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Review: Funchal


Funchal, Portugal

Madeira Birthday Magic

  • By SilverTraveller soopernan

    35 reviews

    Ribbon Ribbon

  • Oct 2009
  • Wife

126 people found this review helpful

Madeira has a wonderful climate throughout the year, not too hot in summer, and nice and warm during the winter. It’s a large island off the coast of Africa, just over three hours flight from the south of England, and ideal for a short or longer break for the more mature traveller.

Pam and I had visited eight times at the last count, never during summer because we love our out of season breaks, and as she celebrated a big birthday not that long ago we returned to our favourite island, and favourite hotel, the four star Girassol, which is close to the capital Funchal, going away from the airport, and close to the Lido complex. Madeira is part of Portugal, therefore gaining from membership of the E.U., which has thrown money at the island. When we first visited in the 1980s the airport runway was a nightmare, with the pilot having to screech on the brakes, avoiding the looming cliffs. Now the landing strip has been extended no such problems, with a calm and peaceful arrival that sets the tone for your visit. Unless you already own an apartment or time share, it is sensible to book a package including the flight and hotel. There are so many options away from the obvious and always publicised Reid’s Hotel. Okay, if you must, wear your best clothing for tea on the terrace, but only once, as there are so many more better ways to enjoy your break. We know the island quite well, but if we want to take a tour, avoid the company reps and book an independent taxi. Ask the man if he speaks English – most of them do, but there are the exceptions – and negotiate the price in euros beforehand. We don’t tend to book and go the same day, but reserve for tomorrow, and when arranging work out the itinerary. Yes, he will take you to the tourist areas, but that’s where you want to go, aren’t they? And it can be the same price as the coach trips, only you get to stay as long as you want to, not the coach driver. Lunch is usually at a restaurant not usually used by the coaches, as it could be inaccessible. The levada walks are excellent. These are water channels that are used to bring the water from the high central region to lower down the slopes, and the walks are alongside. Make sure you have plenty of water, sensible shoes, and a picnic for lunch. Read the guide books beforehand so you go on the walk that you are best suited to. The first time don’t think you can do more than you can, build up to that, as the paths can be narrow, steep, and problematic for those with mobility problems. Take a camera, as you will see fantastic views and spectacular colourful scenery.

All the restaurant waiters speak good English, and be prepared for a complimentary glass of the local Madeiran fortified wine. Pam doesn’t usually like it, so I cope with hers. The Portuguese almost sparking white Vino Verde is a speciality and well worth trying. Not a lot of red wine, but sufficient to satisfy all but the discerning palate with the expensive taste. Mind you, we went to a quinta restaurant for her birthday meal, and enjoyed two bottles of wine at 50 euros each, so it is possible to spend the money on wine without difficulty. A couple of times we have gone half board, and then requested if we can have the main meal as lunch round the pool, which has been agreed without problem. We tend to take plenty of reading material, sit by the pool, have a coffee and brandy about 10.30am, snack-ish for lunch, and then main evening meal.

Newspapers are the European edition printed the same day, and flown in about 10am, except for Sundays. You don’t get the colour supplements. Time share sellers are banned, but in reality do exist, but easy to resist. We have been to the casino, which is a little small, but it does have a floor show with dinner which is very good indeed and quite reasonable. Take your passports with you if you want to gamble. It’s a requirement. We have never been on an inland jeep safari, or whale watching. Not inexpensive, but very good experiences I am told. When you walk down to Funchal harbour, expect the waiters to try to entice you into their restaurants. The speciality is espada, meat on a skewer, and espedata, the local fish. Of course, there are other things on the skewer. Bananas are the main fruit, and are cooked in many ways. We always tip the pool captain at the beginning of our holiday. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that he has to deserve it to get it, but we find that when we give him say 20 euros on the first day then he remembers you, and rushes out with the sunbeds and parasols. Don’t forget that there are usually two of them, give the senior the greater. So, to summarise, don’t expect an island full of night life, kids clubs, bananas being towed behind a speed boat (eat them, not play with them), or burning hot sun that you have to leave before mid day. What you do get is a civilised island, quite reasonably priced if you are careful, peaceful walks, culture, and a population that is pleased to see the British, not just for their spending power. And I haven’t even mentioned the toboggan ride down the cobbled streets in a wicker basket, or the cable car ride that is so serene, or the sight seeing bus trip that is very reasonably priced……or……….or………visit, enjoy, and be prepared to be entranced.


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This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.

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