It becomes even more visible when the weather forces the always delicate landings on the runway at Cristiano Ronaldo Airport to be made from west to east, towards the Ponta de Sao Lourenco.
On these occasions, from the right side of the plane, the approach reveals the broad slope on which, over the centuries, Funchal has been extended.
Even dense, the town houses dot the surrounding green, with the necessary exceptions, more alive and intense the further up the island.
One of the emblematic and unmissable places in Funchal, Monte, perfectly illustrates the slope and the predominant tropicalism.
The Luxuriant but Landscaped Hillside of Monte Palace
There we ventured into the landscaped quasi-jungle of Monte Palace Madeira where, in an area of 70.000 m2 which are said to be concentrated and proliferate more than 100.000 plant species from the four corners of the World, of cocci and proteins of the South Africa to Scottish heather.
The assortment also includes the endemic plants that make up the complex Madeira Laurissilva forest: ferns, cedars, laurels, tiles, puffs, fig trees and many others.
From all of them, from the natives, the exuberant massarocos fill our measures.
Among foreigners, the elegant arboreal ferns (cyathea medullaris), natural from Australia, which have long since spread across the Earth and are part of the flora of the Azores, Canary Islands and, of course, the Garden Island.
From Charles Murray to Commander Berardo
The original owner of this stronghold, the British consul Charles Murray (1777-1801), decided to name the property he bought at the end of the XNUMXth century, “The Pleasure Estate” (Quinta do Prazer), quite out of step with the Catholic austerity imposed by the neighboring church of Nossa Senhora do Monte.
The haughtiness of the sanctuary did not intimidate the consul, and Murray decided to perfect it while he could. Murray died in 1808, in Lisbon.
In 1897, Alfredo Guilherme Rodrigues, a successful merchant, decided to reward himself with the acquisition of Murray's old farm.
Following a trip to the Paris International Exhibition in 1900, Alfredo Guilherme returned impressed by the refinement of the castles on the banks of the Rhine. Accordingly, he built his own palace, later transformed into the Monte Palace Hotel, a project that his family later discarded.
Forty-four years later, the property ended up in the possession of the then-millionaire, now indebted, Madeiran José Berardo.
Berardo transformed the farm into a kind of tropical museum. It enriched it with the collection of tile panels that we examined, along a winding path and the great moments in the history of Portugal below.
He also endowed it with sculptures, some of Buddhas, and Buddhist lanterns. Of coats of arms, niches and lakes inhabited by ducks, swans and carp nishikigoi.
Despite this panoply of paraphernalia, the farm continues to star in the palace in its background, well integrated into the surrounding plant and cultural eccentricity.
Discovering the Highlands of Funchal: Monte
Instead of leaving the garden there, we explored it double, on the sloping back to the starting point. We leave it at the top that faces Rua Largo da Fonte. A few dozen meters to the left, we find ourselves at the foot of Igreja do Monte.
At this time, the movement at the base of the stairs is limited to that of a few children of God who are arguing at the door of the Belo Monte restaurant, in a Madeiran that is so closed that it almost makes us feel like foreigners.
We went up to the temple. When we peek inside the nave, a mass takes place. Ten faithful follow her, attentive to the word of the Lord, conveyed by the priest at the altar.
Two or three more enter, a nun leaves. Out of respect for our destiny and the time of light that was draining away, we followed their steps, down the steps.
In the middle of the Pandemic, the usual ups and downs of basket cars and their paths along the side of the Railway was suspended.
At the foot of the church, we find the baskets immobilized vertically in the covered parking lot dedicated to them.
A Botanical Garden Also Very Tropical
Unable to travel in them, we passed by Jardim Monte Palace's natural rival, the Madeira Botanical Garden Engº Rui Vieira. Far from the proclaimed 100.000 species of the Monte Palace, this garden claims 2000 exotic plants.
With no space in the photographic program to count them, we especially admire the splendor of its vegetable mosaic, which is currently cared for by two thoughtful gardeners.
Madeira is all a garden that, as the popular imagination confirms, floats in the Atlantic. As we descended to Funchal, almost at ocean level, we would continue to benefit from the city's reinforced chlorophyll.
We resumed its exploration in Praça do Município, Rua dos Ferreiros below, around the Cathedral and the statue of the nobleman João Gonçalves Zarco (1390-1471), elected by Infante D. Henrique to lead the settlement of Madeira and the Porto Santo.
The Municipal Garden and the Contiguous Forested Streets
Nearby, Funchal Municipal Garden, otherwise called Jardim Dona Amélia, once again gathers and displays trees, plants and flowers from the four corners of the world. Even though it's the third one we've crossed, in Funchal, the count of gardens always starts at the beginning.
Almost in the middle of the subtropical summer, the fruit stands in this area still sell cherries, suggesting custard apples, passion fruit and the unusual pineapple bananas. Compared to the abundance in the always frenetic and gaudy Mercado dos Lavradores, what they exhibit are mere samples.
