Thursday, September 7, 2023

Madeira: gardens, parks, artwork beckon visitors to Portuguese island

The drama of Madeira is partly because it rises from sea level to
6,000 feet.  One can drive it in less than an hour, experiencing the beauty.





A memorial to war reminds
that Madeira prefers peace.
BEGIN YOUR Madeira outing in Funchal with its gorgeous flora and fauna. Climb from sea level to 6,000 feet and peer down at the ocean below. Stop for a beer or glass of wine and watch the ocean.
Make time for the war memorials and a stroll through lush botanical gardens.
But don't miss a chance to drive up that splendid coastline, with views to stagger.
Madeira retains its rustic charm in casual cafes
and eateries, but offers elegant hotels, too.

Bruce Keller and Christene Meyers
high above the coastline in Madeira.
IT'S EASY to fall in love with Madeira for its variety:  ragged forests, pretty beachfront, fine art, culture of many kinds including music and fine food. You'll also be struck by an awareness of the island's stormy past.
MADEIRA tried to remain neutral in the great world wars, but because of Portugal's proximity, and the island's strategic location, the people  have lived with a sense of fear,  and determination to preserve their safe haven. To secure international support for its authority in Africa, Portugal entered the war in 1914 on the side of Britain and the Allies. Our guide described an incident of more than 100 years ago which people still recount and pass on to their children. On December 1916 during World War I, a German U-boat entered Funchal harbor on Madeira; it torpedoed and sank, creating havoc for days. Today's population includes thousands of Gibraltarians whose ancestors were shipped to Madeira in 1940 when it was feared Gibraltar would be attacked.
Time for a beer with a view of beautiful beaches. 
BRITISH PEOPLE have long loved Madeira, stemming from Britain's occupation after the Napoleonic Wars, a friendly occupation ending in 1814 when the island was returned to Portugal.
Brits and many others are attracted to the dramatic landscape created by volcanic eruptions from the Atlantic seafloor. The layers of lava eventually reached the sea surface and created the Madeira Archipelago -- beginning a mere 20 million years ago.  More recently -- about two million years ago -- the volcanic eruptions ended and seeds washed ashore. Birds followed and dined on the first plant  
Reid's Palace, a stately old hotel, reigns.

growth, now beautiful, old-growth forests.
We enjoy the island for those forests and dramatic mountains,  balmy climate, and flowers of every shade. A fine old hotel, Reid's, is a fun splurge for a couple days.
The people of Madeira enjoy plants and are expert cooks.
Many inviting, small restaurants serve specialty dishes.

UNTIL RECENTLY, exploring the island was arduous but millions of dollars of infrastructure and road work have made its mountainous land and rugged coasts accessible. But Madeira has long been sought after for its fruit, flowers and temperate climate.  Its rough terrain didn't stop sailors of yore. Phoenician, Roman and North African explorers all reached the island, likely landing near the seaside town of Calheta on the southwest coast. There, we visited an impressive memorial bound to touch the heart of every viewer.  A stone wall reveals the outline of a soldier holding a child's hand with one hand and a gun in the other. Each of the figures is holding a rose and hundreds of small faces cover the remaining space. The memorial commemorates the "Overseas War," fought from 1961 to 1975. We were curious about this strange moniker.  The war has several  other names, too, all elaborate:
Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers on
the trail of food, history, art and music in Madeira.
the Portuguese Colonial War or the War of Liberation, or the Angolan, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambican War of Independence. Our guide described it as "clashes between the Portuguese armed forces and forces of the liberation movements of the colonies." It happened during Estado Novo, the Portuguese authoritarian regime of 1933 to1974.
THE PEOPLE  seem happy to be free of the yoke of a dictatorship and are welcoming to tourists.  Flights to Madeira can be found for as cheap as $219 from Europe and $900 from the U.S. Ferries from the mainland are a great alternative, and one can take a car or bicycle on board and be across the sea in a few hours.

"Keller and Cookie" wear leis presented to them by hosts
at Hilton Waikoloa Village on The Big Island of Hawaii.

UP NEXT :  Lore of the lei. When one visits Hawaii, it is customary to wear a lei at some point during the visit. You might even be greeted by your host with a lei, or find one in your hotel room.  It symbolizes love and welcome, and is a friendly way to express love, friendship, celebration, sympathy, honor or greeting. Hawaiians consider the lei the symbol of Hawaii and the aloha spirit. In ancient Hawaii, wearing a lei represented wealth, royalty and rank. More about that soon. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly at:



  1. So beautiful to be reminded of a long ago trip there. Spent a week and wished for more.

  2. Always fun to see what you are up to. I remember a stay at Reid's long ago. Brits reading Punch Magazine.

  3. We hiked there for two weeks last year. Dazzling scenery.