The island of Madeira is a tiny island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, but it certainly fits a lot into a small space! This week members of the Trefoil Guild from all over the UK have been finding out about what it has to offer. Venture Abroad Representative Katie gives us a few insights in the last couple of days.
Day 1: Our first taste of Madeira
Our tour started bright and early on Wednesday 18th September, in the perhaps not so exotic setting of London Gatwick Airport. However, it was the landing into Funchal Airport that we will all remember – the runaway is suspended on over 100 pillars directly next to the sea, and pilots have to turn fairly hard to land at the correct angle. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but our pilot managed it smoothly.
Soon we were heading to the hotel, via roads lined with banana plantations. There we had a quick welcome meeting, and our first taste of the famous Madeiran wine. Some of the group then hit the pool – a great end to a busy day of travelling.
Day 2: Flowers, fruit, fish…and wine!
Thursday saw us setting out to explore the capital of Madeira, Funchal. We met our guide, Lena, who is very enthaustic and wants to share everything about her beloved home island. Our first stop was the Funchal farmers’ market, the Mercardo dos Lavradores, which is a working market but still keeps its historical feel. We were shown around 3 sections – flowers, fruit and fish – and you know before you enter which section is next, just by the smell! The flower and fruit market showed a great variety of the colourful local produce (the fish market maybe not so much).
Our next stop was another tradition – a factory of Madeiran embroidery. Here we learnt about how these delicate items are all still made by hand on the island, including beautiful clothes and clothing. Then it was on to learn about another famous export of the island, but one we are a bit more familiar to us – Madeiran wine. We were able to try three types, alongside Madeira cake – not the sponge we are used to, but more like a Christmas cake, which went perfectly with the wine.
To work off all the wine, we visited the Botanical Gardens, once the home of one of the richest men on the island. The gardens showcased many flowers and plants from not only the island but from all over the world, and it was lovely to see them in bloom. To round off the day, we all enjoyed the BBQ laid on by the hotel – fresh food overlooking the sun setting on the sea, and just a bit of dancing!
Day 3: Exploring the length and breadth of Madeira
The next day we were up again bright and early to explore almost the whole length and breadth of Madeira. We travelled through the Silver Laurel forest, some of the oldest parts of the island to the Ribeiro Frio park, a cool and calming spot in the forest. We then headed out of the middle forest and onto the north coast, taking in some of the breath taking views of the dramatic coastline en route. Lena was with us again and she taught us a lot about life on the island and also the places we were visiting.
Our next stop was Santana, famous for its triangle shaped houses. These traditional Madeiran homes were used up until a few years ago, and some of them still are private homes. They were very pretty with their red paintwork and blue shutters. We then headed on, via a quick stop at the Bride’s Veil waterfall, to Porto Moniz, one of the famous tourist spots on the island. Here we stopped for lunch overlooking the sea, and watched the people swimming in the traditional saltwater pools.
Back on the bus, we head towards the middle of the island, onto the Paula de Serra plateau, which is one of the coolest and quietest parts of the island. Back down on the south side, we had a quick stop to visit a banana plantation, which cover the island. It was fascinating to learn about how the fruit are grown and to see them becoming bananas. We returned to the hotel, and relaxed listening to the guitar player on the main patio.
Day 4: Spirits not dampened by the rain
Today, the weather took a turn for the worst first thing – it was suddenly a lot cooler and wetter than in previous days. This made for some dramatic clouds up at our next visit, which was the Palheiro Gardens. The home of a famous wine merchant (amongst other things), the gardens are home to plants from all over the world – from familiar ones from the UK to more exotic ones from places such as Australia and Brazil. Again, Lena was on hand to impart her wisdom. In true Trefoil Guild style, as the weather worsened, it was time to stop for tea and cakes.
Once we made it back to the bus, the rain set in and it was decided that it would not be worth visiting the statue of Christ the King – mostly because we couldn’t actual see him. We have now made it back to the hotel, and the blue skies have returned. Some of the group are currently using the pool, while others have made the most of walking to the beach.
Day 5: Island life
Sunday dawned bright and sunny – good news as we were off to explore the Levadas, the system of channels which transports water across the island. Our guide today was Rita, and we were fortunate enough to visit the levada close to her family home. This meant that she had a lot of personal stories about life on the island, and the lives which her parents and grandparents lived, making it extra special. We followed the level path along the levada, taking in the beautiful views of the countryside, and all of the flowers. We saw traditional houses and people just going about their daily lives.