If you’re cruising on an Atlantic crossing, Funchal, Madeira is often the first or last port stop, depending on if you’re coming or going. Located in the Atlantic Ocean southwest of Portugal, Madeira’s mountainous landscape offers plenty of options for active travel including hiking, trekking or horseback riding, not to mention water sports. But, if you’re time in port is limited, take a four-wheel-drive cruise excursion instead.
When Alan and I sailed from Rome to Ft. Lauderdale on Seabourn Sojourn, Funchal was the last stop before six days at sea, so fitting in a little adventure was high on our baby boomer list. We could have jumped into a wicker sled for a toboggan ride down Funchal’s steep streets or booked a Madeira winery excursion. However, we preferred a four-wheel-drive adventure that introduced us to Madeira’s countryside.
After climbing into the back of the open-top, four-wheel-drive van — passengers sit on benches facing each other — the drive begins along the city streets of Funchal. The four-wheel-drive caravan negotiates a tunnel or two, before making a sharp right-hand turn to climb up the mountainside roads for photo opportunities of hillside villages and coastal scenes. Banana trees are everywhere, an important agricultural product in Madeira.
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Eventually, the vehicles turn onto a dirt road, the closest we’re going to come to true off-road adventure. Guests are invited to step out of the vans for a brief lecture on Madeira’s flora and fauna. Then, we stretch our baby boomer legs on a short walk through a forest of tall, Eucalyptus trees, their pungent odor scenting the air.
Back on the road, it’s another curvy ride to the overlook of Nun’s Valley. It’s hard to imagine how nuns made it to this isolated spot as they escaped marauding pirates in the 1500’s.
Of course no visit to the Madeiran countryside is complete without a stop for a glass of Ponche punch. The four-wheel-drive caravan parks in front of a village pub, where the proprietor has the potent drink of freshly squeezed orange juice combined with lemon juice, honey and Madeiran rum (Aquardente) ready for our tasting pleasure.
When the vehicles arrive back at the port, lively music greets us — a fun ending to a pleasant baby boomer adventure in Funchal, Madeira.