Friday, June 28, 2013

Three Days in Madeira – Not Enough Time

In June I was fortunate enough to spend three days in Madeira – well, really 2.5 days because our plane landed at 1pm on Monday and we had to be at the airport to leave at 1pm on Wednesday. Madeira, a wine island in the middle of the Atlantic off the coast of Morocco, and owned by Portugal, is a place I’ve always dreamed of visiting. Now I’ve decided I must go back sometime and spend at least a week on this enchanted isle.

Flying to Madeira from Lisbon

My friend Lupe and I flew from Lisbon on TAP Air to Madeira – the total flight time about 1 hour and 20 minutes. The Madeira airport is small and easy to get around. I was shocked when our Hertz rental car was not available and we were told we had to wait 4 hours (Hertz has always been there for me on so many international visits), but we were able to get a local rental car for the same price. By the way, the executive TAP lounge in Lisbon is wonderful – we had a great breakfast with Portuguese sparkling wine.

Checking Into Our Hotel & Exploring Downtown Funchal

The drive from the airport to Funchal – the main city on Madeira – took only 20 minutes, and we checked into the Madeira Regency Club Hotel. The service was friendly and the rooms large and clean. Though the hotel is a bit dated, the location right on the ocean and 10 minute walk to shopping and restaurants is great. We checked into a nice apartment with small kitchen, living rooms, and 2 beds. It also had a great balcony overlooking the ocean. The pool area, happy hour, and full buffet breakfast were all excellent.

After unpacking, we walked along the ocean wall to the downtown shops. We had a great time looking at cork purses, shoes, and Madeira wine. The painted doors of Madeira are also fun to explore. Local artists paint colorful scenes and images on doors (see photo).

Dinner at Goviao Novo Restaurant

A shop owner recommended that we have dinner at Goviao Novo and gave us directions. We sat outside on the sidewalk and had a wonderful time chatting with our fun waiter, the British couple next to us, and all of the people who walked by with their dogs. We feasted on local fish with banana, tomato and egg soup, and washed it down with an icy cold white Madeira wine made of the verdelho grape. When we got back to our room, we sat on the balcony and shared a tiny bottle of fortified Madeira Malmsey wine we had purchased in a shop. A perfect first day!

Visiting Miradouro Do Cabo Girao Lookout

The next morning after our buffet breakfast by the sea, Paolo, a Wine MBA student I had met in Sonoma the year before, arrived to escort us to two wineries (see separate postings on Barbeito and Henriques & Henriques wineries). The weather was a perfect 78 degrees with a bright blue sky. Our first stop was the overlook at the second highest cliff in the world – the Miradouro Do Cabo Girao. It was terrifying to walk on the glass floor overlooking the drop off, but I was delighted to see vineyards thousands of feet below near the ocean.

Lunch/Dinner at Chalet Vincente & Evening Walk Along the Lido Sea Promenade

Around 2:30 we arrived for lunch at Chalet Vincente and didn’t finish until 6:30. Paulo and Humberto treated us to a 5-course feast of traditional Madeira food paired with both fortified and still Madeira wines (See previous posting on menu). Afterwards we decided to take an evening stroll along the Lido – a paved walkway that runs along the seashore for miles. The sun slowly set and the sea turned a pale lavender, which was breath taking to behold. We passed many restaurants, oceanfront hotels, and friendly tourists, and also found more places to shop.

The Twisting Drive Up to Eira do Serrado and Hiking Along Levadas

The next morning we had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel buffet on the patio overlooking the pool and ocean. After checking out we drove to the top of the highest mountain on Madeira to the lookout called “Eira do Serrado” which is at 1094 meters, or 3300 feet. The drive up was a little hair-raising at times, in that the road was narrow with many switch-backs, and of course we got lost several times. It took about 45 minutes all together.

Once we reached the top, we went hiking for a bit and saw the famous levadas, which are ancient stone irrigation channels, which also make great hiking trails. I’d highly recommend this outing, because the views from the top of the mountain are breathtaking, and you can see many of the high terraced vineyards along the hillsides.

Visiting Rada Villa Do Machico

On the way to the airport, we decided we wanted to stop at a smaller village along the ocean because we had spent the whole time in Funchal and its surroundings. Therefore, we drove past the airport to the small town of Rada Villa Do Machico, and found they had a beautiful man-made beach of golden sand, as well as charming restaurants, shops, and painted doors. In the main plaza, a vendor was selling freshly picked cherries, so we bought a bag and munched on them as we wandered around.

We arrived at the airport an hour before our flight and had no trouble returning the car. They were very careful to check it to make sure we had not dented it. Once in the TAP lounge (much smaller than Lisbon’s) we relaxed and had beer and peanuts before catching our slightly delayed flight back to Lisbon.

All in all, a very wonderful visit, but not enough time. I wanted to return to explore all the other parts of the island I missed, as well as to visit the other Madeira wine houses.

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