Thank A TripAdvisor Member
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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