Holiday in Madeira

Travelogue with photos, February 2003.

In February we spent a week's holiday on Madeira, the small island 650 km west of North Africa.

Our first plan was to go to Egypt, but with the threat of war in Iraq we didn't consider the Middle East the best of choices. The pyramids have been standing for thousands of years and will probably do so for a few more. Madeira's climate is mild all year, and a little sun and warmth in February is just the cure against Danish hibernation-mode.

At noon Monday the 17th the plane lands in Madeira airport, some 25 minutes by bus from the main city Funchal, where we'll stay. The guide tells us to leave the luggage on the pavement outside the terminal - then it will be brought to the hotel later. Frankly I'm not at all comfortable by the sight of our suitcases alone and abandoned, and elsewhere it would be madness to leave your luggage like this, but crime is said to be almost non-existent here, so…

Funchal lies like a giant amphitheatre open to the sea
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During the short drive by bus we get our first impression of an abundantly lush and fertile island. There are trees, plants and flowers everywhere and the rugged mountains are crisscrossed by gorges and valleys. At the end of a tunnel we see Funchal like a giant amphitheatre open to the sea.

True enough the luggage arrives at Carlton Park Hotel an hour later. Most hotels are in the western district, and we have chosen Carlton because it is much closer to the city centre - certainly not because it is neighbour to the casino!


Avenida do Infante in Funchal
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Shower in Funchal
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We walk downhill on Avenida do Infante to the city centre. It isn't far and soon we stroll the old streets of Funchal.

The beautiful pavements, mosaics in white and black stone, immediately impress me. There are many patterns and motifs and I have dedicated a page to this artwork. It is mild, but soon a gentle shower persuades us to seek shelter in a gateway with a snack bar.

The old town, Zona Velha, is behind the market hall. The neighbourhood is a minefield of small pubs, where the locals go, and further out are many restaurants. I have read that restaurants here are better and cheaper than e.g. by the marina.

We pick out a humble place, Restaurante Embaixador, at the corner of Rua Santa Maria and Rua dos Barreiros. The windows are plastered with faded postcards from previous guests who praise the place.

Espada at Restaurante Embaixador

After a few hours rest at the hotel we're back at the chosen restaurant. It is small with only 6-7 tables and a huge window like a glass wall allows you to watch the cook at work. We want to taste espada, the local speciality.

Espada is a deep-sea fish, which is caught only here and in Japan. The fish lives at a depth of 2000 meters, but during night it rises to some 1000 meters and is caught by the local fishermen. Science knows little about the species and its life, but it is about a meter long, slender and has huge eyes adapted to eternal darkness. The mouth is big with sharp needle-like teeth. It looks ferocious.

After delicious garlic bread and a watery tomato soup with onions the fish is served. It is delicious: white flesh, good taste and no bones. Helle has ordered with sauce Provencal, a tomato/cream sauce that is almost too powerful for the fish. Mine is with fried banana and vegetables. Pretty good! The banana is local, sweet and firm. With usual bureaucratic wisdom the EU has declared Madeira's bananas too small for export - probably also too curved - so you can get them only here and in Portugal

The waiter is a bit too busy getting us out and making room for new guests, so we'll not contribute to the postcard collection. The price for two courses with wine and water is a bit below 30 EUR - cheap.