September 2000, Diarmuid Corry of Dublin, Ireland, visited Madeira
and Lisbon with
his able-bodied wife. He is a T4 paraplegic and uses a narrow, compact
manual wheelchair (68cm/27.2” wide).
There and Airport Service:
airport is fully wheelchair accessible but be warned – the last
accessible toilets are in the shopping area after boarding pass check
and before security checks. There are no accessible toilets at the gates
themselves. The officials in Lisbon were well trained, very friendly and
all transfers and loading on and off the plane were done well. We flew
with British Airways, and I’m not
sure if the staff were BA or Lisbon airport staff.
has many very very steep streets. Some of the pavements are staircases!
This makes getting around a little difficult, as you cannot be
guaranteed to be able to wheel to any particular place. The pavements
are made from granite and basalt mosaic cobbles, which provide a rough
and difficult passage for the wheelchair. We were told that there were
“a few” accessible busses but I did not see any. We were also told
that the Metro was not accessible but several stations did have
elevators. We did not explore further. Getting information from the
tourist office proved impossible. So we stuck to taxis, which are
plentiful – almost all are large Mercedes. A feasible strategy is to
taxi to a location of interest, then wander around there.
are tours offered, but we could not find an accessible bus or coach
operator. Therefore, we hired a taxi for a half-day tour of the city.
The taxi driver could speak English and took us through the usual
tourist sights. At 20000$00 we felt that it was a bit pricey and
ultimately bad value.
is possible to hire a car with hand controls in Lisbon. Contact Adaptcar
(tel: +351 21 812 3526, Fax +351 21 812 3516) who have a
small range (two I believe!) of cars at competitive prices. I would
recommend this only if you intend to drive out of Lisbon! You
need to be certifiably mad to attempt to drive in Lisbon itself. This is
a small operation and they do not have a facility for accepting credit
cards so be prepared to organise an alternative form of payment.
terms of wandering, I could only talk about the places we went and saw.
The Alfama is, I’m afraid,
a no go area. Steep and narrow streets preclude the wheelchair wanderer.
A pity, because it is an area full of atmosphere. If you know where you
want to go you can taxi straight there and straight home.
Baixa area is near the sea.
It is almost totally flat and well worth wandering around. Apart from an
apparently infinite number of shoe and bag shops, there are lots of
restaurants and plenty to do and see. We were staying on Avenida
da Liberdade so the Baixa was a convenient area for us.
Bairro Alta is up a very
steep incline from the Baixa. Get a taxi to it. But once there it is
sort of a plateau so it is possible to wander around if you don’t mind
a few steep hills.
usual, down by the sea is flat and pleasant, the area around Belém
is nice to wander around as well.
did not “do” too many of the tourist sites. Belém
is, not surprisingly, inaccessible. The Marine
Museum is fully accessible and has an adapted toilet. The Opera
house appeared to be inaccessible.
Avenida Da Liberdade 127 (tel : (+351)21/3228300). Expensive but
classy hotel. Good location. Very friendly staff. Adapted room had a
large bathroom with the appropriate grabrails. There was a standard bath
instead of a shower which could prove difficult for some. Superb
Travessa da Cara, 20/22 Bairro Alto, 1200.089 Lisboa (Tel: 21 347 71
95). Lovely family atmosphere, local clientele. Very good food at a very
reasonable price. Single step from street. No toilet access. Strongly
do Vinho do Porto,
Rua S. Pedro Alcantara. Port tasting. Two steps from street with good
separation (1.5m or so). Than two steps down into first tasting level
where you can stay. Staff will assist. No toilet access. Large range of
ports to taste but expensive.
o Forno Velho,
Rua do Salitre 42, Lisboa. Slightly sterile restaurant, mostly tourist
clientele. Good food, reasonable prices. One door is ramped from street,
short steep hill from Rua de Liberdade to restaurant. No access to
Rua S. Joao do Praca, 94-1100 Lisboa (tel: 88 88 26 94). Tourist
oriented joint which serves dinner and has fado performers. Large step
access from street, level thereafter. Toilets upstairs although staff
carried me up to use them. Ordinary toilet is barely big enough for a
compact manual wheelchair, no access to cubicle. The fado is very good
if you like folk music, very strong and emotional performances. The food
is very mediocre and not worth the exorbitant prices (a compulsory
couvert of 1800$00 with main courses circa 3000$00 each. By the time we
had wine etc. the price had risen to over 11000$00 per person). A
disappointing experience. You can arrive late (11:00) and skip dinner
just drink but I think there is a cover charge. The people at the hotel
said this was the best fado in town and maybe that’s true but the over
all impression was that we were ripped off.
is a popular tourist destination about 30km from Lisbon. It
has a raft of interesting historic buildings. Car is the best way to get
there (although you can get a taxi tour from Lisbon for about 36000$00).
