I’ve been twice in Funchal, before and after the flooding.
It’s a nice place with attractions to all ages, but mainly visited by senior people, wiling for a calm contact with the luxurious nature.
At the end of the 15th century the architect Pêro Anes was sent by king Manuel I to plan the cathedral of Funchal, that was finished in 1514.
It has a Gothic style, the roof with a Mudejar design in cedar wood.
The exterior walls are made of stone from Cabo Girão. Inside there’s a silver processional cross, offered by the King and considered one of the masterpieces of Manueline metalwork.
John Paul II
Pope John Paul II visited Madeira, for the first (and last) time in May 12th 1991.
To celebrate the visit his statue was placed at the entrance of the cathedral.
One of the busiest streets in Funchal is also one of the oldest.
With a few public buildings and some commerce, it is a nice street to walk along (and most tourists do, mixing with locals there).
Dr. Fernão Ornelas street
If I had to choose a shopping area in Funchal it would be this one.
At least, with a central location, it was the area where Fernanda felt more… comfortable, if you know what I mean.
The nest of the city
Madeira (and Funchal) are so dedicated to tourism, that many places seem… too artificial, too well composed to achieve a good look, too… touristy.
The central area of town, its original quarter, gives an idea of authenticity, that helps to forget the general sensation.
Town hall is located in a large square with some more interesting buildings (Colégio church, for instance) with a curious pavement, and a fountain with an obelisk, built in 1942.
Town Hall, is a good example of civil architecture from the 18th century.
Black stone surrounds door and windows, each one of the with a balcony in the first stage or protected by iron gratings in the ground floor.
An arch leads to a nice interior yard with a marble statue.
A big building in the historic centre is the palace of justice.
It is not pretty but it shows the typical architecture of the dictatorship that ruled Portugal in 1962 when it was inaugurated.
It’s a pity, the bad integration with the local architecture that surrounds it.
In one of the most beautiful avenues in the centre of the city, surrounded by gardens, a hospital built in the 17th century is nowadays the palace of government, after being used also as a school.
One of the highlights in Funchal is the market, built during the dictatorship.
A lively place, shows the diversity of local production, obviously with flowers in evidence.
Inaugurated in 1940 in the central area of the city, it keeps playing a very important role in local distribution.
There are some recent but interesting tiles.
S. João Evangelista
Built in the 17th century, this church evidences the transition from the European Mannerist style to Portuguese Baroque.
It gives a strong sensation of wealth and richness, with dense gilded decoration, large paintings and tiles contrasting with the simple external look.It is located in the centre of the city.
S. Tiago Church
Situated in Socorro square, this church was initially built in 1523, to pray for the end of the black plague.
Remodeled in the 17th century, it was totally demolished in 1752 and rebuilt in 1768, larger and with a new concept.
S. Tiago fort
Built in 1614, when Portugal was ruled by a Spanish king, it suffered several modifications until 1992, when it started being used as contemporary art museum.
The museum was moved to Calhetas, and the fort will reopen as an interpretation center
Website: S. Tiago
There is no good beach in Funchal.
A few artificial constructions allow access to the sea, but sand is something that I didn’t see.
A few small pebble areas are used as beaches, and the least bad may be S. Tiago, by the fort, with showers.
Located in Phelps square, built in the 17th century and successively changed in the 18th, this church shows some interesting tiles and gilded works, mainly in a Baroque altar.
Santa Maria quarter
St Maria Maior is the oldest quarter of Funchal, and maybe the prettiest, dominated by the church of the same name, built in Baroque style in the 18th century.
It suffered several adaptations losing almost all the original characteristics.
The most important detail is the wooden door.
Corpo Santo chapel
In the old area of Funchal, this small chapel, whose facade comes from the 15th century, has a few objects and paintings from the foundation to the 17th century. It was built by devotion of local fishermen.
Corpo Santo square
This is a delicious area in Funchal, in the old city, with houses remembering a small village, only with the touristy commerce calling us back to reality.
There’s a small old chapel with the same name, but only the facade is original
João Fernandes Zarco
Madeira was discovered by a navigator called João Fernandes Zarco.
So, it’s without any surprise that we see his statues in evidence, in the historical centre of the city.
Two styles, two tastes, the same respect!
The old centre of town is marked by a pillory, sent to the island in 1468 by king Manuel I.
The streets changed with time, but the pillory remained.
