Wine tasting at Blandy’s and Madeira miscellany

This is my final post about Madeira, so I’ll start off by telling you about Blandy’s Wine Lodge and then finish with some miscellaneous stuff about Madeira that hasn’t been covered in any previous posts…

Old Blandy’s Wine Lodge is located in the centre of Funchal. Acquired in 1840 by Charles Ridpath Blandy, the old wine lodge remains an integral part of the process, and until relatively recently some wine was actually still produced there (they do the actual crushing of the grapes part up in the mountains nowadays, or so our guide told us). These days, it’s mainly used as a place for barrels of wine to mature and age, before being transferred to giant barrels for storage before bottling. These means that, while you don’t actually get to see Madeira wine being made, the premises are not there purely for tourism purposes… as evidenced by the wonderful smell of Madeira wine in the rooms where the barrels are being matured!

There are several tours available, and we chose the Premium one, which cost €5.50 per person and included a tasting at the end. I have to admit, I preferred this tour to the one we took of the Old Jameson’s Distillery in Dublin, which really was purely for tourists and seemed to be more of a marketing exercise than a tour that was actually designed to give any information! Naturally our tour guide in Madeira wouldn’t have told us that any wine other than Blandy’s is the best 😉 but at least the entire tour wasn’t a huge advertisement for Blandy’s! We were actually given some quite interesting information about grape types and the different temperatures and barrels that are needed to produce the different types of Madeira wine. It’s just a shame I barely remember any of it! At the end of the tour, we were given some time to look around the mini museum section before heading on to the most important bit… wine tasting! We were given two Madeira wines to taste… one was Malmsey, a sweet Madeira wine made from Malvasia grapes. If I remmeber correctly, Malvasia grapes are the only one of the four grape varieties used to produce Madeira wine that are actually native to the island. Sadly, I don’t remember what the other wine we tried was, but it was a dry variety. Both were very tasty, though.

Madeira Miscellany

A few more observations from our trip to Madeira that didn’t seem to fit in anywhere else. 🙂

There are dogs EVERYWHERE! I never did manage to decide whether they were all strays or some actually belonged to people. We saw at least 15 dogs just running around loose, with no owners to be seen… including two that hung around outside our hotel! We discovered at some point that one of them was called Bobby, but I have no idea whether they belonged to the hotel or had just been hanging around so long that the staff decided to name them. Either way, I’m assuming that if they were dangerous the hotel staff wouldn’t tolerate them? I still didn’t want to touch them though, and when one of them decided to follow me while I was carrying food, I did feel a bit nervous! He didn’t do anything though, and eventually seemed to realise I wasn’t going to give him anything. In the time we were there, I spotted three dogs wandering around with collars on (two in Funchal and one in Santana) – so presumably they belonged to someone – but said owners were nowhere to be seen. We also spied three dogs being walked with actual leads! Here are some of the (presumably stray) dogs we saw – the first and last photos are of the hotel dogs, while the middle one shows a dog in Monte.

On the first day, after looking around Funchal, we drove up to Cabo Girão. The most unusual thing about this cliff is that, looking down, you can see cultivated land at the foot of it. Until relatively recently, the only way for farmers to reach this land was by boat… a cable car was installed in 2003 to provide an easier way for them to reach their crops. Brochures and the Madeira website claim that Cabo Girão is the highest cliff in Europe (and second highest in the world), but Wikipedia says it’s not. Regardless, it provides a nice view – especially with the glass viewing platform that juts out over the water! If you’re scared of heights, I wouldn’t recommend  looking down…

I haven’t mentioned much about what we ate in Madeira (other than the bread and soup in Funchal on the first day) because Jan tends to tease me if I take too many photos of food, but I need to tell you about the Espetada… or meat on a skewer! This traditional Madeiran kebab-type dish is delicious! The meat is marinated, then cooked in an open fire. Traditionally the meat was threaded onto a bayleaf stick, but we had to make do with plain old metal skewers 😛

Also, have another picture of some of the garlic bread. I love how this photo turned out! If I had a food blog, this would so be my cover photo!

Yum, yum!
Yum, yum!

Finally, I want to finish my Madeira series with a photo taken from the aeroplane shortly after take off. This was shortly before the evil turbulence got hold of us (so bad that I actually felt like we might be blown out of the sky, and the pilots changed their plans slightly and got permission to fly at a lower altitude than originally intended!). The sheer beauty of the sunrise above the clouds made for a fitting end to a wonderful holiday.

Leaving Madeira... very early in the morning!
Leaving Madeira… very early in the morning!

And that’s it… the end of our trip. Now I believe it’s about time I started thinking about where to go next! Any suggestions?

~ I am counting Madeira as my January 2014 trip in the Take 12 Trips challenge, even though we started the holiday in December ~

Monte, Madeira

Monte is a suburb of Funchal, located in the mountains up above it. During our holiday, we actually went up there twice… once by car up the incredibly steep hills! I’m talkig so steep that I actually found myself wondering whether the car was actually going to make it… visions of us sliding back down the hill definitely entered my mind once our twice! The second time, we went up by cable car and back down in a wicker toboggan…

The view from the cable car station in Monte
The view from the cable car station in Monte

Monte houses two main attractions, the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Monte church, where Emperor Charles I of Austria, the last rule of the Austro-Hungarian empire is buried, and the tropical garden. Obviosuly I took lots of pictures of plants in the tropical garden, but I shall try not to bore you with too many of them 😉

From the tropical gardens, we could see people going down the mountain the famous Monte wicker toboggans. Of course we wanted a go, too even though it’s really expensive! Here’s what they look like… and yes, that is an actual road with actual cars on it! I actually bought our official photo (they had a guy taking photos halfway down), which I know is a total tourist con, but it’s not like I could take a photo of us myself and I wanted the souvenir! I would show you the photo, but Jan wouldn’t like me plastering his photo all over the Internet…

I've blurred out the tourists' faces to avoid getting in trouble...
I’ve blurred out the tourists’ faces to avoid getting in trouble…

The toboggan takes you down 2km, to the suburb of Livramento. Once there, you can either take a taxi the rest of the way down (there are loads hanging around), or walk as we did. If you choose to walk, you get to go down a street with some beautiful flowers! Literally everyone was stopping to take photos there…

Our ticket to the tropical gardens also included a free taster glass of Madeira wine at the cafe, and Jan also decided to sample some Madeira honey cake (I had an icecream to cool down, but I did try his cake and can confirm that it was delicious). This set us up nicely for our next stop… after wicker tobogganing it down, we had a tour of Blandy’s Wine Lodge complete with Madeira wine tasting booked… but you’ll have to come back tomorrow to hear a bit about that. This post is long enough!

Madeira wine