On our last full day on the island of Madeira we took the cable car down from where we were staying Monte and spent the day roaming the streets of the capital, Funchal. Our first stop was the famous Mercado dos Lavradores (Farmer’s Market) which is in every guide book. While it was interesting to look at the stands boasting pretty flowers and colorful fruits, I was glad to finally leave. The prices are exorbitant and the vendors aggressive and pushy.
Funchal has been the capital of Madeira for 500 years and offers plenty of museums and old buildings. We were there on a day when many were closed, but we managed to visit the Sacred Art Museum and the cathedral Sé Catedral de Nossa Senhora da Assunção, completed in 1514. When in Portugal, keep your eyes open for the beautiful hand-painted tiles called azulejos. They either depict stories or are ornamental.
At noon, the sun was high in the sky and while in the shady courtyard of the city hall, we decided to make our way to the old section of town near the harbor where the fishermen and their families once lived. These streets are narrow and this is where the more authentic part of Madiera is. The restaurants offer outdoor seating with a breeze, there are painted walls, shuttered windows, courtyards and hidden churches.
In the late afternoon, we made our way to Blandy’s the well-known maker of Madeira wine where I had booked a tour. We were led through the cooperage where the vats were repaired, then to the rooms where the wine is aged, to a museum and then a tasting of two types of Madeira wine.
There are 4 styles of Madeira wine: Sercial (dry), Verdelho (medium dry), Bual (medium-rich), Malmsey (rich). Sercial is often served as an aperitif, Verdelho with soup, Bual with cheese or dessert and Malmsey with coffee. Personally, I think Sercial is equally good after dinner as a digestif and prefer it to the other three. It has a slightly dry-sweet taste of raisins and walnuts. Malmsey is like drinking syrup- strong, sweet and thick.