Still on Av. Arriaga and on Rua do Aljube, a forest of jacarandas and flowering tipuanas perfumes the atmosphere and gives us a providential shade.
Cathedral of Funchal. Faith in All Its Insular Greatness
A architectural miscellany of the Cathedral, which D. Manuel built between 1510 and 1515, with predominantly Gothic features but also Baroque, Rococo, Mannerist, Mudejar, some also defined as Manueline, intrigues us.
At the very least, as much as we marvel at the famous altarpiece in its chancel, complex, detailed in gold-plated carvings and filled with sculptures worked by meticulous hands, oil paintings on wood, under a ceiling entirely made of Madeira wood.
Enchanted, in particular, by the church's southern perspective, tropicalized by a palm tree projecting from an atrium, we insisted on finding an elevated point of view that would reveal the whole to us.
Persistence entices us with a visit to the building of the Geographical Information and Cadastral Services Directorate. There, Marlene Pereira guides us, “very used to visits by photographers and journalists working in Funchal”, as she assures us in a preamble to a chatter to which we indulge without reservation.
We photographed the cathedral and the roofs, at first perched on a terrace wall. Soon, from windows on the floors below.
Proud of her island, Marlene makes a point of giving us advice on the places she most admires and invites us to a short photo shoot of her, taken above all in the foggy north of Fanal. A few days later, we would get lost there and be dazzled on site.
Until then, we continue to walk along the traditional Madeiran sidewalk, made of black basalt pebbles, combined with white and even pink stones, combined with a slight relief, instead of a smooth surface, as is used on the mainland.
In such a way that, on one of the days, after 17.5 km of walking around Funchal, we realized that this tenuous roughness was also responsible for unexpected blisters on the feet.
The Madeira Wine Exclusive to the Blandy Family
In the process of its gestation, we enter the historic Blandy's winery, the only family on the island that boasts of, seven generations and more than two centuries later (1811), continuing to own the company's destinations and the production and export of its worldwide reputed Madeira wine.
There we surrendered to a generous tasting of Blandy's nectars, from the dry to the sweetest, a scale in which, surrendered to the piece of honey cake included, we ended up getting mixed up.
And there we enjoy the mournful atmosphere and the aroma of aged French oak and greens from the barrel and vats room.
For a long time, apart from the extraplanetary fame of the CR7 phenomenon, Madeira wine has made the island's notoriety mature. However, in its popular sphere, the fortified conviviality depends on another drink.
The poncha is the result of an improved blend of sugarcane brandy, lemon peel and juice and sugar.
With time, it began to be consumed in a myriad of variants that were increasingly distant from the recipe with which the fishermen warmed up in the toils and cold nights.
And the Omnipresent Poncha in the Old Town and throughout Funchal
Today, the sector of Funchal with the highest concentration of bars, taverns and, of course, poncha jars, remains its Old Town, arranged around the place that welcomed the town in the city's genesis.
It's in the Old Town that we meet a couple friends on vacation.
And it is in taverns and bars in the Old Town, around the religious heart of the secular Capela do Corpo Santo and back and forth on Rua de Santa Maria, that we celebrate such a reunion, with goals and toasts of ponchas.
Being old, this whole area has been rejuvenated with the panoply of street paintings that increasingly decorate it: Amália, the Principezinho, a Tuareg, Madeiran fishermen at tables in taverns, who knows where it is.
Chances are that mid-morning, with the terraces still closed, we'll go back through there.
Fortaleza and Praia de São Tiago
At a certain point, Rua de Santa Maria unveils Rua Portão de São Tiago. And this one, the gateway to a yellow fortress defended by four jalopies at the door.
We conquered the view from the adarves above.
Over a marine extension, sometimes made of cement slabs, sometimes on the natural pebbles of Praia São Tiago.
There we saw the people of Funchal surrendered to an Atlantic bathing blessing, a summer leisure that was not in keeping with the hardships experienced there throughout Funchal's history.
Serious Setbacks in Funchal's History
More than any other setback, the Madeirans were frightened by the attack of 1566 French corsairs, carried out in XNUMX, following the sacking of the island of Porto Santo.
On that occasion, the Gauls met with an almost symbolic resistance. Without much effort, they took Funchal for a fortnight, dedicated themselves to plundering the village.
This is how the urgent construction of the beautiful yellow fort that we continued to examine is understood, inaugurated a few years later, in the middle of the Philippine dynasty, completed in 1614 and reinforced with the fortress above São João Baptista do Pico, which dominates Pico dos Frias.
And the island's first fort, São Lourenço, now transformed into a palace-museum.
A few dozen meters below and to the south, the harbor seafront around the marina was also endowed with new green and tropical spaces that Funchal residents take advantage of whenever they can.
There we pass them, given up on brisk runs and walks, some of which are so long that they use the long Pontinha jetty as an extension and point of return to firmer land.
On one of these days, it is from Pontinha that we boarded for the Porto Santo.
While the “Lobo Marinho” sailed out to the bay, we admired the art with which the sunset and the twilight transformed Funchal into a city green with fire.