Co-ordinates: N 32.38.35 W 16.54.51
Weather: Sunny with scattered clouds, occasionally overcast
Air Temperature: 18ºC
Pressure: 1019 hPa
Wind: 9 knots
After a smooth sailing from La Gomera, Silver Explorer docked at 7.10 am at Funchal, the capital of Madeira. After the usual magnificent breakfast, guests disembarked for the two organised tours ‘Scenes of Madeira and Monte’ and ‘Levada Walks’.
‘Scenes of Madeira’ was first to leave the ship and our first stop was at Cabo Girao – the ‘Cape of Return’ - where we could peer over the second highest cliff in Europe (the highest is in Ireland) a sheer drop of 2000 feet into a startlingly blue sea. We then climbed up and along the narrow winding roads of the island with their spectacular views into steep valleys with individual houses and tiny hamlets perched on the seemingly near-vertical sides of the hills, before pausing at a private vineyard where we were able to taste some Malmsey wine, that particular vintage being, with a nice irony for English guests, named ‘Clarence’. (For those who have not won first prize in the lottery of life by being born English, George Plantagenet, earl of Warwick and first duke of Clarence, brother of kings Edward IV and Richard III, was drowned in a barrel of Malmsey in 1475 – but I expect you knew that). Well fortified, we then wound our way down to the picturesque fishing village of Camara de Lobo where we sampled the local produce in the shape of ‘Poncha,’ which is not a badly spelled blanket with a hole in it, but a fiery drink that tastes somewhat like schnapps with lemon added.
Onwards and upwards once again we wound our way to the Eiro de Serrado where we were greeted by yet another sharpener, a type of cherry brandy this time, before taking a short walk to the lookout, perched on top of a sheer drop at a height of around 2000 metres and affording magnificent views over the island. From there we again boarded our coach to the cable car station, where after a journey of around ten minutes on a very modern cable car which gave us a bird’s eye view of Funchal and the Silver Explorer, gleaming in the sunlight far below, we alighted at the Tropical Garden at Monte and after a short walk arrived at what was, for me at least, the high point of the tour – the toboggan ride.
The toboggan ride involves seating two passengers in a wicker seat which is on wooden runners, the whole steered by two burly Portuguese, the ensemble then being launched down a one-and-a-quarter mile tarmac road, worn smooth by years of hundreds of toboggans, and with a number of sharp bends. While the ride is not in fact fast – probably no more than 8 or 10 mph, the low seating and proximity to the road surface makes the journey seem much faster than it is and provides an exciting ride to the bottom. We completed the morning with our guide pointing out shopping areas and possible eating locations before we returned to the Silver Explorer for lunch.
The second of our tours involved a walk along some of the ‘Levadas’, irrigation ditches dug by hand in the nineteenth century and which transfer water from the high mountains to the more fertile lowlands. The highlight of this tour was the wide variety of birds, ably indicated and described by Chris Harbard our onboard ornithologist, and the fascinating plant life explained by our botanist, Hans-Peter Reinthaler.
In the afternoon we were free to explore the town, shop, repeat the cable car experience or just sit in the sun before our recap at 6.15 pm, which also included a briefing for the next day’s Zodiac trip, after which we were free to have dinner out or otherwise enjoy the amenities of Funchal prior to an early morning sailing next day.