Part 6 in a series about a January trip to Barcelona and a Western Mediterranean cruise on NCL.
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Of course I had heard of the fortified wine that Madeira is known for, but that was about the limit before I visited the island as the penultimate stop on my recent Mediterranean cruise.
An autonomous part of Portugal, Madeira is actually an archipelago lying fairly remotely in the Atlantic, closer to Africa than it is to Europe, the continent to which it culturally belongs. Today, Madeira’s principal island, lying atop a massive volcano, is a haven for primarily European vacationers and, of course, cruisers.
Our ship docked in Funchal, the island’s major port city and soon set off on a private tour with a few other shipmates. Although it is an island resort, it is the mountain scenery, rocky coastlines and rich vegetation that Madeira travelers love best, perhaps more so than the beaches. So gorgeous sights were the order of the day—our guide had lived on the islands for decades and expertly plied the winding roads to show us the best of the island’s west side.
Charming Funchal, the capital, lies on the south of the island, and upon setting out we drove west along the coast up to Cabo Girão, the highest sea cliff in Europe, gazing east across the sea towards Africa. We continued our meandering drive of the island throughout the morning, up through the spectacular mountains and waterfalls of the interior.
We passed the little northern village of Sao Vicent with its volcanic caves, tucked behind a hill out of view of the sea to conceal it from passing pirates. Along the north coast we stopped in another seaside town, Porto Moniz, to enjoy a delicious seafood lunch of fried swordfish with bananas on a cliff-side patio overlooking volcanic pools along the rocky coast. This region was the first important wine-making area, and where fortified Madeira wine was first made.
We spent the afternoon winding further through the mountainous interior. Despite the lack of specific monuments, museums or the usual cruise-tour sites, the group agreed it was one of the best ports of the trip thanks to the views. Even in spite of a $7 Coke my mother mistakenly ordered.