Visiting Funchal on a Transatlantic cruise
No matter which time of year your cruise ship crosses the Atlantic— spring or fall —the itinerary will probably include Funchal, Madeira. The Portugese island is the first land mass after cruising across the Atlantic from Florida, or the last chance to walk on land before sailing from Mediterranean ports like Rome or Barcelona back to Fort Lauderdale.
This is our fourth visit to Madeira. Alan and I have enjoyed everything from a typical tour of the area around Funchal that included port tasting, to a four-wheel-drive in the countryside, to doing absolutely nothing except walking around on our own. On a spring cruise with Silversea Cruises onboard the Silver Wind, we’ve opted for a cruise excursion focused on levada walking in Funchal.
Madeira, settled by the Portugese in 1419, isn’t known for tropical beaches, although there are some beautiful slivers of sand. Volcanic, rugged—the highest peak tops out at 6100 ft—and very green, the island’s many micro climates provide a variety of nature adventures for active boomer travelers.
Funchal Levada Walk with Silversea Cruises
Alan and I have signed up for the Silversea cruise excursion, Walking Madeira’s Trails. The experience begins with a bus ride through the city before climbing up into the hills to the beginning of the walk at Levada Da Serra Do Faial. We’ll be walking on the levada from Choulpana, in the Madeira highands, to Camacho, home of the island’s wicker industry.
What is a levada, you may be asking? A levada is a canal, and there are over 200 of them on Madeira. The canals were built during the 19th century to divert water from the mountains to the agricultural terraces of Madeira.
A local guide accompanies us on our levada walk. She shares historical details about life on the island as well as identifies flora and fauna along the way. Did you know that there are forests on Madeira dating back to before the Ice Age? And that’s why, the laurel forest, known as Laurisilva of Madeira has earned a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
The four-hour mostly level walk on the levada path travels next to blooming spring flowers, terraced farms, towering oak trees and eucalyptus. Nearing the end of the approximately 5-mile walk, our group stops to rest on a shaded restaurant patio to enjoy a poncha, the traditional drink of Madiera made with rum, honey and lemon.
After the poncha, we walk a bit further before reaching the bus for the ride to Camacho to visit the wicker factory. Perfering to skip the obligatory shopping stop, Alan and I sit at an outside table to watch life in Camacho.
Seniors visit in the park across the street, while a recess game of soccer is going on at the Catholic elementary school. There’s also a viewpoint for taking photos but the haze made picture taking unappealing to us. My, we’re getting picky about our photo opps.
The bus returns to the pier by a different route than our morning one. I lose count at the number of tunnels we drive through. But I did notice a number of pleasant looking homes that would make a good headquarters for a future visit to Funchal. After all, there are so many levadas left to walk. Perhaps we’ll try one of the recommendations from Julie Dawn Fox.
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