Your mother only turns 60 once.
I asked told my mother I’d take her anywhere in the world for her birthday. After Googling places with terracotta roofs, she decided on Funchal, Madeira, in Portugal.
Madeira is a tiny island off the coast of northern Africa, in the Atlantic. It is absolutely gorgeous.
From the moment we landed, greeted with balmy air and hot wind, we knew we were on to something.
We took a (very cheap!) taxi to the center of Funchal city center to our hotel, Castanheiro Boutique Hotel.
The view from the hotel is ah.may.zing. Take an elevator to the top floor, the pool level, and you’ll be greeted by an amazing view of the city.
We were pretty tired after we landed- its about a four hour flight. But we were awake enough to want cocktails. My mother tried a mojito, and swore it was the best one in her entire 60 years of life…
I tried a Poncha, a nice mix of sugar cane, honey, sugar, lemon and orange juice. It warmed us up for a nice selfie, anyway.
Hungry, we decided to stay at the hotel for dinner. Typically I try to wander outside of the hotel, but we were tired, and it looked pretty good.
We started with a beautiful amuse bouche of mozzarella and tomato.
Then I had baked goat cheese with plum sauce, which, it turns out, is a Madeira speciality. If you go, definitely try it.
As with every island location, I had to try the seafood at least once, even though I would confidently call myself a vegetarian. I had octopus with veggies and new potatoes, and it was probably the best dinner I had the whole trip.
Exhausted and a little tipsy, Nance and I fell into a deep slumber. I woke up early the next morning to blue skies (which was a nice surprise, since rain was forecast) and good views from our hotel.
Waiting for a jet lagged Nance, I sat at the pool for a few hours.
The view was pretty amazing.
After she woke up, we decided to take a wander through the town.
Funchal is really interesting. Founded in the early 15th century, its an interesting mix of very old (both age of the town and the tourists!) and new, clean and a bit scraggly.
We took a taxi up to the top of the mountain outside of town to take the gondola down, having heard the views of Madeira were amazing. First, we stopped at the church at the very “tippy top” of the mountain, as my niece would say.
Then we continued on to the gondola for the views.
We weren’t disappointed.
We only went one way, to the bottom. It had started to rain and it seemed that the views would be repetitive on the way up.
Plus, we were spilled out in tourist central. Even if its hard to walk around central tourist ville, its sometimes kind of helpful to get your bearings.
There was a nice park by the gondola building, as well as a cool street where each door is decorated in a different way.
Even though it was a bit grey and drizzly, I had to stop for pistachio ice cream. After all, it was warmer than in England. That, and a 60th birthday, is worth celebrating with an ice cream in and of itself.
After walking through the touristy streets, we walked back to our hotel, stopping at the Jesuits University and church. It is really old (think 15th century) and ornate.
We then walked around a bit more, trying to dodge the drizzle but also enjoying the view of rainbows.
…once we got back, my mother was so tired she had to take a break at the hotel. They had some comfy chairs in the lobby, which we both took turns trying.
After a few hours of rest at the hotel, we walked down to Armazem do Sal, an old salt factory and amazing restaurant in the center of old town Funchal.
I started with sashimi.
My mother went straight for filet mignon.
…there was a lot of wine, so sorry if pictures got away from us given the good discussion, food and company!
The next morning, we went back out on the town, exploring more of the old town, especially the municipal buildings right outside of our hotel.
We then stopped at the market, which was crammed full of people, just to see what was happening there.
Besides amazing flowers, there was a ton of produce and souvenirs. I think it is probably pretty touristy, but if you’re at an Airbnb or a place where you can cook, you’ll also find amazing fresh ingredients to cook with.
We then walked down along the water.
We ended up at the fort, which is the future architecture museum. Exciting things await in a few years in Funchal!
We walked back through the hotel through the tourist area, my mom balking at the price of lunches (which were still absurdly inexpensive) and me just interested in the combination of tourists there. Mostly French, there were also a lot of English people and Germans. We were definitely the only Americans for miles.
We went back to the hotel by way of the old town square, and took in views of the city from the rooftop bar. Will you believe, this picture was taken just a few minutes before a huge storm hit?! I guess late October is like that in Funchal; sunny one moment, clouds and rain the next.
Running to take shelter from the rain and cold, we went to Olives Restaurant. It was not as good as the hotel or Armazem do Sal, but I appreciated the vegetarian menu!
We split a baked goat cheese starter…
Then I had feta in filo pastry, and mother had pasta. My main was delicious, mother’s was dry.
We finished with a vanilla pot for desert, which was a bit bitter but passable.
Following dinner, we walked to the main cathedral, where there was a classical music concert on.
Listening to Mozart while in an old church was pretty magical. I really enjoyed the music and the people watching, but above all else, I think the ambience of the old church really made the concert as magical as it was. Exhausted from a long evening, we fell asleep with amazing music in our heads.
We woke up the next morning to pouring rain, but luckily it cleared up by the early afternoon, in time for us to talk to Belmond Reid’s, where you’ll find the quaintest, cutest afternoon tea with the best view in (probably) Portugal.
It was about a 30 minute walk from our hotel to the tea, and we talked through an amazing park with great views of the ocean.
Belmond Reid’s is a five star hotel that, apparently, is very popular with the older tourists around town.
We obviously opted for champagne with our tea, and then devoured the amazing sandwiches, scones and desserts.
We sat inside because it was a bit windy and chilly, but still enjoyed the view. In the summer, I’d definitely recommend sitting outside.
After tea, I went for a facial at the Til Spa, at the hotel, and my mother enjoyed a massage. It was a perfect way to end a lovely mother daughter weekend.
I really liked Funchal. It is clearly a destination for older tourists, which makes it ideal for a mother/daughter trip or something similar. Great food, easy walkability and lots of fun things to do. Definitely worth the trip!