When you visit Madeira it will become clear why this destination is known as the Garden Island – it is simply awash with colour from a breath-taking display of sub-tropical plants and flowers. So it is hardly surprising that large and colourful flower markets are one of the most arresting features of Funchal, Madeira’s capital.
Cruise visitors here will discover that the market town is easily walkable although, the further inland you explore, the steeper and narrower some of the streets become. Locally made wicker furniture, lacework and tapestries all make good buys along with the ubiquitous Madeira wine.
Funchal is also the base for tours to the islands botanical gardens; the fishing village of Camara de Lobos where Churchill went to paint; Camacha, the wicker centre; the levada walks, part of an ancient irrigation system; and to Reids Hotel for traditional afternoon tea, making cruises to Madeira a must see.
The cruise port is right near the center of the city, but the dock is still some distance from the main oceanfront drive. Most cruise lines have shuttles to the centre of town. It’s walkable, if you are inclined to walk and very able, at around half a mile away. Cabs are also readily available and are quite reasonably priced ($5 each way, more or less).
Depending on what you want to see this is an easy DIY destination. The town is very pretty with lots of small shops. The Marina has lovely restaurants and bars.
There is an open top bus takes you quiet a way around the island at a cost of €14pp. The trip takes about 1 1/2 hours. It is a hop on or off bus so you can get off any time to explore by yourself. Bus stop just along the prom that does a circular tour either blue or yellow routes. Good value and you see most of Funchal and its neighbourhoods. You go up to a super view point overlooking the town and round to Camara de Lobos which is a pretty fishing village. There are 3 different routes.
If you have never been before then the Gardens at Monte is well worth the visit. Get the shuttle bus to prom, walk east to the Cable Car station. Get a ticket to the top. If you sit facing backwards you will enjoy the splendour revealed of elevated views of Funchal and your ship in harbour. There is a nice cafe at the bottom of the gardens that offer a tasting of Madeira wine.
Now coming down, before you purchase your cable car ticket decide on how you want to get back down, walk, toboggan or cable car.
If you decide on the cable car then purchase a return and gardens combined ticket.
If you decide toboggan it is €10pp one way on cable car and €30 for two in a toboggan really easy to do. (2016)
From where the toboggan finishes you have a choice, walk, taxi or bus. The taxis charge €25 – €30 to take you back to town. The bus is about €3, and takes you direct to the town, the taxi drivers will tell you otherwise though. (2016) If walking from where the basket drops you off it is steep but not too far, about 20mins, into centre.
If you are looking at cruise line prices then for P&O the cable car and toboggan ride in Madeira and it’s £47pp. (2016)
There is also the Botanical Gardens, When you get off the cable car in Monte, you walk to your right and down a path which then gets you to the cable car which takes you to the Botanical gardens. You can return the same way (2 cable cars) or get a taxi or a local bus outside the main entrance to the gardens. Well worth a visit. However, just to let you know that the Botanical Gardens are not wheelchair or pushchair friendly. There are very small cobble stones on the pathways all around the gardens that you will find very challenging to walk round. This is not mentioned by P&O. If you prefer the bus it is €6pp rtn from the central bus station opposite the cable car entrance. The excursion with P&O is £40pp. (2016)
However, there are many gardens in Madeira so if you have visited Monte try one of the others.
Blandys wine distillery is worth a visit if you have the time. There are three tours to choose from; 30 min, 45 min and an hour, at the end of the tour they give you a glass of the wine that they produce. There is a shop that you can by the wine from and the bathroom facilities were very clean.
Eco City Tour charges £40 per Tukxi, (2016) for a one hour tour, and they are electric so easy on the driver. Think they seat three people.
A visit to Reids Hotel in Funchal for afternoon tea, it’s a short taxi ride away from where the ship docks and taxis will be there all day! Be sure to ask for a table on the Terrace. If you go to Reids independently you can book on the Internet but ask for a table on the tea terrace – the P&O tour will sit in an inside room. Prices are (2016) P&O Tea at Reids – £48pp. Booked direct on the Terrace €34.50pp. Note: On the Terrace they have a dress code of smart casual, no shorts, no T shirts and no sports attire.
Take a private taxi tour. There will be lots of taxi drivers with lovely air conditioned cars around, a choice of routes too. A 3 hour trip should set you back around €70. Ideal if you have accessability issues and you want to see the area.
Try a walk down the street with the painted doors. They are very cleverly done by local artists. They are in Santa Maria Street, just at the back of the cable car. Best to go early when the doors are closed as some of them are on cafe doors and you do not get the full effect when they are open.
There is also a pretty good dolphin watching operator there which leaves from the port on a catamaran for a couple of hours for as little as €30 per person.
One of the best kept secrets is Porto Moniz’s lava pools. It is like a giant natural swimming pool/lido and it costs just a couple of Euros to get in. There are changing facilities, toilets, sunbeds a café bar and it is a really pleasant day out. There is not much in Porto Moniz itself (I think perhaps a small aquarium and museum), just a couple of tourist shops, bars and restaurants.
The Cabo Girao Cliffs and skywalk are a highly-recommended tourist attraction of Madeira, and best of all it is absolutely free and the attraction is always open. For this either a taxi or an excursion is recommended. You can take the bus. The most useful route is the number 7 from Funchal to Ribeira Brava which stops in Câmara de Lobos and Cabo Girao. This service leaves Funchal at 9:30, gets to Cabo Girao at 10:20 and there is a return bus at 11:25. A single ticket costs €2.75 and the exact timetable can be found on the Rodoeste website
You may have heard of the Green Train of Madeira, this is located in the resort of Câmara de Lobos, about 15 mins from Funchal. It costs €7pp and you can purchase the tickets from any tourist shop. It takes about 1hr 15 min total and stops at the top of the mountain for 15/20min for you to enjoy the views.
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By Peter Dagnall
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