So this year Karl got me the best birthday present I could have asked for - a four night trip to Funchal in Madeira. He's just started university studying mental health nursing this month and we wanted a little break away beforehand and after looking at absolutely loads of different places, we settled on Funchal.
Madeira is a tiny Portuguese island with absolutely stunning mountain scenery, forests that are UNESCO World Heritage sites and it's easy to see why it's popularity is soaring. Funchal was recommended to us by a couple of friends who've been back a few times who absolutely loved it and it's true that it was the perfect destination for me. In September, the weather in Funchal was warm, averaging at around 23 degrees and although there were a few spots of rain here and there and a set of sinister looking clouds hanging over the mountains, the climate was exactly what we wanted and made it easy to explore and experience the city without overheating.
We stayed in the hotel area just outside central Funchal, around 2km away. The one thing about Madeira is that it's very hilly with lots of slopes leading to the city centre so luckily our hotel, Hotel Alto Lido, had a free shuttle bus throughout the day and back on a night so our legs were saved and although our hotel was nothing flash it was budget, it was clean and it had a heated indoor pool that we had to ourselves every morning before we ventured out.
First thing's first, Funchal is absolutely beautiful. Think traditional pastel buildings, old streets, seafood restaurants, ocean views, fresh fruit markets (The Worker's Market is a must visit for this, full of vibrancy, colour and amazing food!) and culture. It's quite a quiet city which I thought made a fabulous change as every city I've visited this year is bustling and fast-paced; Funchal is laid-back, chilled out and has the best atmosphere for a relaxing break.
Funchal is one of those cities where you come across something cool and interesting at the most unexpected moments, one of those places where you accidentally stumble across shops, art, markets, churches, cafes that make you go "ooo!" My favourite thing that we accidentally came across was a street called "Doors with Art" and it is what it says on the tin as you can see by the three photos above. Each door is painted, written on or sculpted into an actual work of art and this extends down the entire street. It was the most interesting street to wander down while exploring so if you're ever in Funchal and are a fan of things like this it's worth a find!
THE CABLE CARS: BOTANIC GARDENS AND TOBOGGANS
On one of the days we were in Funchal, we took the Monte cable car up the mountain. The views on the way up were simply spectacular, with the ocean lying behind us, the mountain in front and bright houses scattered all around. One of the cable cars is closed due to damage caused by the awful fires in Funchal earlier in the year, the effects of which you can still see on your way up to Monte. We were told it will be back open when things have been repaired etc but as of September 2016, only the Monte cable cars are open.
Once we got to the top of the mountain, we headed into the Botanic Garden. The serene waterfalls, the green trees, the flowers and the koi fish were so relaxing and it was nice to spend a couple of hours wandering around, taking some photos and admiring the views. It was a little bit chilly at the top of the mountain and I imagine it's breathtaking in the height of summer but it was still amazing with some beautiful flowers and plants! Also, they have some truly fascinating museum areas with rocks, minerals and gems which I could have probably looked at all day!
When we'd have our fill of greenery, we headed over to what we'd actually went up the mountain for - the famous toboggans. We'd been told we had to do the toboggans where you're basically pushed down the mountain in a basket and oh my god it was so much fun, if a little terrifying! Karl and I jumped into one of the baskets and you get two men pushing from behind who have rubber soles on their shoes to push and jump off the basket. You go over roads, down side streets and are actually being pushed down a mountain in a basket. They go so fast and it's such an incredible experience and a must do during a visit to Funchal! I think it was around €30 per basket and it will take you half way down the mountain meaning you'll either have to walk the rest of the way to Funchal or get a taxi. We decided to walk as the taxi drivers all hounded tourists getting off the toboggans and will charge around €25-€30 just to get back to the city so we walked the rest of the way. It took us around 45 minutes to get back down but bear in mind that you are walking down a mountain so if you're not the most confident of walkers or in good health I wouldn't recommend it! I was aching like I'd ran a marathon the next day!
DOLPHIN AND WHALE SPOTTING
I'd heard that the boat trips in Madeira were great with a really high chance of seeing some amazing wildlife and animals. On our last day, we went on an afternoon boat trip to spot dolphins, whales and turtles, a set of animals I'd always wanted to see in the wild. We got on the catamaran and the workers had binoculars to increase our chances of seeing some animals and almost immediately, we saw absolutely loads of dolphins, jumping out of the water, coming right up to the boat and looking like they were showing off to the three boats they'd attracted! It was a truly amazing sight that no amount of photos can do justice and although we didn't see any whales or turtles, seeing the dolphins up close and personal was absolutely incredible.
The boat ride lasted a few hours and it was great to see the coastline of Madeira, the cliffs and the rocky beaches (don't look for a proper beach while you're there because you won't find one!) while relaxing in the sun.
As we were only there for four days, we didn't get to do everything I'd have liked to. I know the hiking is supposed to be incredible and there are so many other villages I'd have liked to see but we had an absolutely fantastic time in Funchal. It's the perfect destination if you want a really chilled out break, meandering around the quiet streets and taking in some beautiful views. Karl and I both loved it! However we did also manage to go to Belmond Reid's Palace for Afternoon Tea which I wrote about in yesterday's blog post so make sure you check that out!