Enchanting and Exotic Madeira and Canary Islands

Two and a half years ago, I flew from Philadelphia to Rome, spending a lot of time walking and seeing the sights. In my opinion, there were way too many people and thank goodness I had a reservation to tour the Vatican. Then from the port of Civitavecchia outside of Rome, I boarded the Prisendam for one of her last voyages before being retired by Holland America. She was their smallest ship and quite elegant.

From Civitavecchia we headed to Alicante, Malaga and Cadiz, in Spain; Gibraltar (a British territory in Spain); Casablanca, Morocco; and out in the Atlantic Ocean and finally arrived at the Canary Islands and Madeira.

The Canary Islands are part of Spain off the coast of northwestern Africa. They are volcanic islands with beautiful terrain going from lush coastal areas to mountains where the temperature can change by many degrees in just a few minutes (from 75 to about 40). I learned quickly that first day but was able to borrow a jacket from a fellow traveler.

The Canary Islands are spread out and we visited the island Tenerife, the largest island. It is best to take an arranged tour, which I did to Mt. Teide. From the bus we got incredible views of the island, rising ever higher and higher till we reached the Botanic Gardens of the Teide National Park. It’s very desert like and has many unusual plants, some of which are almost extinct. In addition, there were unbelievable views and volcanic formations. The volcano is about 18,000 years old and the third tallest volcano in the world. The crater of Teide is only reachable by hiking or cable car, neither of which I had the time to enjoy. Lunch was at La Papillon.

After heading back down the mountain, I visited the Acclimatisation Gardens of La Orotava. For those of you who have been reading my columns for Attraction, you probably have guessed by now that I love history, historic places, and gardens! This garden was created by a Royal Order issued by King Carlos III in 1788 to acclimatize species brought from the tropics to his palace in Madrid, Spain. Today the garden is part of the Canary Islands Institute of Agricultural Research. The tropical and subtropical plants include rare palm trees, bromeliads, orchids, and other exotic plants.

Attractions on the islands include Montañas del Fuego (Fire Mountains) on Lanzarote, the Anaga Mountain range on Tenerife, Timanfaya National Park on Lanzarote, the Jardin de Cactus (Cactus Garden) on Lanzarote, sea caverns on Tenerife, and in the south the wine growing region of La Geria, famous for Malvasia wine, on Lanzarote. The one thing I didn’t try were the wrinkly potatoes, or papas arrugadas, that are eaten in the Canary Islands. I do share a recipe for them below.

Our next stop was the island of Madeira, which is part of Portugal, and due west of Casablanca and due north of the Canary Islands.

While driving on the island of Madeira, Katie Barney was struck by its beauty.

Arriving in Funchal, Madeira I was able to tour the kitchen on board the Prisendam. Walking in the rain to the Cathedral of Funchal, I was absolutely amazed to see a simple exterior building but so ornate inside. Wandering around I realized how gorgeous Madeira is. I went up to the gardens with spectacular views, finally touring the Garden of the Governor’s residence.

The gardens on the governor’s estate in Funchal combine large trees, exotic birds, flowers and many species of plants.

Later in the day, after asking directions, I found the Sacred Art Museum of Funchal. Oh, what silver, gold, paintings and statues. I was amazed we were allowed to take pictures.

Gold pieces can date from the 15th to 19th centuries at the Sacred Art Museum of Funchal.

Then on to find the famous Mercado (farmers’ market) dos Lavradores where I bought my grandson’s Cristiano Ronaldo soccer shirts and shorts, and two pairs of lovely shoes for me. The meat and fish part of the market was closed, but I did see lovely displays of various peppers, veggies, leeks, and fruit.

Opened in 1940, the Mercado in Funchal is famous for its sights, sounds and smells.

Other features of Madeira that I did not see were Cabo Girao, the second highest sea cliff in the world, waterfalls, fishing villages, and mountains. Madeira is famous for Madeira wine, which I enjoy, as well as beautiful Madeira linens, something I did not buy (except for two towels) as I have too many.

As the ship left Madeira, the most incredible clouds formed, and even what looked like a funnel off in the distance. It was enchanting as the sky continued to darken and thunder could be heard off in the distance. I loved the friends I made on this trip and continue to keep in touch with them.

I have fond memories of these islands, finding them so exotic and beautiful and pray someday I can go back. But there are so many other places to visit once the pandemic is over! When that will happen, I don’t know. I just wish all my trips this year hadn’t been cancelled – Japan, England, and a cruise to Alaska.

 Wrinkly Potatoes

Potatoes were not native to the Canary Islands but were brought back from the Americas by the early Spanish explorers.

Serves 4

2 ½ lbs. potatoes with skin on

4-5 tbls. sea salt


Place the potatoes in a pan with enough water to cover them, and the sea salt. Bring to a boil 15-20 minutes, or when pricked the potatoes are tender. Drain water and let potatoes sit in pan until ready to use. They get their name from wrinkling up with so much salt and are usually served with a chili pepper garlic sauce called mojo rojo or as a side dish.

Madeira Sauce

1 cup consommé

2 tbls. flour

2 tbls. butter

½ cup raisins

1 tbls. orange zest

2 cloves

¼ cup Madeira

In a saucepan combine the Madeira, raisins, orange zest, and cloves. Bring to a boil, then let simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Discard cloves. Add the consommé, butter and flour until thickened.

This is very good served with roast duck, goose, chicken, or other fowl. After cooking the fowl, remove to a platter and add the consommé to the pan. Scrape the side to loosen the pan drippings. Then stir in butter and flour to thicken. Stir in Madeira, raisins, and zest.

Recipe from Chesapeake’s Bounty.

Katie Barney is the author of six cookbooks. Her newest one is The Enchanting World of Food. She can be reached at kamoose@goeaston.net or www.conduitpress.net.

Cachalote Restaurant is a popular tourist stop in Porto Moniz, Madeira, with its view of rock formations.
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