If you like pretty pictures, you’re in for a treat…
I ended last week’s post just as Won and I were about to enter the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens. There are two large, well-known gardens on Madeira. One is the 7 hectare Jardim Tropicais Monte Palace (the one we visited) and the 5 hectare Jardim Botânico da Madeira (Madeira Botanical Garden). Every local we spoke with thought the tropical garden was a better choice than the botanical; however, that doesn’t mean the botanical isn’t worth visiting. I have seen photographs and it is beautiful, but gardens are best when you see them at their peak (April to August) and since we were there in November, the tropical garden (oddly enough) was the better choice. We were not disappointed.
Keep in mind that Madeira has a subtropical climate so plant life is lush and abundant. This is why the tropical garden was so lovely even in November, and there were plenty of flowering plants still active Hmmm, maybe we shouldn’t have skipped the botanical garden. Next time, for sure!
But, I have jumped ahead of myself! The Tropical Garden is far more than just pretty flowers. It is a multi-level paradise of plants, fairytale-like structures, water features, koi fish, statues, bridges, azulejo tile work, stone walkways, and moss- and ivy-covered walls. And if that isn’t enough, there is a museum tossed in for good measure.
The museum has three floors, two of which are dedicated to African sculptures and the third houses a unique mineral and semi-precious gem collection.
The exposition, entitled ‘African Passion,’ shows part of a collection of contemporary Zimbabwean sculpture created between 1966 and 1969. More than a 1000 sculptures are presented on two floors. Zimbabwe stone sculpture started in the early 1960s and has become one of the most prolific art movements in Africa. Some artists have become household names on the International art scene. This collection is impressive.
‘Mother Nature’s Secrets’, on the lower floor, exhibits one of the finest private collections of minerals. Seven hundred of more than 1000 specimens are on display. Some are presented in hollows designed to imitate the environment in which they are found. There are also more than 300 semiprecious and precious gems, with a particular focus on diamonds, both rough and cut.
The rest of our time involved roaming the 70,000 square meters (83,720 square yards) of beautiful gardens and being delighted with everything we saw. There are two distinct Chinese gardens; one at the upper level and one at the lower. Here are some images of the upper level garden, which made artistic use of arched bridges, pagodas, and water features. The red color of the railings and support structures were a striking contrast against the soft, green, lush landscape.
What comes next is the true surprise. Just as we exited the upper level Chinese garden and walked past a display of exquisite panels of azulejo tile work, we were transported into another world.
It literally looked like we had stumbled upon a real-life fairytale setting. A palace, lake, waterfalls, tiny islands, look out points, arches, and statuary all nestled in and amongst a tropical paradise.
And, when we got closer, it just kept getting better. More colorful azulejo tiles reflected in the quiet pool below, a secret room that can only be accessed by walking on stepping stones just barely peaking above the water and hidden behind a delicate scrolled iron work gate. There was a fern covered grotto behind a delicate waterfall and flanked on either side by impressive, royal-inspired azulejo tile panels, a wishing well (of course!!) and a lake with two islands and a massive cascading waterfall flowing under and over lookout points into a lovely lake that is home to a pair of black swans (although we didn’t see them that day).
After such an experience you would think, ‘that has to be it, right?’ No! We still had the second Chinese garden to see. However, before we did that, we took a few minutes to sit down in front of the palace to clear our minds, breathe in the gorgeous views of Funchal at our feet and ponder the limitless views of the bay and beyond.
After that brief respite, we entered the second magical Chinese garden and admired the many beautiful structures, water features, and plants.
What a wonderful experience!
We stopped at the Terrace Café, located near the second Chinese garden, to refresh ourselves with a small sandwich, slice of spice cake, and two shots of madeira wine – one light and the other dark (the wine was included in the price of our entrance ticket). After we ate, we took a moment to look at the map of the property and realized we missed an entire area! However, we were too tired to walk over to see the Elements of Nature exhibit and the gardens that surround it. It’s been added to the list for a future visit.
