The Garden of Portugal

Our days in Porto Santo took off on a rocky start. As soon as we safely moored Libra in our pontoon, the Police (GNR) and the Customs (Duane) team, a whole bunch of people, accompanied by a fat Labrador appeared. Two military guys with heavy army boots and military clothes together with the poor, fat dog climbed over the boat and started the search. The two ladies from the Customs were friendly and polite and inquired about the amount of alcohol and cigars we had bought from the Canaries. As Canary islands are in Europe but not in the EU, custom checks are the norm here. Despite the big commotion and the number of people, the whole procedure ended quickly, with only a few paperwork. Nonetheless, we became the talk of the marina, the new boat who underwent a full check, including a narcotics dog. I blamed the Dutch flag 😉

Later that day, on the 11th April, Karakter arrived and we also met another boat, the “Vela”, a nice Danish family with three boys. The following days were filled with sunshine, so we enjoyed this cute island on foot and by bike, and did lots of sunbathing, BBQ on the beach, swimming and bodysurfing! On the 14th April, we performed a Danish Easter tradition; everyone paints one boiled egg and then you roll them over a cliff. The person whose egg reaches the furthest without breaking is the winner! Although a kids’ game, we had lots of fun and laughter!

On the 17th April, Jelle’s best friend Daan joined us for three days, as he was surfing on Fuerteventura and was flying from Madeira back to the Netherlands. On the 18th, Karakter, Vela and two other Danish boats set course to Azores. All of them have to be back to homeports before September, so they are on a tight schedule! We, on the other hand, could not be more relaxed. The same day a Dutch boat arrived, “Mangata”, and they moored right next to us. Robert-Jan and Janine are a great couple and all 5 of us had a great hiking day around steep cliffs and beautiful surroundings. The next day, Daan, Jelle and I took our bikes and reached the west tip of the island, Calheta, and stopped for some refreshing cocktails on our way back. Friday, 19th April, Daan had to go but promised to visit us again soon! On the 21st April, the Catholic Easter, we had a salmon BBQ on Mangata and on Monday, we had a delicious lamb leg BBQ on Libra! As we would not celebrate Greek Easter, I insisted we kept at least one Greek tradition.

While Porto Santo turned out to be one of our favourite spots so far, it would be a shame to miss out on Madeira. As the port here is extremely cheap, whereas the ports in Madeira are too expensive and almost always full, we decided to take the ferry and visit the main island.

We arrived on Wednesday night at Madeira. The ferry trip was short, around 2,5 hours and we headed directly for dinner. We had a simple burger in a busy by-road, filled with bars and loud tourists and it became immediately evident that we were no longer in Porto Santo. It was fun though, seeing all young English people getting drunk with the cheap beer and cocktails and dancing in the street. We walked towards our hostel, quite a long uphill walk, which took us a bit less than an hour. We had some issues checking in because the manager was not there and the lady responsible spoke no English, so after a considerable time and calls with the manager we managed to find our room and get a shut eye. The hostel was very clean with free, nice breakfast but the beds were terrible so we did not rest very well during our stay at Madeira. But it was a short visit so we did not mind that much.

Madeira is such as a green island, full of different trees, flowers, plants and so colourful, even in the cities! No wonder why the Portuguese nicknamed it “the garden of Portugal”.

Thursday, 25th we decided to explore Funchal, the capital of Madeira. Such a beautiful city! The old town is stunning with stone, windy roads, artwork on the doors and walls and numerous cute restaurants and bars, with the main street being “Rue de Santa Maria”. We also visited the farmers market, which was closed as it was a public holiday, strolled around the new town and the promenade and even hiked up to the old fort “San Joao Bapista”. The walk up there was tough, as the hill was steep but it was all worth it, as the views of the whole city were magnificent! The same night we treated ourselves to a local, delicious dinner at O’Tasco restaurant, comprised of “bol do caco” (traditional garlic bread), swordfish, “molho de vilão” (dried tuna) and “mihlo frito” (fried maiz).

