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Madeira

Have some Madeira  me'dear

Allan Rogers visits the intoxicatingly beautiful island that is Madeira

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Columbus liked his Madeira and we don't mean the wine, but the lush islands set out in the Atlantic.

 

It is said that it was there that he got the idea of exploring the vast ocean.  Floating seeds from the sea grape trees that are found in Jamaica, signified land to the west and gave him reason to persist in his explorations.

 

One useful exhibit for the first time visitor to  Madeira, is a huge model of the island* that gives you an idea of just how mountainous the place is and what you will be tackling if you decide to take a rental car.

(*You find it at  the Museu de Electricdade, the 'Casa da Luz.' )

 

The island is only thirty-five miles by fourteen miles but since roads go 'up and down' as well as 'along' distances can be deceptive.

 

Although you may relax and just enjoy the sun most agree that exploring the island and its flowers is a 'must'.

 

There are guided tours of gardens  including  Blandy's Gardens whose owners originated from Dorchester in England and prospered in the wine.

There is also one at the Palmeira Estate,

(which we reached by walking up a hillside that was covered with Morning Glory)

There you find a window that Columbus once looked through,  but you see a different view as it was moved there to be a feature for the garden.

 

If you prefer to have the flowers to come to you, try to be in Madeira in May  for the Flower Festival in which fifteen hundred people take part in a three hour long parade.

 

Other events include The Funchal Carnival during the last week in February.  It begins on the Saturday night with an extravaganza in which various troupes called 'samba schools' display their glamorous floats.

 

There is also a 'fun for all carnival' n that you can even join in and perhaps win a prize. The shops are full of costumes and carnival masks.

 

In the winter Christmas lights transform Funchal and at New Year the whole of Funchal becomes one giant amphitheatre for a massive fireworks display.

At 'Câmrade De Lobos,' (in Portuguese, this means the Seal's Chambers) where Winston Churchill used to spend time painting, I found a replica of Columbus's Santa Maria being built to be put on show at  Lisbon.

 

It is appropriate that it should be built there, as Christopher Columbus spent time on the neighbouring island of Porto Santa and married the governor's daughter, Filipa.

While Madeira is mountainous with only black stony shores Porto Santo is blessed with a long golden sandy beach that stretches for over five and a half miles but it is a two hour journey each way by boat.

 

We explored Madeira by taking a hire car and heading for the hills. Steamy mist clung to the mountain tops giving them an almost mystical quality. If I had been looking for a setting for dragons this would have been it.  Lush vegetation was everywhere and pumpkins in fields below looked like enormous pterodactyl eggs.

Had a dinosaur appeared it would not have seemed out of place but it was the giant Bird of Paradise flowers that poked their yellow beaks skywards, while frogs croaking in a pond added to the atmosphere.

 

It was easy to imagine how it had been when the Portuguese navigators arrived at the beginning of the 15th century. The island then was covered with dense Laurel forests, Exploration is now an aromatic experience with the scent of Eucalyptus, Cyprus, Ash, Strawberry, Wattle and Laurel hanging on the air.

 

We passed houses with terra cotta tiled roofs bearing mini statues of birds or faces.

Around them were gardens where ladies sat amid bougainvillea and orchids working on their embroidery.

Family groups worked on tiny terraced fields on steep slopes. Farming skills seemed to include, a measure of mountaineering. Every bit of land was used and we found vines with potatoes or pumpkins growing underneath.

 

 

The only flat ground on the island seems to on a high plateau where we found tables set up for sales to the tourists.

 

There were some really good bargains in sweaters and in the strange local woollen hats with pom-poms.

 

 

These might have been O.K. in the mountains but would have seriously damaged your 'street cred' back home

 

We drove along the twists and turns of the coast route where the waterfalls cascaded down the steep mountain sides and washed loose rocks onto the road.

 

It seemed almost like a theme park thrill ride except that the steep cliff edge was very real and the water that sprayed down made it feel like a car wash.

It was exhilarating.

 

The sun shone, the mist burned off the mountain tops and fantastic shapes of the jagged rocks rose out of the sea. We stopped for a coffee at Porto Moniz with it's brightly coloured little fishing boats.

 

There were rock pools for swimming, it was an attractive and peaceful place. To the West lay nothing but America, Columbus might have been right, but we were in no hurry to follow him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Report by Allan Rogers                                                                                                                  

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Fact File

 

Madeira Tourist Information http://www.madeira-web.com/

 

Webcam pictures from Madeira: http://www.madeira-web.com/camera/cam-01.html

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