It was being recovered from the damages of the flooding when we were there.
Sea (Mar) avenue
Bordering the sea, there’s a large gardened avenue, where most events take place.
Linking the old Saint Tiago fort to the modern port it is a nice stroll to view the old city from sea level.
Customs building (Alfândega)
Customs office used, for almost 500 years, a beautiful building that houses today the regional Parliament.
In the middle of last century a new and larger building was constructed facing the sea, following the project of a famous Portuguese architect – João Faria da Costa.
The nicest detail is a big statue, well integrated in the facade that seems conceived to protect it.
In 1987 a statue created by the local artist Ricardo Velosa was erected close to the airport, to celebrate the autonomy.
In 1990 it was transferred to the local position, right in the centre of town.
S. Lourenço fort
Initially built as a fortress in the 16th century, this big building was used as a defensive place but also as a palace.
It was the central and decisive point in many political and military events, with a very rich history.
Neglected in the beginning of last century, it was used as a base to a revolution in 1931, and, classified as a national monument in 1943 it is now used as the residence of the Minister of the Republic.
A modern statue celebrating peace conceived in 1988 by Manuela Aranha, was supposed to be erected in Autonomia square, but hard polemics forced to transfer it two years later to its local place, now called “Praça da Paz (Peace)”.
To its initial location another statue was transferred from the access to the airport.
The most touristy area of Funchal is full of hotels, and prepared to receive and feed the tourists.
However, if you’re not interest in rich mansions, you need to walk a couple of kilometers out of it to see something really interesting.
The most famous of the many gardens in Funchal is the tropical garden of Monte palace.
Property of one of the richest locals it is the base of Berardo foundation, being open to public visit a museum and the garden.
Website: Monte Palace
The centre of the area called Monte is the fountain square, a place where everybody gathers, after parking in the few slots in the area.
Street souvenirs vendors surround the small fountain in marble, built as a small chapel in the 19th century.
Recently the falling of a tree killed several people during local festivities
Once upon a time there was a fountain that gave name to the square – Largo da Fonte.
One day, in 1896, a big tree fell out and destroyed it. In location people decided to build immediately a tiny chapel dedicated to the Holy Virgin, “baptized” “Fonte da Virgem”.
Despite its modesty, it is a very respected place to locals.
Rivaling the wonderful private gardens in the palaces of Monte, this small park is also very beautiful.
With several local and exotic plants, the main attraction is a lake with the map of the island engraved in the rocks.
One of the highlights in Funchal is the descent from Monte to the centre, in a sliding basket controlled by two men.
The speed is high in some places, but the descent is safe, though some turnings demand great effort from the men.
It is not cheap, but people don’t care, and continuously we see a truck unloading the baskets collected at the end, to enter the line.
A Baroque church from the 18th century, with a long staircase, is a good sightseeing point over the bay.
It has some interesting golden pieces, and the tomb of Charles Habsburg, emperor of Austria, dead in Madeira during the exile.
Nearby is the starting point to the sliding baskets.
He was the last ruler of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the last Emperor of Austria, the last King of Hungary, the last King of Bohemia and Croatia, the last King of Galicia and Lodomeria and the last monarch of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine.
He was Charles I as Emperor of Austria and Charles IV as King of Hungary from 1916 until 1918.
Failing to restore the monarchy, he was exiled in Madeira in 1921, where he died a few months later. Buried in Monte church, he deserved the beatification by the Catholic Church. His statue stands in front of the church.
One of the best sightseeing points in Funchal is Pico de Barcelos.
Located 355 meters above sea level I think that it is not served by public transport, so, unless you are a good climber a taxi (or tour) will be needed.
Pico do Areeiro
It’s a mandatory trip, the visit of one of the highest peaks in Madeira.
Only a few minutes driving from Funchal, the views are gorgeous, generally with clouds at our feet.
Down there, in a deep and squeezed valley, Curral das Freiras is the most remote village in the island.
Madeira is for a long time managed to tourism, betting in a good image of the island.
Flowers are an easy and useful detail to embellish it, and the island display many gardens with great quality. Even in the wild, we may see flowers everywhere, some of theme endemic, and some other so extensively displayed that, I think, there were human hands helping nature. Good taste, of course.
I’ve never been there in May for the festivities of flowers, but the references are great.
Curral das Freiras
I’ve been in the war, in Angola, where I met a soldier, so primitive that he got sick anytime we forced him to take a bath (true!).
