Tuesday 21 February 2017

48 hours in: Funchal

Emma Gregg

Published 03/04/2010 | 05:00

Main Funchal, capital of Madeira
Main Funchal, capital of Madeira
A colourful fruit and veg market in Funchal

Madeira recently suffered the worst flooding in living memory, but the capital of this Portuguese island is ready to welcome visitors once again, writes Emma Gregg

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Why go now?

In February, Madeira's capital was pounded by catastrophic floods and landslides which killed 42 people across the island. Much of the damage has now been cleared up. With its grand seafront promenade, black-and-white mosaic pavements, attractive historic buildings and old-fashioned shops and cafés, Funchal is back in business. The annual flower festival takes place from April 15-18.

Touch down

Portuguese airline Sata (01-844 7372; sata.pt) flies direct from Dublin every Sunday. The flight time is just under four hours; return fares from €230. Sunway (01-288 6828; sunway.ie) has a seven-night package in May for €589pp staying at the three-star Albergaria Catedral Hotel on a B&B basis, including flights from Dublin and all taxes.

The airport is 10 miles east of Funchal. The Aerobus runs about every hour from the airport to the Lido area (or Hotel Zone) on the west side of Funchal, via the city centre, for €5. A taxi to the city centre takes around 25 minutes and costs €26-€30 (more at weekends and from 10pm-7am).

Get your bearings

View PDF map of Funchal

Madeira is 550 miles south west of Lisbon, but retains its Portuguese roots -- as well as strong connections with Britain. The island's capital climbs steeply away from the harbour front into the steep, ravine-scored hillsides dotted with villas that surround the city like an amphitheatre. Most places of interest are close to the stony Atlantic shore, where three rivers that carve through the centre meet the ocean.

The seafront promenade, the Avenida do Mar, is recovering well from its recent battering; its palm-shaded cafés and bolo do caco (flatbread) stalls are as lively as ever. For now, the view is marred by the earth and debris piled on the beach during the clean-up, but this may be used for a land reclamation project.

Set back from the promenade is the old town, Zona Velha, a jumble of terracotta-roofed cottages that was also hit. The city centre, around the cathedral (1), was less affected by the deluge. The tourist office (2) is at Avenida Arriaga 16 (00351 291 211 902; madeiraislands.travel); open at 9am daily, closing at 3pm at weekends and 7pm on other days.

Check in

In the wake of the floods, Funchal's hotels have suffered a drop in bookings so you can expect some tempting discounts over the coming weeks.

Residencial Chafariz (3) is a few steps from the cathedral at Rua Estanco Velho 3-5 (00351 291 232 260; chafariz.webs.com). This quiet guesthouse has basic but tidy doubles from €50, including a simple breakfast.

Madeira has the best selection of five-star hotels of all the Atlantic Islands. The grande dame is Reid's Palace (4) at Estrada Monumental 139 (00351 291 717 171; reidspalace.com; doubles from €234, including breakfast). Nearby, a modern alternative with equally stunning ocean views is the Pestana Carlton Madeira (5) on Largo António Nobre (00351 291 239 500; pestana.com), where doubles cost from €175, including breakfast.

Funchal's hippest new addition is The Vine (6) at Rua dos Aranhas 27A (00351 291 009 000; hotelthevine.com; pictured above), with a rooftop pool and a vinotherapy spa; from €220, including breakfast.

Take a hike

Start at the Story Centre (7) (00351 291 000 770; story centre.com; 10am to 6pm daily; €9.60), a lively museum of Madeiran history and culture. From here, Rua Santa Maria leads to the Art Deco market hall, Mercado dos Lavradores (8), on Rua Brigadeiro Oudinot, best on a Friday or Saturday morning when the displays of subtropical fruit, giant octopus and evil-looking espada (scabbard fish) are at their most impressive.

Head west along Rua Fernão Ornelas and cross Funchal's central river to reach the attractive Cathedral quarter, much of which is pedestrianised, with ornate balconies overlooking cobbled lanes. The city's finest square is Praça do Municipio (9), north-east of the broad, jacaranda-lined Avenida Arriaga.

Window shopping

The island's signature drink, Madeira, is best appreciated at the Old Blandy Wine Lodge (10) at Avenida Arriaga 28 (00351 291 740 110; blandys.com). Tours take place on Saturdays at 11am (or 10.30am and 3.30pm from Monday to Friday); the price of €5 includes a tasting.

A bottle of the popular five-year-old vintage costs €11. A traditional accompaniment is bolo de mel, chewy cake made with molasses. One of the oldest makers is Fabrica St Antonio (11) at Travessa do Forno 27 (00351 291 220 255).

