After the great journey to Ireland, we visited another island a couple days ago. This time more south with some higher temperatures and more mountains. We flew to the island of Madeira. Located near the Canary Islands offshore the west of Africa and generated trough volcanos this island is the perfect place for plants to grow, and they do! Read further to see a few images from this beautiful piece of earth.
Flying into Funchal, the main town of Madeira and only airport, is way less uncomfortable then expected. We stopped over in Lisbon and arrived in Funchal after four hours of total flight-time. The landing itself seemed unspectacular, but around a third of the runway is built on collars over the cliff - pretty unique but the only way to get a long enough runway for todays planes. We where also a bit disappointed that they had removed the incredible bad statue of Cristiano Ronaldo on the airport (which is named after him, like almost everything on the island). But thats just a side-note ;)
Madeira offers some nice hiking trails, but there are at times very steep and not to easy. We stayed more on the touristic side for the first visit and rented a car - an old car wich had some troubles to get up all the hills and mountains, but we made it.
In a bit less than an hour from Funchal your on the third highest point of Madeira, Pico do Arieiro, around 1818m above sea-level. Your then above the clouds, which you can see building up in front of you beside a fantastic panorama view. After that you can drop all of your hight in another thirty minute drive and you'll find yourself back on the coast. Thats simply cool.
A really nice place we found by accident was Grutas de Sao Vicente. Those are some old lava tunnels which you now can walk trough. A nice, cold place to discover. The entrance fee of 8 Euros covers a half an hour guided tour trough the cave and the visit to the museum which they made with a lot attention to details (it includes per example a working volcano model, a blacklight timetable, a 3D-movie and a simulated elevator drive to the middle of earth).
Funchal on the other hand is a charming little town. A bit steep at times, but what can they do? A cable car ride up to Monte is recommended and you'll get a nice view for sure. The way down we would recommend the Carrinhos do Monte, kind of a sledge that is steered by two mens and you slither down the road. It's fun and way less scarier to sit in then to watch. The course is only about two kilometers, from there you either have to take a taxi or - when having healthy knees - walk down into the town. Walking is at times extremely steep but you see a bit of the less touristy part. It will take you around 30 minutes to walk down.
A bit boring was the Cristiano Ronaldo Museum. It's basically a large room with all the trophy's he won in it - of course all copies and no original - and a few game worn shirts. At two points you can make some selfies with him (life-size model) and for an additional charge you can take a photo of you with him as a virtual model. Not really recommended beside your a huge fan - but even than I guess it will be lame.
What I can more recommend is Whale Watching. There are plenty of different species all year around Madeira. With some luck you can see Fin Whales, Humpback Whales or Sperm Whales, but you surly will see different species of dolphin and Pilot Whales. We went with Rota dos Cetaceos and decided to also book the "Swim with Dolphins"-Package where, obviously, you allowed to swim with dolphins. The tour take around two to two and a half hours on a speedboat. It's not very comfortable but you'll forget about it once you spotted the first few whales.
The swimming was different to the one we did in Hawaii, because your wasn't allowed to swim freely. You slip into the water from the boat whilst attached to a rope. And the whole experience lasted for like five to ten minutes, than it was over. But the dolphins come incredible close to you (well, to the boat because there interested in that) and it is amazing to hear them communicate with each other. Although short and not as free as we wished, a incredible and humble experience that we won't forget so quick.
I can't write all of this without mentioning our hotel. We stayed in the Pestana Casino and Park Hotel in Funchal. Sounds not too special at the moment. It was designed my star-architect Oscar Niemeyer and opened 1966. It was slightly renovated in 2007 but kept its charm and foremost its incredible open rooms and charm. Not a top-modern hotel, but great architecture (also it has five stars, so it't great in almost any aspect). The Casino is part of the Hotel and offers everything that your looking for. Spending four evenings there and walking out without a loos of money is also not to bad. From the outside it looks like an spacecraft landed somewhere in a garden. Just great!
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