And, just like the time we went to see Pena Palace, we didn’t think about the fact that we’d have to trek our way back up to exit the gardens. Remember, the gardens are built into the side of a mountain. Groan….going down is easy, getting back up is more of a workout. In the end it didn’t take as long as we thought, because we took a much more direct route. The Teleferico, or cable car, is conveniently located just outside the entrance to Monte Palace (Yay!!). We happily jumped on for the ~15 minute ride back down to earth. And, yes, the views were amazing.
Dinner that night was at a place Won had researched and selected based on the number of good reviews it had received. Even though dinner was fine, it wasn’t particularly special. The staff at il Vivaldi were friendly and the restaurant was pretty, but the food left us less than impressed. Even the young woman who was playing a saxophone in the other room to entertain guests, while very nice, played only recognizable, classic American standards. It didn’t feel like we were in Madeira.
The next day we decided to keep it chill and relaxed since it was my actual birthday. We had dinner reservations that night and I didn’t want to be exhausted. We thought a drive up the coast to a few spots that are known for their view points would be fun and stress-free. Little did we know it would turn out to be the most heart-stopping, hair-raising, white-knuckling experience of our trip!!
As I had mentioned in last week’s post, we rented a car. Up until that point it had sat in a garage collecting dust. Well…it was time to bust it out and give it a work out; and boy, did we ever! We asked the front desk person at the hotel for suggestions of places to see along the coast and popped the first one into our navigation app. Off we went!
Did I mention that Madeira is a volcanic rock comprised of exceedingly steep mountains and cliffs? The highest point on the island, Pico Ruivo, is1862 meters (6110 feet) above sea level! So, it shouldn’t be surprising that after leaving the main part of Funchal, roads became even more steep, narrow, and snake-like as we climbed upward.
Getting to our first stop wasn’t too bad. Won was navigating the windy roads well. When we arrived, we enjoyed views of lovely cliffs with pretty white houses nestled on the top. Blood pressure slightly elevated and heart rate normal. Check.
Getting to our second stop was a lot more stressful, because the drive had become more and more heart pounding. The reason? We were driving on narrow, windy two-lane roads through little towns and residential areas where buildable space was practically nonexistent. This meant one lane of the two lane road was nearly always filled with parked cars forcing us to drive in the wrong lane. We were in a state of constant terror that we would end up in a head on collision. The people that live there didn’t seem fazed by this situation and zipped around like they were on an 8-lane highway! We drove like we were 100 years old…slowly, carefully, and with our eyes so wide open they nearly fell out of our heads. Once we got there, however, the views were worth it. Blood pressure and heart rate were definitely elevated.
Our next stop was the Cabo Girão Skywalk, the highest cliff skywalk in Europe, which opened in October of 2012. I think the Madeirenses have a warped sense of humor. If the drive up the mountain doesn’t give you a heart attack, stepping out onto a glass floor 580 meters (1900 feet) above sea level oughta do it! I don’t suffer from acrophobia, but even my knees got a little wobbly just before I put my foot down.
Apparently we hadn’t had enough excitement for one day, plus we were getting hungry. Rather than immediately return to Funchal we decided to keep going and find a place for lunch further up the coastline (at sea level). Our drive took us inland through stunning mountains and valleys, across the top of the island where the clouds live (Bica da Cana at 1620 meters is more than a mile above sea level!), through tunnels that had been carved out by hand and past those that were being built with modern tools, down roads that were under construction, and finally to a tiny little coastal town called Paul do Mar where we ate at Calhau’s Beach Bar. Won ordered a beer the size of a toaster oven. He had earned it. Unfortunately, he hadn’t learned his lesson from the day before with the lapas. This time he ordered Parrot fish, it came with plenty of flesh, but it wasn’t that tasty (and the ‘teeth’ that were still in the attached head, was slightly off-putting). He is nothing if not, adventurous!
