FUNCHAL IN MADEIRA is a place well suited for unhurried exploration. At first, I was worried that 11 days might be too long for a stay here, but this is not the case: it is far too short. There is plenty to see and do without queuing for the famous cable car or for the toboggan ride down a steep road. There are interesting museums to see, but a great deal of pleasure can be derived from wandering leisurely around the older parts of the place.
One area, which despite being rather ‘touristy’, is the Zona Velha. East of the old patrician areas around the cathedral and the university, the Zona Velha used to be the poorer part of the city, where fishermen and their families lived in rather narrow crowded streets near the seashore and the venerable Forte São Tiago. This fortress was one of a chain of four or five forts that used to protect Funchal from seaborne attackers.
The streets of the Zona Velha have become trendy and there has been a conscious attempt to make the area bohemian. Many of the doors have been painted with often entertaining designs and pictures. There are plenty of small bars and restaurants, but we were advised by some ladies who work in a museum that these tend to be of poor quality and are best avoided.
High above the Zona there is a terrace overlooking a sea bathing area. Near this, there is an old church, the Igreja de Santiago Menor, which was closed when we visited the district. The café next to the terrace provided excellent coffee at a surprisingly reasonable price given the wonderful sea view from its tables: we paid 3 Euros for two coffees and a pastry.
As touristic areas go, the Zona Velha is certainly worth strolling through. It is probably best to go there earlier in the day before the roads are filled with tables and chairs next to the eateries.