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The capital of Madeira Islands, Funchal, is an enchanting town set on a glittering bay against a background of soaring green mountains. Winding cobbled streets meander between elegant colonial-style buildings, nestling into the shelter of the verdant hillside. Funchal’s historic core overlooks the harbour and features some fine government buildings and stately 18th-century mansions. Its deep natural harbour attracted early settlers in the 15th century.
The simple whitewashed Sé Cathedral was built between 1486 and 1514. Inside, its main features are the magnificent mudejar ceiling of Madeira cedar wood and the voluptuous Baroque carving of the golden Sacramento chapel to the right of the main altar. Now a museum, the Quinta das Cruzes on Calçada do Pico is the house where the island’s discoverer, João Gonçalves Zarco, once lived. Next door is the pretty 16th century Santa Clara Church where he lies buried. The Old Blandy Wine Lodge occupies part of a former Franciscan friary dating back to the 17th century. Guided visits include a tour of the cellars and a wine-tasting session.
Opened to the public in 1960, the Botanical Gardens on the edge of town display plants from all over the world, including desert cacti, rainforest orchids and South African proteas. The famous toboggan ride from Monte to Funchal is an exhilarating experience and takes approximately 20 minutes. Madeiran tobogganing was invented as a form of passenger transport around 1850. Much frequented by Sir Winston Churchill in the 1950s, the pretty fishing village of Câmara de Lobos to the west of Funchal offers spectacular views of the world’s second-highest sea cliff, Cabo Girão (589 m). Also within easy reach of Funchal is the deep valley location of Curral das Freiras (Nuns ’Refuge) near the centre of the island.
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