Spend the morning jumping off cliffs into the Atlantic; the afternoon on a jeep safari through the rugged mountains, swim in natural lava pools filled by the Atlantic, abseil down 100-foot cascades, or soar above it all on a paraglider....I guess what I am trying to say is that Maderia, as a destination, may offer more than you think. It certainly has the weather, a wonderful temperate climate which offers an appealing year-round ‘English summer’ feel. Okay, that does mean cloud and rain on occasions, but the average winter temperature is 17ºC and in summer it is 25 ºC. This makes it ideal for stays from Easter through to October — hence my Goldilocks reference: Not too hot and not too cold — a story I have read recently at my daughter's bedtime!
Talking of children, the climate is a great attraction for those with little ones. Visitors can avoid the scorching 40 ºC heat of other destinations and Madeira offers a safe location with a long, warm season — plus it’s only a three hour flight away from the UK! Admittedly, only one luxury hotel, Belmond Reid's Palace, has a kids’ club, but others do welcome families and there is plenty to do for older children with a host of exciting activities. All ages can enjoy the more popular activities such as an island tour, walking along a levada (the vast network of irrigation channels with accompanying footpaths), or visits to the Madeira Botanical Garden. Located in Funchal and opened in 1960, the botanical garden also boasts a cable car ride which provides fantastic views of Funchal Bay.
Taking Afternoon Tea at the iconic Belmond Reid's Palace is another definite must-do — even if you are not staying at the hotel. Savouring the atmosphere, the tea-time treats and the picture postcard sea view from their terrace, is not to be missed. Should you, however, prefer a glass rather than the tea-cup, then head to Blandy's vineyard in Funchal to sample some of the best vintages of Madeira wines. Established in 1811, Blandy’s is the leading producer of premium, quality Madeira wine and is still family-owned. The rich, full-bodied style of Madeira wine, makes it a perfect after-dinner drink.
One day, I took a private vehicle tour across the island and was delighted by its sheer beauty and the dramatic landscapes that you discover as you venture further out from Funchal. The locals call the island ‘a Swiss cheese’ and driving around it for the day, I can see why. You can barely go fifty-metres though, it seems, but more like five-kilometres, without passing through a tunnel — the longest being 3,168m! However, my guide was keen to stress how much of an improvement this engineering feat has made to locals and tourists; "I remember before the tunnels, an airport transfer took one-and-a-half hours. Now, it's just twenty-five minutes [to Funchal]. A tour around the island would have been a two day trip, and fortunately the tunnels have left the mountain tops relatively unscarred" he commented.
Back in Funchal, I strolled down from where I was staying, Belmond Reid's Palace, to the waterfront and along to the fort at the far end of the recently completed sea-front promenade (the only good to come from the devastating floods of 2010). It was a pleasant twenty-five minute holiday stroll, maybe thirty if you don't have my long legs! As I’d worked up an appetite, I turned inland, for one block, to discover the old town’s narrow streets were bustling. Attractive restaurants and bistros spilt out onto the streets and I enjoyed walking past the enticing food smells and listening to the lively, local chatter. I also enjoyed looking at the fabulous painted doors as I wandered down and the decision of where to actually dine was a tough one!
Belmond Reid’s Palace is the ‘Grande Dame’ of the island, and justifiably so. It has sumptuous rooms and suites, superb dining options, a great kids’ club and two swimming pools, plus an ocean swimming platform — these are all in addition to the wonderful Belmond service.
A little further up the hill from the hotel, are the colourful gardens of Quinta da Casa Branca. This tranquil spot offers a modern seating area, aside a fabulous traditional Mansion house. The food here was fantastic and the service was excellent. They were putting the finishing touches to the mansion when I visited, and have created additional garden space, which will really add to the appeal of this relaxed, yet stylish hotel. My final stop was just five- minutes, by taxi from the centre of Funchal, to the charming and traditionally-styled Quinta Jardin do Lago. Originally the home to the Commander of the British Forces during the Napoleonic war, this hotel is set within two-and-a-half hectares of beautiful tropical gardens and is a haven for relaxation, enjoying breakfast outside and simply relaxing with a drink by the pool — or perhaps strolling round the mature gardens.
Madeira offered so much more than I expected; the sheer beauty of the island, the lively old town of Funchal, the breadth of activities for all ages and, of course, the great climate! It seems, that in Madeira you can have your cake and eat it!