Hotels in Funchal, Portugal
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Funchal – The Beating Heart of Madeira
Funchal is the capital city of Madeira, an island in the Atlantic Ocean. Offering year-round sunshine, it is a relaxed holiday destination in comparison to the more raucous Canary Islands some 250 miles to the south. Discovered in 1419 and claimed for the Portuguese crown, the city is named after the fennel, funcho , that was found to be abundantly growing here. Today, it is an autonomous region of Portugal with its own distinct culture; it has sumptuous hotels and top-rated restaurants which serve fabulous seafood dishes and delicious wines for which the island is renowned.
Arriving in Funchal
Those travelling by plane will land at Madeira Airport, a 20-minute drive from Funchal. Others, who prefer to arrive in a luxurious cruise ship, will enjoy arguably one of the best approaches into a bay anywhere in the world: attractive buildings, abundant greenery and beautiful mountains combine to create a truly stunning vista. The seafront is a popular tourist area: the main road Avenida do Mar is flanked with attractive palm trees and flowering shrubs and a promenade dotted with restaurants and cafés runs alongside it. There is also a good selection of hotels and hostels in the area to suit most budgets and tastes. Fans of football and celebrity culture will want to visit Cristiano Ronaldo’s CR7 Museum which is dedicated to the world-famous Portuguese footballer who was born in the city. A short walk from here, towards the Old Town, is Madeira Story Centre on Rua Dom Carlos which tells the history of this beautiful island.
Discovering the Old Town
The Old Town, or Zona Velha , is the traditional heart of Funchal. Rua de Santa Maria, a main thoroughfare, is rich in history with some of its buildings dating back to the 15th-century. While walking along this narrow, cobbled street, it’s impossible to miss the numerous paintings and murals on some of the doors. This artistic flourish is thanks to a local initiative called Arte de Portas Abertas , pen doors art which aims to regenerate the area and make it even more appealing for tourists. In the evening, the many cosy bars and restaurants here come to life; unsurprisingly, seafood plays an important part in the local cuisine and popular dishes include espada com banana , scabbard fish cooked with bananas, and bacalhau , salted cod. It’s also a great opportunity to sample a few glasses of Poncha, a mixture of rum, honey and lemon. Thankfully, there are several excellent hotels and hostels just a short walk away!
Historic Attractions and Museums
Still in the Old Town, a popular tourist attraction is the Mercado dos Lavradores on Rua Latino Coelho where vendors sell all manner of local produce. This farmers’ market is housed in a distinctive 1930s building designed in the Estado Novo , New State, architectural style; beautiful azulejo murals, hand-painted tiles, featuring local themes add to the impressive façade. Heading into the centre of Funchal are a selection of quality hotels, excellent museums and historic attractions. Funchal Cathedral, Catedral da Sé do Funchal , is a Gothic style church dating from the late 15th-century. It is made from cedar wood and incorporates Mudéjar , Moorish designs elements. Nearby, the Museu de Arte Sacra on Rua do Bispo displays many works of art from the 15th and 16th-centuries, including a large Flemish collection. Blandy’s Winelodge on Avenida Arriaga is the place to learn about and taste local Madeira wine and Santa Clara Convent shows how nuns lived in the 16th-century.
A Trip to Monte
The northern suburb of Funchal is a hilly area called Monte, or to give it its full name Nossa Senhora do Monte , Our Lady of the Mountain. As well as a few luxurious hotels, it is also home to several botanical and tropical gardens which make full use of the island’s fertile volcanic soil. An entertaining and easy way to reach Monte is to take the Monte Cable Car which leaves from Almirante Reis Park in the Old Town. The journey to Monte Station takes around 15 minutes and offers great views over the city and the bay. At the top is the must-see Monte Palace Tropical Garden where visitors can marvel at plants from all over the world including Japanese and Chinese flora. There’s also a café here and the nearby Church of Our Lady of Monte, where the last Austro-Hungarian Emperor Charles I is entombed, is a magnificent building featuring two attractive towers and an ornate interior.
The Thrilling Basket Toboggan
Those looking for a unique way to head back down the mountain to their hotels in the centre of Funchal can choose to take the thrilling Carreiros do Monte . In simple terms, it’s a basket on wheels which can accommodate two passengers; at the back, two drivers allow gravity to do most of the donkey work, occasionally using their weight to steer around corners. It’s a form of transport that dates all the way back to the 1850s when locals became tired of the time-consuming journey home. It takes around ten minutes to reach the bottom, with a top speed of around 30 mph. If that sounds too daunting, there’s still the cable car; as well as the one to Almirante Reis Park, another cable car goes to Madeira Botanical Gardens. Formerly a private garden, it was opened to the public in 1960; today it boasts several thousand plants and specimens and a collection of rare birds.