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Bananas About Madeira

The verdant island is not just for oldies, discovers Sareda Dirir

Published on October 24th 2011.

Bananas About Madeira

Fruit-flies, footballers and flowers...Sareda Dirir explores Madeira by toboggan!

STROLLING round the old flower market in Madeira’s Rua do Visconde, one of the stall-holders spots my umbrella, grins widely and points to a rainbow in the sky...apparently, the frequent but brief rain-showers on Madeira means that at any given point someone somewhere on the island can see one – it’s a nice idea.

Madeira’s tropical climate means that the island’s development has been intrinsically linked to the cultivation and export of foodstuffs....particularly sugar and bananas. A rich architectural heritage is the legacy of this industry, with many wealthy merchant’s houses now converted into elegant hotels. Stay at Quinta do Monte – an old tea-merchant’s palace set in panoramic gardens high above Funchal.

Madeira- Famed For It's Spectacular ViewsMadeira - famed for its spectacular views

Browse the papers under the jacaranda trees and savour a cup of strong Portuguese coffee. Later, take the short walk down to the famous Lady of Monte church, where wizened fishermen play chess in the afternoon sun.

Madeira is among the most traditional of islands – eat at Quinta do Estreito one of the many restaurants specialising in local recipes and cuisine.

The Lush Mountain Gardens At Monte VillageThe lush Mountain Gardens at Monte Village

Between courses a troupe of folk singers appear from no-where and gaily weave their way amongst the diners, singing songs of lost love and lonely goat-herds, before vanishing, almost as suddenly, into the night. The whole restaurant seems to know the words and for a few crazy moments everyone’s up on their feet dancing and clapping... even the chef.

Food on Madeira is rich and deliciously hearty. Sweet potatoes cooked with molasses, chicken stewed in port, salted beef baked in laurel leaves and lots of fresh fish. If you have a sweet tooth, there’s much more than Madeira cake on offer. Chestnut and honey pudding is a favourite, as are fresh fruit mousses and sorbets. The island grows six different varieties of passion fruit, each one of them delectable.

If you’re looking for night-life it’s advisable to stay in the centre of Funchal. Quinta das Vistas is an elegant, modern hotel with luxurious pool and spa facilities. Enjoy pre-dinner drinks at the petal-strewn terrace-bar. The local speciality is Ponchas – a rum, honey and lemon cocktail.

Action-seekers can take the winding cliff road towards the Madeira plateau. Mist swirls around the hills and the eucalyptus and pine forests provide excellent hiking terrain. The journey – through the Encumeada tunnel – is an adventure in itself – due to a baffling anomaly of geophysics, a car travelling uphill will feel as if it is going downhill-it’s the strangest of sensations. Wind-surfing, rock-climbing and of course golf are all catered for on the island. Indeed, the lush, award-winning golf courses are said to be among the best in the world.

Sugar-Cane Is Harvested In The Traditional WaySugar cane Is harvested in the traditional way

If you’re looking for night-life it’s advisable to stay in the centre of Funchal. Quinta das Vistas is an elegant, modern hotel with luxurious pool and spa facilities. Enjoy pre-dinner drinks at the petal-strewn terrace-bar. The local speciality is Ponchas – a rum, honey and lemon cocktail.

The gardens on Madeira are spectacular. No green space is left uncultivated, under every lamppost, on every central reservation, flowers abound and bloom. The Mayor of Funchal is reputed to have the largest collection of roses in Europe and the Quinta das Vistas itself boasts over 172 species.

An ingenious irrigation system was invented by early settlers to bring water to the island's famous terraces, and later, transport wine and other goods around the island. Today these levadas are used as walking trails and there are many wonderful camping spots along the route.

 The interactive Madeira story centre is an unexpected pleasure. Covering everything from Madeira’s pirate settlers to one of it's most famous sons – Cristiano Ronaldo, it’s easy to lose a couple of hours in here and leave with some fascinating facts: apparently the island exports over 100 million fruit flies per week!

For shopping there are the usual multiplex arcades but for exclusive couture try Rua dos Ferreiros. Once a month during the summer, white tents line the main street as these high-end shops clear their stock for a fraction of their price...

For late-night drinks and music try the Cafe do Teatro or the Golden Gate Grand Cafe, both attract a young , sporty crowd many of them crew members from the yachts docked at the marina.

Madeira-It'd Be Rude Not To Try It Madeira wine – it would be be rude not to try it

Blandy's Madeira wine lodge is one to save until the end of the afternoon. A oenologist will guide you through the many varieties of this perennially popular tipple and there's an optional tasting session.

With a bit of Dutch courage inside you, you may wish to try one of the most hair-raising experiences on the island... Tobogganing (sans snow) is a traditional and time-efficient way to travel down-hill. The wooden skis of the wicker-sledge are greased with animal fat and a smartly dressed 'Carreiro' will launch your straw-cart down the steep and highly-polished streets. With the wind in your hair, and your stomach left back at the ticket-booth, the streets and open-mouthed tourists become a blur.

The toboggan routes are clearly marked but there’s absolutely no stopping once you’re off. Insider tip: wonderful fun, but keep a cautious eye out when venturing up any winding pathways...

Tobogganing- Not For The Faint-HeartedTobogganing- Not For The Faint-Hearted


Quinta do Monte Merchant's Palace Hotel: www.quintadomontemadeira.com

Quinta do Estreito – traditional Madeiran dining: www.quintadoestreitomadeira.com

Quinta das Vistas Hotel: www.quintadasvistasmadeira.com

Madeira Story Centre: Golden Gate Grand Cafe
27-29 Avenida Arriagna, Funchal. www.storycentre.com

Cafe do Teatro: www.cafedoteatro.com

Blandy's Wine Lodge: www.blandys.com

General Tourist Information: www.visitportugal.com

Classic Collection for perfect Madeiran getaways: www.classic-collection.co.uk

Jet2 operates regular  flights to Funchal from North West and London airports. For further details visit www.jet2.com

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