Funchal is the capital of Madeira, a Portuguese island group volcanic origin off the coast of North-Africa. The largest island is also called Madeira, the only other inhabited island - Porto Santo - is much smaller. There are some other small uninhabited islands, often little more than small rocks.
The name Funchal means 'Fennel'. Which grows in large quantities on the island. The centre of the city is the Sé Cathedral, which was built between 1493 and 1517. There are also magnificently designed gardens, like the Botanical Gardens (Jardim Botânico), an Orchid garden (Jardim Orquídea) and the gardens of the erstwhile Monte Palace hotel.
Madeira is famous for the wine that is made there. In the 18th century, America was the main customer. When the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, a toast was made with a glass of Madeira.
The city has 140,000 inhabitants, which makes it the largest city on the island. The entire archipelago has 270,000 inhabitants.
Funchal is located on the south coast of the island between Santa Cruz and Câmara de Lobos. Other towns on Madeira are Faial (21 kilometres to the north), Santana (25 kilometres to the north) and Machico (17 kilometres to the north-west. To the north of the city lies the Pico Ruivo de Santana (1862 m).
The island lies closer to Morocco (600 kilometres to the east) than to its mother country Portugal (1100 kilometres to the north-west)
Madeira depends on agriculture, in particular sugar, wine grapes and bananas. Tropical fruit is also grown on the island, which is canned on the island and then exported. In addition, embroidered textile is an important export product. Fishery plays a modest role in the economy.
In recent times, tourist has become more and more important.
Madeira is an autonomous region of Portugal. which means that is has its own regulations, laws and taxes. It only depends on the mother country in the areas of foreign policy and defence.
Madeira International Airport lies near Santa Cruz at about 30 car minutes from the capital. Its landing strip used to be extremely short, but with the support of the European Union it has very much improved. There are daily flights to Lisbon and to several other European cities. The flight time from Lisbon to Madeira is about an hour and a half. Porto Santo also has an airport. The flight time between the two islands is only about 15 minutes.
Most bus lines stop near the marina on the Avenida do Mar e das Comunidades Madeirenses. There are excellent connections to the rest of the island. There is a ferry service between Madeira and Porto Santo, which lasts about 2.5 hours.
There is only one 'motorway' on the island, from Santa Cruz via the airport and Funchal to Câmara de Lobos. To the north of Funchal this road goes through tunnels in the mountains. A rental car is an excellent way to explore the island. Keep in mind that the roads are narrow and curvy, and strong winds are a regular phenomenon on the island. Also, there are virtually no petrol stations outside of the towns.
Funchal has several parking facilities around the centre, for instance near the marina and Via à Cota 40.
In the centre of Funchal there are a few hotels, but most tourist hotels and resorts are located to the west of the city in the so-called hotel area. Other tourist centres are Câmara de Lobos and Ribeira Brava, both of which are located to the west of Funchal. There is a big difference in prices between peak and off season. Often prices are twice as high during peak season, which is during the summer and around Christmas, when you really need to book your room in advance.
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