Madeira Island, a Portuguese pearl

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
(Published Aug. 3, 2008, in the Boston Globe)

Having lived in Portugal for a couple years in the mid-1980s, I’ve always been curious about Madeira and the Azores. So far, I’ve experienced neither firsthand, but enjoyed traveling vicariously through the Gordons. Obrigado!

David and Terry Gordon on the peak known as Pico do Facho, with a view of the port of Machico, Madeira (Click to ENLARGE)

David and Terry Gordon on the peak known as Pico do Facho, with a view of the port of Machico, Madeira (Click to ENLARGE)

WHO: Terry, 54, and David Gordon, 56, of Hollis, N.H.

WHERE: Madeira Islands, Portugal.

WHEN: One week in March.

WHY: “I’d always wanted to go,” Terry said. “My parents had been – they were both really into horticulture – and they said it was beautiful. I took their word for it, even though it was 45 years ago.”

PARTLY PAMPERED: The couple, who are regular hikers, signed up for a self-guided walking tour of Madeira through Wales-based New Experience Holidays. The outfitter arranged the route, accommodations, meals, transportation, and luggage transport. The Gordons were happy with the logistical work but not always with the lodging, which was quite basic and not in a town center. “It was budget accommodations without prices to match,” Terry said.

David walking on one of the levadas of Madeira

David walking on one of the levadas of Madeira

CHANNEL CROSSING: They walked about six hours a day, for about nine to 12 miles. “The walking was great,” David said. “Most of it is on levadas,” which are irrigation channels going around the mountains. About 1,000 miles of them crisscross the island, with walks alongside them. “Although all the island is very hilly and steep, you can walk for hours on those and it’s all level. It’s really more walking than hiking.” The island also has hundreds of tunnels cutting through the rock. “You need a headlamp for those,” Terry said. “The terrain was fascinating. I’ve never been in a place where there’s no level land.”

Terry and David at the Northern cliffs of Boca do Risco, Madeira (Click to ENLARGE)

Terry and David at the Northern cliffs of Boca do Risco, Madeira (Click to ENLARGE)

CLIFF WALK: “It’s a great trip for people who aren’t really hikers,” Terry said. “Only one day was difficult, but there was a way to do it that wasn’t.” On the walk from Machico to Porto da Cruz, “you’re on a cliff following the coastline and it’s absolutely gorgeous, but there are places you’re actually putting one foot in front of the other. That day really made the trip for me.”

COUNTRY COOKING: Except for an outstanding dinner at Armazem Do Sal, housed in an old salt factory in Funchal, their meals were better forgotten. “Outside of the capital, the groceries were really primitive, like root vegetables and dried fish,” Terry said. “Where we stayed they ate like peasants, with boiled potatoes, boiled rice, and what they call macaroni, and they give you all three every night. And they always have espada. It’s the ugliest fish I’ve ever seen.”

FLOWER SHOWER: The horticulture lived up to its billing. “It was amazing,” Terry said. “I’d never ever seen orchids growing wild. People have orchids like we have geraniums, everywhere. And the protea, I saw fields of them. A cab driver told us one lady had 200 varieties of roses in her yard. It just must be a paradise in the summer.”

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3 Responses to “Madeira Island, a Portuguese pearl”

  1. karel Says:

    Although is wasn’t mentioned, I guess that people were happy, living a simple life (in our view). Wthout hamburgers, without HD-TV. Let’s be happy that this is still possible in a landscape that meets paradise. And let’s be happy that the crowd doesn’t want to be happy that way

  2. Karen Says:

    Thanx Diane! This sounds like something I’d love to do! Really like how you relate a clear description of what to expect – Getting the details on food and places to stay in advance allows a traveler to plan accordingly and not be disappointed….and gives a casual reader a sense of the life there. The walk sounds wonderful—and all those flowers! I gotta look into this more! Thanks!

  3. Don Amaro Says:

    Glad to read that you enjoyed your stay on Madeira. I only can add … there is much more to see and to discover. Living here more than 3 years … and still have not seen it all. And living a life like my ancestors lived …. a lifetime experience. Hopefully see you again on Madeira Islands.
    Um abraço …. Don Amaro

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