Holidays and Other Excursions

Tag: Funchal

Madeira – Winery visits

Thursday 25.1.24

Originally we had two outings planned – one to taste food locally in Funchal and the second to visit wineries.  The first was cancelled and we suspect that the company went out of its way to ensure the second trip went ahead.  We were told we would visit three contrasting wineries to showcase the variety of wine now being produced.

Madeira wine dates back over two centuries and on our previous visit we went to the Blandy’s wine lodge in the centre of Funchal.  Madeira wine is sweet and about 20 years it was felt that Madeira could undertake the growth of more grapes and extend production to regular table wines and two of the three wineries we visit today are part of the development with the government financing the processing plants which the growers rent to use.

Our first destination is Octávio Ferraz – Vinhos Madeirenses.  The owner, a former teacher, setup around 20 years ago/  He converted the terraces alongside the family home into a vineyard and became a small wine producer on the edge of the hill side between Funchal and Camara de Lobos.  The garden of the house has been developed as a fascinating little garden – with some fish in a pond, a couple of sheep, some chickens and ducks plus a couple of rabbits lollopping around the various levels – with the adjacent terraces planted with grapes.  A small vineyard and many plants adding to the aroma enables small production all of which is sold locally to hotels and similar and shows dedication to the cause.

The entire place is delightful but must be hard work given the terraces and the climbing up and down.  The stairs are numerous and we do not go to the terraces where the grapes are grown which are another couple of levels down and along from the gardens.  We are treated to a decent wine tasting before we move onwards.

Our second destination is a much larger scale producer and it also enables us to see a little more of the island as we head towards  the Quinta do Barbusano winery which is close to Sao Vincente in the north of the island.  There is a nice modern road under the mountains – the old road over the mountains would have taken much longer!  We have not previously seen much other than Funchal and the mountainous nature of the island becomes clearer.  The roads still twist a little – but nothing I am sure compared to the old mountain road.

The climate in the north of the island here feels different with salty sea air blowing in from the Atlantic Ocean and therefore slightly cooler with huge terraces planted to vines which we walk through.  A much larger production capability and as we later discover a wider range of wine types – although they also have other vineyards so production is not solely from this location.  Again it is family owned and the wide range can be seen in the photo above.

They also provide an excellent traditional Madeiran lunch that includes beef on bay laurel skewers along with boiled potatoes, salad and ‘bolo do caco’ with garlic butter.  There are some goats wandering through the vines which we spot whilst eating lunch.

We then return closer to Funchal and the Barbeito winery – this produces the sweet Madeira wine but being the youngest such producer – only since 1946 – it tends to be more innovative than the longer established producers.  Although sweet I feel I must do my duty of tasting the output.  All excellent.  This has a very small row of wines at the front – but most of the vineyard is further away.  I suspect that they also buy in supplies as they have some very large vats and barrels, although not to the scale of the port wine producers we saw in the Douro valley a couple of years ago.

We are returned to Funchal having enjoyed the services of a guide and a driver for the entire day.  Is too much drinking bad for you?  A wonderful trip out.

Madeira 20 – 27 January 2024

Hotel Cocktail

Hotel Cocktail

This is a return visit to Funchal for us – we spent a week at Reid’s Palace in June 2010 and hardly left the hotel – our intention this time is an expectation to see a little more of the island.  We did make an intermediate visit a few years ago when travelling on Cunard when we were moored in the bay ready for the fireworks on New Year’s Day 2012 – which were pretty fantastic and included setting an adjacent hillside alight.

As a result of an unbelievable offer this time we are staying at Hotel Porto Santa Maria which is adjacent to the Old Town of Funchal and only just above sea level.  With the main aim of seeing some sun during what has been a grey winter at home with a lot of rain.  The hotel is part of the Porto Bay group which also own Cliff Bay, adjacent to Reid’s Palace at the other end of town and other locations.  The central part of the hotel is of some vintage and has been sympathetically extended.  I do not believe it is full during our time here and certainly at breakfast they could manage the demand, although there were hints that sometimes a wait might be needed.  The hotel is well maintained, the staff were generally excellent and the other occupants to whom we spoke did seem to be repeat visitors – which in itself speaks highly of the place.

immediately outside the hotel and running  parallel to the sea – but one street back – is a completely pedestrianised street with restaurants on both sides – one end leading into the fort and the other end the centre of the town.  Most evenings we eat at one of the restaurants.  We had a good meal at the restaurant in the Fort itself – which can arrange special trips in some vintage cars they maintain.  Another night we ate in an Indian restaurant as well as a couple of others – all of a good standard and there were several more which I have no doubt could achieve equally good standards.

We had booked one night at a fado – which is not native to the island but has migrated here from the mainland.  Our choice was Restaurante Sabor a Fado – you come out of the hotel and it is the first fado you reach.  A small family run place – and the family do the singing as well!  The place was packed and whilst we might not understand a word of the singing the emotion was much to the fore.  There is at least one other fado a little further up the same road – so somewhere to go next time we visit.

We also booked dinner one evening at Reid’s Palace where they have rebranded or upgraded their main restaurant – Williams.  We had the tasting menu and wines and as might be expected from a Belmond restaurant was absolutely top class.  We took taxis both ways as there is a steep hill between the two hotels.  Reid’s has another restaurant – Ristorante Villa Cipriani which we sampled on our previous visit, but not this time.

Camara de Lobos

Camara de Lobos

Our hotel had a list of the visiting cruise ships which berth close to the hotel and the numbers on board have a huge impact on the usage of the open top buses and the cable car.  Many take the cable car to Monte and then return (half way) by the wicker toboggans.  We did this on our previous visit and whilst I would be happy to repeat the experience there are always new things to do.  We decided this time to take one of the open top bus routes (there are several) and it is best to choose a day when there are not numerous cruise ships in the port!  There are at least three open top tours and ours took us to Camara de Lobos – the neighbouring fishing port.  We stayed on – the vehicle was well loaded as there were cruise ships in port and we did not want to get stuck and unable to return – but they are supposed to operate as hop on and off – we did not see many people doing that.

We had one day out of Funchal – prior to departure we had booked two tours – one on foot sampling food in Funchal and a second to visit wineries.  The first was cancelled and I will make a separate post about our other day out.

Overall an excellent week away.  I suspect there remains much which can be done in Madeira which we have not covered and at some point we will return.