The roads around Sintra are torturously narrow, winding and steep. The
area around the Palacio Nacional de Sintra
is flat and easy to wander around but the streets leading away very
quickly become too steep fro unassisted wheeling. The Palacio
itself is not accessible. Beware of taking coffee or wine in the bars
around the Praca da Republica – we
were charged a phenomenal 480$00 for a cup of coffee (compared to 90$00
in Lisbon city centre).
popular spot is the Disneyland-like castle of Palacio
Nacional da Pena. You can drive right up to the gates. There
is a bus that brings visitors up to the castle. This has a ramp at the
back up to a little platform where the wheelchair can park. The bus ride
is spectacular in itself. From the point where the bus deposits you
there is a very steep hill up to the Palacio itself. The hill is too
steep for unassisted wheeling. There is no access into the Palacio
itself but you can wander around the outside and take in the fantastic
views. Well worth the trip. During our visit the restaurant and ticket
area was being refurbished. An accessible toilet had been installed but
was not yet operational. There seemed to be no access to the restaurant
unless there was an elevator somewhere that I could not see.
Cabo da Roca, 18km from Sintra, is
the Western-most point in Europe. It’s a nice spot and it is possible
to get out and wheel around.
regional de Colares,
Alameda Coronel Linhares de Lima, 32, Banzao, Sintra, 2705-351 Colares
(Tel: 929 12 10). Wine tasting and storage. Worth a visit. Level access.
Franco’s craft village,
Sobreiro. An unusual and slightly
surreal place – basically it’s a miniature working village. Worth a
visit if you are in the area. An attempt has been made to ramp the
entire place so every part is accessible. The ramps are very steep in
places so an AB assistant may be required.
Rua Escola Nova, 6, Azóia, 2705-001 Colares (tel: +351 1 928 00 01).
Hotel claims w/c access but this is not true. Accommodation is in form
of motel style ground floor rooms with separate access. There is a small
step from the ground level in. The good-sized bathroom has a grab rail
by toilet but a standard basin shower that is inaccessible. There is
ramped access to the swimming pool but a footbath blocks the way. It is
accessible if you have someone to help you through the step down and
step up of the footbath. Standard of accommodation is 3 star but it is a
little old and not very impressive for the high prices (16500$00/night
in September). The bedroom was too small to navigate comfortably in a
chair and the room was damp. A good breakfast and exceptionally friendly
staff help to allay the disappointment a little. The restaurant is
accessible via a ramp from the front. Our meal was unremarkable, the
food was good and the prices were about average.
Păo de Trigo, Estrada do cabo da Roca, Azóia, Colares, 2710 Sintra (Tel: 929 08 50). Superb restaurant. Very reasonable prices. Small step from street. Ramped access to dining area. No accessible toilets. Realy good food at reasonable prices. Strongly recommended.
island is a challenge for a wheelchair user. The facilities are limited,
awareness of access issues is close to nil and the geography makes
travel difficult. But, despite all this, its beauty is awe-inspiring and
there is much to see and do. Be prepared for discomfort and adventure,
be prepared to abandon the chair occasionally, and travel with an AB
Getting There and Airport Service
the easiest place in the world to get to. From Dublin, Ireland we had to
take three flights: Heathrow, Lisbon, Funchal.
The last leg was with TAP (Air Portugal).
Lisbon airport is fully wheelchair accessible but be warned – the last
accessible toilets are in the shopping area after boarding pass check
and before security checks. There are no accessible toilets at the gates
themselves. The airport in Madeira at Funchal
is new (some parts were only opened in September 2000) and fully
accessible. It does not appear to have air-bridges so be prepared to be
carried down steps in the aisle-chair. The officials in Lisbon and
Madeira were well-trained, very friendly and all transfers and loading
on and off the plane were done well. There is no special transport
to/from the aircraft, you share a bus with all the other passengers. The
officials will lift you in and out of the bus in your own chair.
is not possible to hire a vehicle with hand controls in Madeira.
We hired a standard vehicle, which my wife drove. This had it’s
advantages. Madeira is stunningly beautiful but the roads are
treacherous. The driver sees nothing but white-knuckle corners while the
passengers get to drink in the most spectacular scenery I have come
across in Europe (with the possible exception of Norway). Car hire is
reasonable enough – a class B car costs about 8000$00/day all in.
buses are not accessible, but there are plenty of taxis. There are no
adapted taxis – most taxis are large Mercedes that require a transfer
to get into them. Taxing around the city is cheap enough. Also, you can
hire a taxi for a 6-7 hour trip around parts of the island. This will
cost between 14000$00 and 18000$00 depending on firm and time of
year/week. Beware that no one trip takes in the whole Island. You will
need at least two. There are cheaper firms that use busses and off-road
vehicles but they are not at all geared up to handle disabled
passengers. We did not try them.
