Sunday, December 06, 2009

CRUISING - Day 6 - MADEIRA PORTUGAL

Today we're stopping at the Portuguese island of Madeira, at the city of Funchal. Because it's Sunday none of the wine factories will be open for tours, but I'm sure it'll be possible to buy a bottle or two of Madeira's famous wine somewhere along the way. To be honest, I knew the name of the wine, but not much else. Here's some history: Madeira is a fortified Portuguese wine made in the Madeira Islands. The wine is produced in a variety of styles ranging from dry wines which can be consumed on their own as an aperitif, to sweet wines more usually consumed with dessert. Cheaper versions are often flavored with salt and pepper for use in cooking!

The islands of Madeira have a long winemaking history dating back to the Age of Exploration when Madeira was a standard port of call for ships heading to the New World or East Indies. To prevent the wine from spoiling, neutral grape spirits were added. On the long sea voyages, the wines would be exposed to excessive heat and movement which transformed the flavor of the wine as the wine producers of Madeira found out when an unsold shipment of wine returned to the islands after a round trip.

Today, Madeira is noted for its unique winemaking process which involves heating the wine up to temperatures as high as 140°F for an extended period of time and deliberately exposing the wine to some levels of oxidation. Due to this unique process, Madeira is a very robust wine that can be quite long lived even after being opened.

When doing research for this port it quickly became apparent that the sights weren't as easily accessible as most of the other ports. We'd need to have some way to get around the island to best appreciate it's many vistas. Rather than book one of the cruise line's tours, I once again turned to the CruiseCritic.com message board, where I discovered that many people there also booked private tours.  I contacted one of the companies recommended by others, and also posted that I was looking for other people to share the tour.  Eventually we ended up with a group of 14 people, and we'll take our tour with Daniel Madeira Taxis.  Our 4 ½ hour tour will begin when we're met on the dock, then we'll tour the island as described here: 

  • If you're interested in taking the Cable Car up to Monte, the driver will take you, first, to the Cable Car station in town, for your ride up. In case some of the people in your group are not interested in doing the Cable Car ride, they will go to Monte in the van.
  • Once you reach Monte the driver will meet you again and, if you're interested, will show you the way to the Toboggan ride. Here again, those not interested in doing the ride, will continue in the van. The Toboggan ride is a 2km downhill run in a wicker basket, controlled by two men.
  • Next, Pico dos Barcelos, where you'll admire Funchal and all the suburbs.
  • Curral das Freiras, the center of the vulcano that was in the origin of Madeira, an impressive sight.
  • Câmara De Lobos, interesting small fishing town.
  • Cabo Girão, a beautiful sea cliff, is the highest in Europe and the second highest in the world.
  • Madeira wine has been famous for many, many years. Wine Factories are closed on Sunday, alternatively you can have your wine tasting in a wine shop.
  • At the end of the tour you'll be dropped off where it may be more convenient for you.


The funniest part of this tour is the toboggan ride.  I'd read that you went down the mountain in a wicker basket guided by two men, but I really wasn't sure what that meant.  Of course YouTube came to my rescue, so I'll let you see for yourself.  It certainly doesn't look like the most scenic route, and now I'm not so sure I'm that interested. 


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1 Comments :

At 12/07/2009 10:32:00 AM , Blogger Bob and Rosemary said...

I'm green with envy! What incredible experiences you are having!! You are so great at getting the most of everything you do! Bravissimi!

 

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