Author: Jimmy Jay James
On the 20th February 2010, an appalling news story overwhelmed the world’s newswires. Madeira had suffered awful flooding. Funchal in particular was featured. Not only did fatalities take place in Madeira’s capital city, but logistics meant that television cameras and reporters were presently in place to witness the terrible scenes – for, the flooding had dramatically halted almost all public transport on the Island. So, the worldwide village observed on in horror as mudslides and a deluge of water tumbled down from the mountains surrounding the city.
Inevitably, there were fatalities. The body count soon reached beyond fifty. Some say that, given the suddenness of the events and the ferociousness of the flooding, the death toll was mercifully sparse. Thankfully, due to the whereabouts of the majority of tourist hotels, situated in Funchal’s periphery where the flooding was minimal, holidaymaker deaths were limited to just single figures. However, the long-term impression of widespread havoc left the world believing that Madeira Island could never reclaim its idyllic reputation.
As Funchal is Madeira’s main city it is the business-related center of the island. It is a breathing city, with all the normal hurrying and scurrying that you might suspect. It is also the resting-place where most tourist to the island abide during their stay. And, Funchal manages to preserve many spots of peace and tranquility for the visitor to experience. Today, the resurgent city has restored much of the damage of February 2010 and again boasts of many sights to see and places to call on.
The seafront promenade in Funchal was notably ravaged by the happenings of February 2010. Not only did the despoiling force of the water cause devastation, but the deluge of mud and rocks that were swept along by the flowing water caused substantial damage. Today, this much loved promenade has been rebuilt and improved. Indeed, throughout its history, this water front tract has undergone a succession of improvements and additions. The rebuilding work subsequent to the flooding has been just another episode in its on-going development. Once again, tourists can take a slow saunter and take joy in the cooling breeze of the Atlantic as they soak up the sun.
Returning visitors will swiftly realize that the seafront now extends twenty meters or so further out into the Atlantic Ocean. This is an outcome of action of the former pebble shore being used as a store for the tonnes or rock and debris that was cleared from the inner streets of Funchal. However, the waterfront still retains its previous charm.
So, if you’re feeling lazy and just want to let an hour or two glide smoothly by, you could savor a tranquil lazy walk along the seafront walkway.
Beginning at the westerly end of the promenade is the harbour where the opulent cruise liners offload their consignment of passengers. There has been some major redevelopment work undertaken here, in particular the helicopter landing pad has been re-sited, but the port is as bustling as ever.
Soon, you come to the quay with its mass of yachts of all sizes and types. If you venture along the quayside, you will notice that many visiting captains have left their label on the wall in the form of painted murals. This is a pleasing established practice that is not intended as graffiti. Indeed, it is obviously tolerated by the port officialdom. Take time to look at the mixture of visual mementos. The chances are you will recognize at least one from your country.
If all this walking gives you an desire for food, there is no shortage of eateries along the way. Be it just a cool beverage, right up to a luxurious three-course luncheon, you will easily find something to your taste. Naturally, being a tiny island in the mid-Atlantic, seafood is always pronounced on the menu.
Carrying on, you will soon reach the Vagrant, a tall-masted boat once owned by the Beatles. Children of the Sixties will surely love the nostalgia – and, for them, eating here is practically compulsory. For those of a younger age, get someone to make clear to you just why the Beatles are so important. This used to be a seafront restaurant, but due to the deposited rubble, it now stands some 20 meters from the seafront. Nevertheless, take time to hang out here and savor the mixture of Beatles’ songs that will unfailingly complete your meal.
Continuing eastward, you pass the shopping center, a little inset from the promenade, where the greatest number of fatalities occurred in the February floods. This locale has been one of the slowest to be reconstructed, but refurbishment work is on-going. A little further on is Funchal Old Town, known as the Zona Velha by the locals. You will find the Old Town nostalgically attractive and compact. A supreme venue to enjoy a quality meal on a hot summer’s evening.
The Fortaleza de Sao Tiago is situated on the other side the restaurants in the Zona Velha district. This is a yellow-painted fort that previously safeguarded Funchal from assault by pirates. Having seen off mother nature’s attack from the mountainside rising behind it, today it still houses an exhibition of contemporary art and boasts an up-market restaurant.
One could do no worse than to show solidarity with the local Madeiran population. Booking a holiday in Funchal will accomplish just that. And, rest assured, the waterfront promenade will hold something of entertain for almost everybody.
Jimmy Jay James B.Sc (Hons) is a member of the staff of the independent Madeira travel guide. He lives in the United Kingdom and has had many articles published in the trade press. He visits Madeira frequently and has made many friends there.
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For further details of Funchal, read the tourist guide to Funchal Seafront Promenade.