Madeira is not wheelchair friendly by any stretch of the imagination.
The island is basically a volcanic rock spiking out of the Atlantic
Ocean. The main city (Funchal) and
villages cling to the sides of the mountains and there are many vertigo
inducing streets and alleyways. Car is the only way to get around; you
will not be able to wheel any significant distance without meeting a
very steep hill.
main city, Funchal, is compact with
a population of about 200,000 people. The street network is dictated by
the mountains. Long streets follow the contours of the land and are
negotiable by an unassisted wheeler, although be prepared for demanding
hills. These are linked by narrow steep streets which are challenging to
push yourself up unassisted – some are too steep to descend safely!
The pavements are made from granite and basalt mosaic cobbles, which
provide a rough and difficult passage for the wheelchair. Very few kerbs
are dished, and most shops and restaurants have stepped entrances. If
you can, get large pneumatic front wheels – the thin rubber coating on
my small hard wheels literally disintegrated after a few days. I suspect
that a motorised wheelchair would have great difficulty exploring the
streets. Down near the marina there is a network of streets that are
almost flat. There is a lovely long walk by the seashore that is
completely wheelchair friendly.
did not find a restaurant with accessible toilets, but we did not try
very many – eating in the hotel mostly. The Blandy’s
Wine Lodge is accessible from Rua San Francisco although the
hill was too steep for me to manage without assistance. They have a
wheelchair toilet and the tasting rooms are accessible. The tour is not
although you can get in to see the slide show. Worth a visit. There is a
small shopping centre on the southern side of Avenida Arriaga
which has an accessible toilet. We didn’t explore the old town
where all the nice restaurants are rumoured to be….save that for
Madeira, and Funchal, sound challenging for the wheeler that is because
they are. But don’t let that stop you visiting. I certainly intend to
I list the hotels and restaurants we used:
Lombo dos Serrőes, Estreito do Calheta (tel: +351 291 820 040). Lovely
intimate accommodation in a recently restored old house in a vineyard.
Access to the house itself is impossible. The options are a soft very
steep bank to a garden and two crude narrow steps, or 5 large crude
stone steps. Vineyard staff will assist whichever route you choose. I
choose to be carried down the five steps when accessing the house, and
to get out of the chair and drag myself across the small garden and up
the hill to leave the house. Not for the faint-hearted! The house itself
is on two levels. The lower level is inaccessible and so, therefore, is
the pool. The upper level is comfortable and contains bedrooms, the
living room and the sitting room. Only the largest en-suite bathroom is
big enough to take a wheelchair. The bath is a standard bath. Despite
the difficulties of access the house was worth the visit. The atmosphere
is relaxing and intimate, food is good and gives a sense of
home-cooking. A nice touch was a cake for my birthday which occurred
while I was staying there. The staff are very courteous and helpful and
the lady who runs the place is extremely friendly and completely fluent
in English. I would strongly recommend this place to anyone who can
mange to go up and down a few steps. It is, to be honest, a bit too
challenging if you have no walking ability at all unless you are
prepared to get out of the chair and work! A final point – you will
need a car to get to the house. The access lane through the vineyard and
the roads are too steep and rough to consider wheeling there.
Plaza Resort Madeira,
Estrada Monumental, 175-177, 9000-100 Funchal, Madeira (Tel:
+351-291-717702). This is a five star modern resort, opened in February
2000. It has 2 adapted bedrooms which are of the highest standard that I
have ever stayed in. The bathrooms are large and have the required
grabrails, roll-in shower etc. The room we had was large and comfortable
with a balcony and sea view. All aspects of the hotel are accessible
with the exception of the squash courts. All swimming pools (4 of them),
restaurants and so on have ramped or elevator access. The staff are
exceptionally friendly and helpful. The place is simply heavenly. It is
an extremely comfortable resort and, given the difficulties of Madeira
and Funchal for the wheelchair user,
you would be tempted not to leave the hotel at all. This would be a pity
as the outside has much to offer, but if you had to stay in just one
spot then you could not do much better than the Crowne Plaza. The prices
reflect the surroundings, though, the rack rate in September is
north side of square in Porto do Moniz. Good value, good food, friendly
service. Single step to outside seating area. Single step to interior.
The toilet is large with a wide door and a single bowl and sink. No grab
rails but plenty of room to manoeuvre.
Jardim do Mar, the restaurant in the hotel on the seaward side of the square. Steep access ramp. Level access to interior of restaurant and balcony. Small toilet with narrow door (c. 70cm/28”). Good value, good food.
could find very little information on wheelchair access before I went so
this is an effort to share my own experiences. If you have a question,
e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I will try to answer it. Top
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