He was from Madeira, and the first time he saw the sea, was when he went to Funchal to join the army. Of course, the army provided him his first bed. Unbelievable, isn’t it?
No! In a short drive from Funchal it´s possible to imagine the enclosure of many people, and their life constraints.
Curral das Freiras is the best example, and… my God… with a breathtaking landscape.
Generally, I prefer not to eat in hotels – usually pricey and with international food. As an exception, my first meal this time in Funchal was in this restaurant, belonging to Bouganvilia Hotel.
Meeting friends was the strong reason, but i didn’t regret – I tasted a local dish, a very good fish at a reasonable price.
As a matter of fact, this restaurant was in my list… for a night drink, because after dinning time it turns into a bar until 2AM, but plans have to adapt to the circumstances.
I had to have a quick and early dinner – dancing in the night obliges to control digestion.
Indian food was not exactly the most digestible we could choose, but it was there, it was empty, and looking good.
It was! Good Indian dinner, in a precious room, quick service and good price.
Address: Rua da Casa Branca
Melba – Very cheap
This was a great responsibility – travelling with a dozen of friends, most of them in a tight budget, they relied in my experience to book a cheap hotel.
I choose Melba residence because it was really cheap, and the references generally positive.
Some rooms were under maintenance, and their corridor had ink smell, but the used rooms were perfectly functional.
Breakfast was good for a continental, and the familiar management very friendly. I passed, and so did Melba. It is managed together with Monte Verde, a little… less cheap.
Address: Rua Joao Paulo Segundo 8, Funchal, 9000-110, Portugal
Moving in Funchal
The island is small but provides different landscapes.
The best way to see them is to rent a car, as we did, but taxis are prepared to negotiate daily and well planned trips, acting as guides.
The changes in the weather and landscape in minutes, as we climb moving between northern and southern sides, always surrounded by flowers, are spectacular.
A rented car is cheap, and always mandatory.
Hiking is one of the favorite sports for the adventurers that visit Madeira.
“Levadas” are a must, but the trail between the two greatest peaks – Areeiro and Ruivo is also a big challenge.
It takes time, something that we hadn’t. …
And if we had there is much more to see and do before that, I must confess!
The ascent to Monte is mandatory – great views, great gardens, and… the chance to descend in a sliding basket.
All day long, a truck carries uphill the baskets that two men will control descending almost two kilometers in ten minutes, with two tourists bouncing between pleasure and fear.
To go up there’s a funicular, and the descent costs 25€.
With a length of 3200 meters, this cable car links the historic zone of Funchal (Almirante Reis avenue) to Monte.
It is not cheap (13 € return ticket for adult), but, for sure (we didn’t try it), it provides some of the best views of the city.
It is a good solution to combine with the descent in sliding baskets, and that may be the reason why the one way ticket costs almost the same as the return one – 11 €
Website: Cable car
Great spirit, and love for their city!
Madeira suffered a lot with the big flooding of February 2010, but Funchal recovered very quick.
Here and there there were still signs of destruction, but nothing that may spoil any kind of vacation. He had to look carefully or to go outside Funchal to have an idea about what really happened.
Shopping in Funchal
Anadia shopping center
Saved from flooding
Located close to the Farmer’s market, this mall was severely hit by the dramatic flooding a few weeks before our visit. It was nice to see that it was almost completely recovered and back to work, but I didn’t enter.
Of course, Fernanda did it, and left quickly. Bad signal – small place, or still many shops to reopen? I checked internet and it seems to be working normally again (please, don’t tell anything to Fernanda…)
Though hardly promoted as a tourist attraction in Funchal, this market still pulses as a vital hub for food supply.
The touristy cares are revealed by the flower stalls at the entrance, with sellers in regional costume, but inside it’s interesting to notice the main local productions.
FX bar – Good live music
Before leaving to Madeira I tried to identify the places where we could listen to live music and have a drink at night, and FX was one of the recommended places that I annotated.
In our first night in Funchal some of us went early to bed, and a few other decided to walk a little before imitating them.
It was walking that we arrived to a small esplanade with live music, and decided to stop for the last drink.
It was a very amused time, in a lively ambiance, and only when leaving I tried to identify the place I discovered that I could check one item of my “must go” list.
Fernanda and other were absent, and we decided to return in one of the next nights. No way! The alternatives were much more than expected, and we went elsewhere.