Picturesque Madeira

This item appears on page 14 of the September 2012 issue.

An optional extension to Madeira proved to be the highlight of a trip my husband, Al, and I took this spring. It followed our eighth trip with Grand Circle Travel (Boston, MA; 800/321-2835), the 15-day “Spain and Portugal in Depth” tour, March 18-April 6, 2012, which cost $2,395 per person plus $910 each for air from St. Louis.

This lady invited us in to see her cottage. Photos: Emily Moore

The tour leader was excellent and gave us a lot of interesting information. We enjoyed seeing the cathedrals, mosques, monuments, churches and markets.

Four of us continued on to the island for five days at $995 per person.

In Funchal, the Meliá Madeira Mare was one of many luxury hotels right on the ocean. Our room had a spacious balcony with lounge chairs and a panoramic view.

All four of us took the two full-day optional tours: “Western Island” and “Eastern Island.” Each cost $85 per person, including a fabulous lunch.

Madeira is a volcanic, mountainous island with spectacular scenery. Its incredible network of highways and tunnels make the whole island very accessible. Our guide expertly navigated the switchbacks and hairpin curves, stopping often at scenic lookouts.

We went over a pass at 6,000 feet and then had a breathtaking view of Porto Moniz way below. White buildings, turquoise water and black, jagged rocks — what a picture!

Reaching Porto Moniz in a few minutes, we watched waves crash on the rocks, sending geysers high into the air. We ate our lunch near a natural pool formed by volcanic rock, with waves lapping over the edge keeping it constantly full.

We’d visited the outdoor market in Funchal and seen the daily catch of scabbard, a black, slimy, repulsive fish, being processed. The next day I ordered it in a restaurant. Surprise! It was tender and mild and, nicely grilled, the most delicious fish I have ever eaten!

A thatch-roofed cottage near Santana, Madeira.

A few miles out of Santana, we came across a thatch-roofed cottage with beautiful flowers on all sides. We stopped to take pictures and the lady of the house came out and talked with us, our guide interpreting. She invited us in to see her tiny rooms. It was the high point of the day.

Madeira is known for its handmade lace, embroidery and cutwork, and Bordal is the main store that sells these crafts in Funchal. What exquisite items, such as table linens and baby clothes! Local women do the stitching by hand. The workmanship is incredible… and so are the prices. We bought a 7-inch round doily for $45.

Al and I love cable cars and were happy to find there was one in Funchal. In a 15-minute ride, it reached a height of 1,800 feet, ending where there was a marvelous view of the mountains, ocean and cruise ships in the harbor. We could have gone back down in a basket toboggan pulled by two men on the steep street but opted for the cable car.

We went for a 3-hour cruise on the Santa Maria, a replica of Columbus’ sailing ship. It was a blue-sky day, and dolphins leaped and splashed near our ship — a perfect ending for our stay on Madeira.

Greenville, IL