Hard to believe we last came three years ago.
Funchal is an attractive, relaxed city, easy to feel at home in, and we have been lucky with the weather – dry, lots of sun.
We are at a different hotel this time, a complete contrast from the lovely old Quintinha Sao Joao where we stayed before. This one, The Vine, is modern boutique-style, on the upper floors of an up-market shopping mall right in the centre of Funchal. Sounds strange but in fact it is quiet and very convenient for shops, restaurants, bus stops etc.
It has lots of positives, the breakfasts are excellent – limitless fresh orange juice, fresh fruit, nuts, seeds and other healthy stuff, complete fry-up range, smoked salmon, cake etc. They do a mean dry martini in the bar, there is a roof-top infinity pool and so on.
However, like our hotel in Turkey in the summer, this place has tricks up its sleeve for the unwary guest. It has won many awards and appears in glossy design books, but clearly, international design awards do not always take into account the actual needs of the customer.
Our room is very spacious, with areas for sleeping, sitting, bathing, separate loo and shower etc.
The lighting, air-con, window blinds etc. are controlled by pads on the wall and beside the bed. It has taken us several days to master these. An automatic under-bed light flashes on when you put a foot on the floor, which sounds good, except if one person gets up to go to the loo in the night, the other one also wakes up. Also, the light does not stay on quite long enough. Unless you take a torch with you, you end up in the loo in absolute pitch darkness, and unable to see the wall panel to switch a light on….
Water trickles out under the door of the walk-in shower room. The door sweeps the (wet) bath-mat away as you open it, so you step out onto a slippery wet floor.
The lighting above the basin is so dim you can scarcely see your face. The basin itself is a long shallow black marble trough, with the tap like a sort of waterfall. It is perfectly functional, just a bit silly. Oh, enough about that.
We went up to the Monte gardens – not quite as many flowers this time, but made up for by an abundance of water flowing from every cascade, fountain, trickling down grotto walls etc. Very pretty.
Yesterday, we revisited the Palheiro gardens – lots of beautiful camellias, and this lovely purple tibouchina.
We have only done one levada walking day. Unlike last time, the route was lined with beautiful wild flowers. The mimosa trees were in bloom, and the eucalyptus trees smelt wonderful.
We made our first visit to the north of the island – I had known it was mountainous, but hadn’t realised it is one long precipice, with waterfalls cascading down to the sea, and occasional villages perched on tiny flat outcrops.
Communications round the island are good, because the mountains are punched through with many expensively Euro-funded tunnels, like a huge piece of Swiss cheese. Funchal is girdled by amazing motorways that swoop over huge bridges and then plunge into tunnels – all for a total island population of 250,000. However, a few miles further is uninhabited wilderness. We do a lot of travelling on rackety local buses driven at hair-raising speeds up and down steep and narrow back roads.
Today we had a day just prowling round Funchal, peering into doorways, churches and up alleyways, our favourite occupation in foreign cities. Our end of town has some nice old dilapidated bits as well as grand buildings and fancy shops.
Down the other end, the old town area has been regenerated as a cultural tourist area – Philosopher summed it up as ‘overpriced restaurants and hippy-dippy nonsense’. However, I quite like the painted doors.