This is my review of Lonely Planet Pocket Madeira (Travel Guide) by Lonely Planet,Marc Di Duca.
Madeira feels safe and friendly, with many people in Funchal speaking English, but the very reliable bus services can be quite infrequent and I imagine driving a hire car on the switchback roads is a nightmare, whilst signboards are often lacking, so as an independent traveller one really needs a reliable and accessible guide book as a framework for the various bus timetables and tour leaflets you will acquire en route.
On a week's visit to Madeira for the first time, I found this pocket guide very useful not merely for advance planning but to carry round each day to check details. Marc Di Luca, the named author (unlike many guides which I suspect are produced by a band of researchers who may not have actually visited the places they describe) clearly has genuine local knowledge and a grasp of what a complete stranger needs to be told.
I like the frequent use of maps at various scales, from the pull-out one to provide an overview of the island and the key centre of Funchal to those showing a number of driving and walking routes e.g. the very interesting walk along the western Funchal sea front from the Lido to Praia Formosa (it could in fact be extended from the ochre fortress Fortaleza de Santiago near the picturesque old district, the Zona Velha, on the eatern edge of Funchal sea front all the way along to the fishing village of Camara de Lobos to the west. I like the way Di Luca even provides bus numbers and terminus names for, say trips to the Funchal Botanical Gardens or gives specific advice to take a morning bus to the Eira do Serrado viewpoint to make it possible to admire the amazing view of Curral da Freiras (the Valley of the Nuns) before taking the hairpin-bend path down to the village.
Key attractions are highlighted in the index, information is clearly organised under headings, and important points repeated at different points to make them hard to miss. Since the book is quite concise and informative, its worth reading every word before you travel. Then you won't miss such useful advice as the benefit of bargaining with taxi drivers – as we waited for the airport bus, we bargained a persistent taxi driver down to the same price as the bus – 5 euros for a single trip, which proved useful since it was probably full, and we met disgruntled tourists who had to pay 45 euros to reach the airport in time.
The guide glosses over Santana on the north coast, reflecting the fact that not only is there not much to see there, but the climate is much colder – the day we visited, the seashore was obscured in a cotton-wool blanket, although the bus drive across the island is fascinating to see how houses perch on sloping terraces above breathtaking precipices.
A minor criticism is that the levada walks featured (along Madeira's famous irrigation channels) tend to be rather long for many tourists e.g. 11-16 km. Perhaps a few shorter, easier stretches could also have been specified.
With this guide highly recommended overall, make sure to visit Monte Palace Tropical Gardens on the cable car, the Eira do Serrado viewpoint above the Valley of the Nuns on a clear day and take a boat trip out to view Funchal from the sea.
A more expr