On Friday we received our rental car and the main mode of transportation for the next three days. It was a new Renault Clio, which Jelle found a very fine car, second-best from all our rentals so far (The new Micra is still his favorite). Today we explored the west side of the island. First, we drove up to Encumeada all the way to Sao Vincente, a cute, all-green village which is also the home to volcanic caves. We paid a visit to the caves, which was very entertaining, as it was the first time we see volcanic caves, without any stalactites or stalagmites, but lava drops and green mosses growing close to the artificial lights. Our visit included also a 3D film about the volcanoes in the Madeira group and a small museum! Leaving Sao Vincente and towards Porto Moniz, we saw the famous “Veu da Noiva”, a waterfall supposedly resembling a bride’s veil, although it was less spectacular than we expected. The route we took was beautiful, with narrow streets, steep hills, seaside views, and volcanic mountains. The only downside is the fog we encountered sometimes, especially the higher we drove. Via Calheta, we reached the mountain tops, around 1500meters high and stopped at Paul de Serra, the highest plateau in Madeira, full with windmills, green and cows! We ended our day at “Alexandrino Churrascaria“, a nice family joint, where we enjoyed another local delicacy, “espetada de vaca” (beef skewer) and “espetada de franco” (chicken skewer).

On the 27th we visited one of the highlights of Madeira, the #MontePalaceGardens. It is easy to understand why this place receives such good critiques, it is absolutely magic! Huge gardens with many varieties of plants, trees, and flowers from all over the world, even Australia and Asia! Old, beautiful buildings and the actual palace with a majestic pond and fountains complete the picture. On top of all that, these gardens are located in Monte, a hill overlooking Funchal, providing amazing views over the city and the seaside! After a long walk around the gardens, we also tried the local Madeira wine, although we were not very impressed. We then climbed in our rental Clio and headed towards the mountains. Via Eira de Serrado we visited Pico de Arreiro and Pico de Juncal, the highest mountains in Madeira. Absolutely stunning views and clouds so thick you think you could float on them!

Our last day in Madeira was spent on the east side of the island. We first drove up to Faial and then to Santana, where we saw traditional Santana houses and did a great hike in the Queimadas Forest park following the “levadas” (walking trails) along green hills, plants, rivers, and waterfalls. What a great experience! After a long hike and lunch at the Queimadas shelter, we drove to Ponta de Sao Lourenco, the easternmost point of the island. We took a stroll and took photos of Baia de Abra and Ponta do Castelo. On our way back we visited the Quinta de Lorde marina and resort town and had dinner at Machico, a cute little seaside town. On the morning of 30th April, we bid our farewell to beautiful Madeira and took the ferry to Porto Santo. We were very happy to be back, Porto Santo felt almost like home and we of course missed Libra and even more our beds!

We spent a few more days in this pretty little island, enjoying the relaxed atmosphere and the sunny days. We met more fellow sailors, including Thibault, a French solo sailor who has crossed the Atlantic twice, two German guys and a Swedish-Portuguese couple, who left soon after towards Algarve. With the German guy and the young couple, we played Artengo, a Spanish game also known as paddle tennis. It was great fun, albeit tiring. It took me three days to move around without any pain on my legs and right arm! We also explored the island even more, by bike (which we never lock here!) and on foot. On 6th May we took a spectacular hike across the mountain, where we could see the whole island and even Madeira! Also, we hiked through a pine tree forest, quite rare in this dry island and we ended up on the beach, where we even swam in the cold but refreshing water! We were also busy leaving our mark as so many other sailors before us, we let our artistic spirit lead us and drew a mini Libra on the marina wall!

Today, 9th May is our last day in Porto Santo. Tomorrow afternoon we hoist our sails and head to the first Azorean island, Santa Maria. It is a 500-mile journey, the longest so far with only the two of us and we are thrilled! Don’t miss the next post to find out how the trip went!!

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