We returned to Funchal in one piece. My birthday dinner was nice, but again, nothing particularly exciting from a food perspective. We dined at Avista, a Michelin Guide restaurant in the newer part of Funchal. I think it would have been far more impressive had we been able to dine there during the daylight hours. It is perched right on a cliff overlooking the ocean and coastline. While we had a nice table, right on the edge of the terrace, it was dark and we were facing mostly water so we didn’t see much of anything – other than each other, which, of course, was absolutely perfect! (Whew…almost blew that one. 🙄)
The next morning we took a walk into town because I wanted to see the famous painted doors. The painted doors were a public art project intended to stimulate a particular area of downtown and turn it into a more significant and attractive cultural center, essentially becoming a permanent art gallery. They succeeded. What a wonderful project! Every single door is unique and all are interesting. Here are just a few of the images I captured.
Since it was our last full day on the island we jumped in the car with the intention of finding a few miradouros along the coastline and then heading back. We had such an enjoyable time, we ended up driving around the entire island! We left Funchal going the direction of Santa Cruz, which you can see on the interactive map below.
As we started out, and just for fun, I decided to count the number of tunnels we passed through that day. Feel free to guess the final number. I’ll tell you what it was before the end of this post. What an incredible day we had. Every time we stopped, got out of the car, and feasted on the views, we thought it couldn’t get any better. We were wrong. Here are some of my favorite images of the day. Enjoy!
This location is the Miradouro do Guindaste in Faial.
We made a stop at Beira da Quinta and gaped at the views from the lookout point there.
Continuing along the coastline we followed some random signs to a generic, unnamed miradouro and came upon a restaurant situated right on the coast looking toward Ilhéu Preto, a small, uninhabited island. While there we enjoyed a little dessert with an espresso and got friendly with a chicken.
Further along the coast, we made a quick stop at Fajã da Areia, a popular surfing spot.
We drove on toward Seixal and stopped at a well known viewpoint called Veu de Noiva, which translates to ‘bridal veil.’ It was the most touristy of all the places we went. There were parking spaces for tour buses right next to a souvenir shop. Regardless, the view was gorgeous.
Before all the tunnels were built, roads were carved out along the outside edges of the mountains. If you look closely in the image above, you can see one. Oddly enough, even though they are no longer used or maintained, you can still access some. However, if you do, you do so at your own peril as the posted signs warn. Of course, I convinced Won to drive down one of them so we could see another waterfall I had found on the map. He wasn’t so happy about this detour and stayed in the car while I jumped out to capture a few images. He’s a such a good sport.
Our last stop of the day, primarily because the sun was setting and we were facing an hour plus drive back to Funchal, was Porto Moniz. I was mesmerized by the powerful, turbulent, waves on this side of the island. It was exciting! I captured the following :45 second video to give you a feel for what it was like (have the sound up).
Here are some still shots that won’t make you seasick.
It was such a cool place. I wish we had been able to spend more time there. The road out of town and back to Funchal was up another very steep mountain. I asked Won to pull over so I could capture one more shot of the area we had just been.
In warmer weather you can take advantage of the natural swimming pools that are available. I grabbed an image off the Internet to show you. They are located behind that plant that is sticking up on the left side of the image above. How cool is this!!??
Our last dinner in Funchal was the biggest disappointment of all, because Won found a ramen noodle place and he was super excited to eat there. It was awful. I guess this trip was never going to be about the food, but the views. I’m OK with that. My eyeballs got a workout! In the end, we had a great time and it generated some great memories and stories to share.
For anyone who is curious about which jewelry item Won chose to get me for my birthday; he was very sweet and purchased both the earrings and necklace I had picked out at Goldschmeide (refer to my post called Within Walking Distance for details). I’m am very fortunate to have such a thoughtful husband.
Oh…and before I close. Did you come up with a guess on the number of tunnels we passed through? Drum roll please…..70!!! How close did you come? Tell me in the comments below.
In other news, we finally received our dining room table and couch, but they didn’t arrive without problems…sigh. I’ll be sharing more on that in an upcoming post.
Until then, please stay safe, stay healthy, and stay in touch!
From Portugal with love,