Madeira Island – Day 3 – Exploring Funchal – Part 3

Cable cars and toboggans

The cable car soaring over the Old Town from its station on the sea front The cable car climbed over the streets and rooftops of Funchal’s Old Town before soaring high up into the mountain above homes clinging to the hills and steeply terraced gardens and vegetable plots. The harbour was slowly disappearing in the distance, behind the clouds.

Upon “landing” at Monte I was handed a folder containing a photo of me and Marta, my guide from the Madeira Promotion Bureau, taken just minutes earlier when we had first boarded, and a DVD about the island. As “chief photographer” I rarely feature in photos so willingly handed over 10 euros.

We strolled around the Monte Palace Tropical Garden, described by Conde Nast Traveler as “one of the 13 most beautiful gardens in the world”. Marta explained that you could buy a joint ticket that included a further cable car journey across the mountain to the Botanical Gardens, but we would not have time to include that in our busy day.

The estate was originally developed in the 18th century by British Consul, Charles Murray and became known as “The Pleasure Estate”. It was acquired by Alfredo Guilherme Rodrigues in 1897 who built the palatial mansion in the grounds which later became the Monte Palace Hotel. After his death in 1947 the hotel closed and became the property of the bank until bought by entrepreneur Jose Manuel Rodrigues Berardo who donated it to the charitable foundation he had founded to protect and preserve the environment.

The palace within its glorious setting The Monte gardens are visually stunning – an interesting array of traditional trees from Madeira’s Laurissiva forests – Bay, Laurel, Lily of the Valley – sit alongside plants, palms and trees from different continents: American sequoias, ancient European olive trees, Australian Acacia. Flowers such as azalea, protea, heather and bougainvillea provide a colourful display. Numerous paths and steps zig-zag through the grounds past stone sculptures and 16th century tiles alongside tumbling waterfalls. There is a “trolley” that travels through the gardens but we enjoyed the walk.

There were several fascinating indoor exhibitions of African carvings and rocks and minerals. The lake, shared by swans and ducks, was teeming with enormous 100 year old carp. Peacocks strutted through the grounds. A visual feast but it was time to move on: our toboggan awaited!

Marta had just one complimentary ticket so she said she would meet me at the bottom. However, I insisted on treating her. I wanted to have someone to share this adventure with and she admitted she had not been on a toboggan since she was a little girl. We settled into our basket and our two, somewhat serious, drivers began pulling us until they had built up enough speed to leap onto the back runners and hitch a ride.

Ready… We rattled off down the steep 2 kilometre run reaching speeds of 45 km per hour. The only brakes are the drivers’ rubber-soled shoes. At times the toboggan slews to one side as if it is going to smash into the wall, but the experienced drivers steer the sledge away at the last moment. I am pleased to report that neither of us screamed! I was transported back to carefree childhood days of hurtling down hills on trolley carts made from wooden crates and pram wheels.

At the end of our journey it was no surprise to be offered a photo of us mid-descent in a professional folder containing photos of the good old days when locals hurtled and bounced in toboggans down Funchal’s cobbled streets as their major form of transport. Another 10 euros but I considered it to be money well spent.

It was a further 25-30 minute steep downhill walk into Funchal and the awaiting taxi drivers insisted it was neither sensible nor possible! Indeed, a family who set off ahead of us soon turned round and made their way back to the taxi rank. However, we girls are made of stronger stuff and we set off to enjoy a very pleasant stroll through the residential streets leading down to the sea front.

Empty building ripe for development? Amongst the grand villas lining our route were several dilapidated and abandoned buildings. This former school, with views over the sea, looked ripe for development into a classy hotel.

Back in the city centre, we had a late light lunch at the Cafe do Museo museum where Marta kindly arranged the rest of my week’s adventures.

The cafe was absolutely packed but our drinks and lunch were served promptly. We had worked up quite an appetite with all our walking and shared a traditional Madeira garlic flatbread for starters followed by a delicious mozzarella salad for me and a pasta dish of fusilli with pesto for Marta.

As we walked back through Funchal, Marta pointed out Blandy’s Wine Lodge where I would taking a wine-tasting tour the following day. We parted company like old friends and Marta returned to her office whilst I set off for the hotel bus pick-up point. One slight problem – because Marta had met me straight from the bus and we had walked off chatting away, I realised I was not entirely sure of the exact location of the pick-up point! I retraced my steps hoping to spot a likely place.

The Cafe do Museo I eventually found a familiar looking red building on the sea front facing a layby. This building, which had been closed and shuttered earlier that day, was a bustling souvenir shop perfectly placed for tourists returning to their cruise ships. As I had ten minutes to go until pick up, I wandered in and around being pleasantly surprised by the quality of the souvenirs. A traditional “teletubbies” hat would be fun or maybe something more practical like a bag of agapanthus seeds or what about a solid wooden bottle opener? I headed for the stand and stopped, genuinely shocked. These were not just any old wooden bottle openers – they were carved in the shape of male genitalia! I walked away smiling to myself in disbelief – this was not at all what had expected to find in Madeira – then, nipped back for a quick photo!

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