The largest of a group of five islands, Madeira is about 350 miles from North Africa and 600 miles from Portugal with whom it remains closely linked even after acquiring its own parliament in 1976.
It is a beautiful, vegetation covered volcanic island with scarcely any land that is flat. Not only this, but the hills are very steep sided.
Despite the small size of the island, the mountains rise to over 6000 feet in the centre.
Our coach trip was initially along the coast to Camara de Lobos, a large fishing village beloved of Winston Churchill. From this we moved on a short distance to the second highest sea cliff in the world, where the lookout point enabled us to peer down at the coast 2000 feet below. We had a short break at sea level at Ribeira Brava.
We then set off over the mountains, to the north coast. At its highest point (1007 metres at Encumeada Pass) one can see both north and south coasts – but we couldn’t because of low cloud and mist.
The northern coast is less developed. We had lunch at a small village, Porto Moniz, noted for its natural volcanic rock pools. We ate at Restaurant Cachalote which had glorious views of the cliffs and sea.
All roads on Madeira seem to be either extremely narrow and twisting or new using elevated sections and tunnels. We took one of the former, back over the mountains to Calheta via the Plateau of Paul da Serra. Although called a plateau, it was still far from flat – although a few cows could be grazed. This was a route through largely forested land and showed us how difficult transport must always have been until the construction of the new roads. Calheta is a non-descript modern, small development of shops and a marina.
The ride from there back to Funchal, was anything but nondescript. It used a mixture of the old and new roads and helped complete our insight into the beautiful but difficult conditions that the people have to contend with. Agriculture has to be by hand, there being no room for machines or animal on the steep slopes. There is extensive use of terracing for the growing of vines, sugar cane and bananas. Vines are grown higher than is normal so that crops such as potatoes can be grown below them.
We arrived back on board about 5.00 p.m.
After our evening meal, we went into Funchal searching for the Town Hall where our guide had told us there was free internet. We did not find it – however we did locate McDonalds eventually and were able to email all the children as well as uploading about half of our Gibraltan photographs. We had to be back on board by 11.30 p.m. and arrived at about 10.50 – to be told we were the last two to arrive!!