For hand-embroidered linen, head for one of the stores in the Bordal chain (00351 291 222 965; bordal.pt); one branch can be found in the new Dolce Vita centre (12) on Rua Dr Brito Câmara.

Lunch on the run

At the stylish Café do Museu on Praça do Municipio (9), a main course costs under €7. More substantially, Gavião Novo (13) on Rua Santa Maria (00351 291 229 238) serves Madeiran favourites such as espada with banana, and espetada (beef kebabs with laurel and garlic); for €11 or less.

Cultural afternoon

In the 15th and 16th centuries, Madeira prospered by supplying sugar to Flemish traders, some of whom offered priceless religious paintings as part-payment. Many of these can be seen in the Museu de Arte Sacra, adjacent to the Praça do Municipio (9) at Rua do Bispo 21 (00351 291 228 900). Open 10am-12.30pm and 2.30pm-6pm daily except Monday; Sundays 10am-1pm; €3.

Visit the trio of museums (each €2.50) north-west of the centre. The Casa-Museu Frederico de Freitas (14) at Calçada de Santa Clara 7 (00351 291 220 578; open 10am to 5.30pm Tuesday-Sunday) is one of the classiest small museums in Europe. It occupies a mansion where a family lived until 1988, and has been preserved in immaculate order since then.

Move on to the Convento de Santa Clara (15), also on Calçada Santa Clara (00351 291 211 000; open 10am-noon and 3pm-5pm daily, except Sundays), a working convent with a chapel lined with beautiful azulejo tiling. Its neighbour, the Quinta das Cruzes (16) on Calçada Pico (00 351 291 740 670; 10am-12.30pm and 2pm-5.30pm daily, except Mondays), is an imposing 15th-century mansion with an impressive display of silverware.

An aperitif

Sip a poncha (rum punch) or pre-prandial glass of Coral beer at Café do Teatro (17) on Avenida Arriaga, which has pavement tables and a courtyard.

Dine with the locals

A stylishly distressed interior with contemporary art on exposed-stone walls is the backdrop to Armazém do Sal (18) at Rua da Alfandega 135 (00351 291 241 285; armazemdosal.com), which serves delicious tuna carpaccio and superb beef. Chic, minimalist Riso (19) at Rua Santa Maria 274 (00351 291 280 360), specialises in risottos. Mains at either cost around €16-€25.

To splash out, book a table at Il Gallo d'Oro, the gourmet restaurant at The Cliff Bay (20) on Estrada Monumental (00351 291 708 750; portobay.com). Its executive chef, Benoit Sinthon, recently won Madeira its first Michelin star.

Sunday morning: go to church

The cathedral (1) at the east end of Avenida Arriaga has an elaborate cedarwood ceiling inset with ivory, but it pales in comparison to the 17th-century Jesuit Igreja do Colégio on Praça do Municipio (9); 9am-1pm and 6pm-9pm on Sundays (Saturdays 4pm-6pm, other days 3pm-6pm). Its decoration is an amalgam of azulejo tiling, frescos, gilded altars and barley-twist columns.

The early 19th-century neo-classical English Church (21) on Rua do Quebra Costas was designed by the British Consul to look secular, in deference to Catholic Portuguese law. It opens 8.45am-2pm at weekends and to 4.45pm on other days.

Out to brunch

The Golden Gate Café (22) stands in its 1841 finery on the principal crossroads at Avenida Arriaga 27 (00352 291 234 383), and claims to be one of the "corners of the world". The wicker chairs are the perfect spot for a bica (espresso), pastries and sandwiches.

Take a ride

The cable car between the Jardim do Almirante Reis (23) on the seafront and the wooded suburb of Monte provides a panoramic view over the city (9.30am-6pm, €10 one-way, or €15 return). At the top you will find the 18th-century Nossa Senhora da Conceição, which was destroyed a month ago. But you can still climb up to the twin-towered church of Nossa Senhora do Monte.

The Monte Palace Tropical Garden (00351 291 784 756; montepalace.com; open daily 9.30am-6pm, admission €10) is home to colonial-era and contemporary sculptures. Return on a carro de cesto, a wickerwork sledge, steered downhill by a pair of white-flannelled drivers (€25 for two people).

A walk in the park

Back in town, saunter under the oleanders and date palms in the Jardim de São Francisco (24), filled with majestic trees from Africa and South America, or relax to the sound of the fountains in Santa Caterina park (25).

The icing on the cake

Afternoon tea on the terrace at Reid's Palace Hotel (4) -- English style, but with the addition of miniature portions of bolo de mel -- is a civilised affair that's open to non-residents from 3pm-5.30pm (€28). Reserve in advance, and look smart.

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