Funchal, the lovely capital of Madeira
Funchal, Madeira’s capital, is worldwide famed by its natural beauty. However, it has so much more to offer, such as history and gastronomy.
Embracing the Atlantic, guarded by the imposing mountains on the back, Funchal offers a remarkable scenery, worthy of a postcard. In fact, at first sight, the city resembles more a huge garden than a city, due to the banana trees and the exotic flowers, blooming all year round, growing in the middle of the houses built along streets coming down as ledges to the water front.
The city planning is impressive in spite of the uneven geography and gives you the sense that Funchal is loved and cared by its citizens, who are proud of it. And they have reasons to do so, after all Funchal was the first Atlantic city to be established, therefore the first to be built outside the Old Continent by Europeans.
Set on the sunny southern side of Madeira island, Funchal has been the capital of the Archipelago for more than five centuries and conquered a strong economic position due to its geographic location along with its fertile soils that attracted both merchants and settlers. Rapidly Funchal became the central nerve of local economy and an important maritime port of Europe, crucial for the caravels travelling between the Indies and the New World during the 16th century.
Most of the early days development was based on the sugar cane production along with the wine culture. Curiously, both activities are still important nowadays.
Throughout times, Madeira, and Funchal in particularly, attracted renowned visitors for its beauty. During the 19th and 20th centuries dignitaries such as Elisabeth of Bavaria, empress of Austria-Hungary between 1837 and 1898, Charles I of Austria, Fulgencio Batista and even Winston Churchill, visited the island, helping to spread the fame of Madeira as a superb tourist center.
The formal creation of the Funchal Port and, years later, of the airport, as well as the establishment of a series of hotels and residences of top quality contributed to build today’s Funchal’s reputation of being a major tourist destination.
Yet Funchal is not just natural beauty. Funchal also means fantastic monuments such as the Sacred Art Museum, the Cathedral or São Tiago Fort, which houses the Contemporary Art Museum, exciting festivities such as Carnival parades and the New Year’s Eve fireworks, considered the most spectacular of the best of the world, lively places such as Mercado dos Lavradores (Farmers’ market), and wonderful food, besides offering you plenty of opportunities for tasting the magnificent Madeira wines and ponchas.
Funchal is one of those towns to be discovered on foot, as there are delicious little details to be revealed at every corner. However, for those who aren’t willing to face the demanding ups and downs of the city’s geography – and are brave enough, allow me to add – may enjoy another perspective of the city by choosing the cable car. However, if you are looking for a more traditional way to discover Funchal, there are several tourist buses with circuits that cover the most significant places of the city.