To be honest the only thing I knew about Madeira before my recent visit, is that there is a cake of that name and that they make wine, which I always presumed to be a sickly sweet desert style drink. So, I was venturing in to completely unknown territory when I jumped on British Airways’ first flight from Gatwick to the island.
Flying over the island, you can’t fail to notice how green it is, blanketed with vibrant colours and deep valleys, sugar coated in places with white and pastel painted homes and terracotta roofs stretching up the hillsides.
Arriving at the very cosmopolitan city of Funchal, it was noticeable how very proud of their country the locals are.There is a calmness and pride in the clean streets and even in the busiest areas the place is spotless. The Old Town’s narrow cobblestone streets are lined by historic buildings, some dating back to the 15th century, and the area is full of life and spirit with a variety of shops, bars and restaurants. The “Arte de Portas Abertas” public art programme has transformed the Old town into a permanent outdoor art gallery, with over 200 works of art by guest artists painted on the doors of Rua de Santa Maria.
Basing myself at Belmond Reid’s Palace, A luxurious hotel set in subtropical gardens and perched dramatically on a cliff-edge overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, I felt like I had walked in to an old world glamour of movie stars and the Bratpack. With three swimming pools, spa and tennis courts placed carefully in their surroundings, so as not to spoil any of the hotel’s old school appeal, I can see why this is a place where many of the famous have stayed including Winston Churchill.
Dining that evening at the hotel’s Ristorante Villa Cipriani, overlooking the ocean and the sparkling lights meandering up the hills was a truly romantic experience and even if you are not staying at the Belmond Reid’s Palace I would suggest a visit to this restaurant.
I’m not much of a walker (other than rushing through the streets of Brighton and the occasional amble on the Downs) but Madeira offers itself up to be walked upon! Grabbing a cable car from the centre of Funchal (where a statue of football star Ronaldo resides…yes, he is from Madeira), I am confronted with the stunning views of the terraces meandering up the hillside, where homeowners risk great heights to plant their vegetables and flowers in the rich soil. I can see why this city is often described as a Garden City. They have the harmony of urban life and a rural landscape spot on.
The cable car stops at the village of Monte.Here you can try ‘basket running’. No, this isn’t making baskets but rather sitting in a large woven basket big enough for two and guided (quickly, very quickly, in fact it is quite hair-raisingly speedy), down a steep hill by two men on the back steering the basket with ropes. A little like tobogganing without the snow.
If you fancy something a little more sedate, the beautiful Mount Palace Tropical Garden in Monte is worth a visit, with more than 1,000 plants, oriental gardens and sculptures dotted everywhere, it would be easy to spend a few hours here.
From this point, you will either need sturdy legs or a car to continue your travels through the flower strewn mountains (they are honestly everywhere and of a huge variety), or the more arid and rocky Nature Reserve, Ponta de São Lourenço. Spectacular volcanic rock formations makes this place look exactly like a setting from the film The Lord Of The Rings.
All this walking works up quite an appetite and I would definitely advise stopping off at the restaurant Quinta do Furão in the village of Santana.The food here was excellent, the scenery just stunning and I managed to try quite a few different types of Madeira wine, which I have realised I have quite a taste for and it isn’t just a sweet desert wine, in fact there a quite a few types including dry or mediums and I made sure to bring back a couple of bottles on my return from duty free.
If you have any spare time, take a boat out to watch Whales or make use of the volcanic natural swimming pools. Swim with dolphins in the Marine Reserves, try your hand at windsurfing or paddle boarding….it’s all there to try. Perhaps a couple days just isn’t enough!
Prices for a stay at Belmond Reid’s Palace start from 295 Euro (£213) per night, including taxes, in a charming room with breakfast. For further information or to make a booking, call the Belmond UK Reservations team on 0845 077 2222 or visit BELMOND.COM.
British Airways offers direct flights from London Gatwick (LGW) to Funchal, Madeira (FNC) from £61 each-way, travelling Nov 1 – Feb 29, 2016. Factbox
Prices for a stay at Belmond Reid’s Palace start from 295 Euro (£213) per night, including taxes, in a Charming Room with breakfast. For further information or to make a booking, call the Belmond UK Reservations team on 0845 077 2222 or visit BELMOND.COM.
British Airways offers direct flights from London Gatwick (LGW) to Funchal, Madeira (FNC) from £61 each-way, travelling Nov 1 – Feb 29, 2016.