Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe & beyond...join me!

Sunday, March 31, 2019 island of fish, flowers and fado

Napoleon's last stop...the flower island

Well-known, not only for being the birthplace of the world's best footballer, Cristiano Ronaldo, Funchal, the capital of the Portuguese island Madeira, has been an important historical stopover for explorers and revolutionists.

Located in the Atlantic Ocean off of the northwest coast of Africa, Madeira is a cluster of four little islands known for its wine, its blooms, sugar cane production, and family-oriented, hard-working fishing culture.

Funchal's amazing the market and on the streets

Mercado dos Lavradores
The Mercado dos Lavradores will entice you into its art-deco, 1930's-designed structure. Over two stories, including a huge fish hall, this market is so beautiful and interesting you will stay awhile.

Black Scabbard Fish

Along with all sorts of exotic fruit and vegetables, fish and food, there are also booths with clothing, music, and leather accessories. A little village unto itself, where locals also come to get shoes repaired, blades sharpened, or to buy lottery tickets...the mercado is full of local flair.

As often is in a cool city, the areas which were once the dangerous, poor neighbourhoods are now the 'it' places to live and visit. In Funchal, these oldest streets are now vibrant, colourful lanes filled with lively restaurants and bars...

With painted doors and murals everywhere you look.

Wandering through Funchal's oldest street, Rua de Santa Maria, which runs parallel to the ocean, there are plenty of options to experience authentic Portuguese Fado. This melancholic music, which translated means 'fate' or 'destiny' is a moody and emotional combination of voice and guitar.

Madeira is also known for its immaculate network of hiking trails. These levadas are the irrigation canals built in the 16th century to supply water to the sugar cane producers. The over 2000 kms of levadas zig-zag and serpentine through the valleys up and down the island, making a hiking holiday here just perfect.

Some levadas are cut into hillsides or tunnelled through cliffs, but most of them offer a fairly consistent view of the wide blue ocean beyond.

Fortaleza de Sao Tiago

Camara de Lobos - A proud fishing tradition

A short bus or taxi ride away from Funchal is the gorgeous little fishing village of Camara de Lobos. Made famous by Winston Churchill who stopped at this spot (see photo below) to set up his easel, needing to paint this cove immediately, Camara de Lobos enchanted me.

In amongst the small lanes spreading out from the port there is a tiny chapel which if you're not looking for it you will most likely miss. This is where traditionally the fishermen have come to pray before heading out into the wild unknown of the sea. It is quite possibly the most beautiful chapel, next to Francis of Assisi's own, that I have ever seen.

Nossa Senhora da Conceição
 Said fishermen you will find out on the boardwalk playing cards or in the dark taverns watching TV.

I loved watching the fishermen work on their boats, or hanging out playing cards together. This craft of building and repairing these fisher boats has barely changed over the centuries. It is pure tradition...but unfortunately more and more difficult to make a living at.

Monte - Traditional Wicker Toboggan Rides

A gondola or taxi ride up from Funchal is the quaint village of Monte. Here, the villas are nestled into the  steep volcanic hillside, surrounded by banana plantations. After visiting the Monte Palace, with its late 1800's exotic gardens and waterfalls, and the cathedral, the most exciting way back down (according to Ernest Hemingway anyways) is by Carreiro-driven wicker toboggan.

These super-cool Carreiros, dressed in regulated white with wicker hat, expertly guide the sleds down  the steep 4 km roads with an average speed of 12 km/h.

The tradition began in the 1850's as an easy way for locals to get down the hill to Funchal. Now, it is a strictly-regulated tourist attraction, taking about 20 minutes...on the ride of your life.

But, before heading down to Funchal we made sure to see the exquisite pilgrimage cathedral of Our Lady of the Mountain (what a name!). Not only a visit worth because of its painted ceiling, it is also the final resting place of the last ruler of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Charles I of Austria, who died in Monte in exile.

Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Monte
Built in 1741, this church has survived earthquakes and wild fires. It is a colourful, moving experience spending moments here. The painted wooden ceiling depicts religious scenes and artistic elements making you want to look up as much as towards the altar...and Mary.

If you go:

-flying is tricky...go with Godspeed because the runway is one of the world's most, let's just say, interesting.

-take time on the island to walk the many trails, to hang out close to the fishermen and banana-growing locals

-no need to rent a car: walk or take a is not expensive

-make sure to eat the black scabbard fish...delicious and unique...and drink wine :)
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