Hubby and I visited the Island of Madeira in September 2006. We stayed in a four star hotel, for two weeks on a Bed and Breakfast basis. Our accommodation was the Oasis Atlantic Hotel in Canico De Baixo.
Having not travelled abroad for a few years, we wanted a holiday that would live up to our expectations. This one did and some.
When we were researching a suitable holiday destination, we had decided that we wanted somewhere:-
- Not too lively
- With good scenery
- A nice hotel
- Good weather.
Despite reading negative reviews of our accommodation, after our return, we had been pleased with it and had no complaints.
We purchased an Insight Guide to Madeira, which was a hefty Â£16.99 from Waterstones bookstore. It was, however, a very good book, gave background history and details of each of the regions of Madeira. I was not sure when reading about Madeira whether we would like the island or not, but we did. In fact, we loved it.
Madeira is an Island off the North West coast of Africa.
It is situated in the Atlantic and is Portuguese. Madeira has a sub-tropical climate and so a beautiful array of flora and fauna. It is a non-active volcanic Island. The temperature is consistently in the seventies, day and night. I think this is true for most of the year.
We flew from Manchester airport and the flying time was about 3-31/2 hours. After a lovely flight, with clear blue skies all the way, we saw our destination in the distance. It was covered in cloud, which was the first we had seen that day. This turned out to be normal for an early morning.
As you come in to land at Funchal airport, you realise that the runway is over the sea. The runway has been extended and is on supports. It was a bit of a hairy experience, twisting and turning at such a low level to get to the runway but it was quite exciting.
At first sight, Madeira looks a bit barren and rocky. This is because one of the first sights you see is Sao Laurence's rocky headland, which is very barren and brown. There are three uninhabited islands off the south east coast of Madeira, which you can visit, if you are into wildlife. There is dolphin and or whale spotting on the way. These are the Islands Desertas.
There is also Porto Santo, a much larger Island off the northeast coast. It is smaller than Madeira, though. Porto Santo has a long golden, sandy beach 5 miles or 8 km in total length. Lots of visitors travel over for a day just for this beach, as sandy beaches are rare on Madeira.
In the two weeks, we were visiting Madeira, we only had one rainy day, and that was spectacularly so. There were rivers of rain flowing down the streets. We had read the rainier season was October to November, which is why we picked quite early in September.
Earlier in the year, holidays are more expensive. Madeira is not a cheap place to holiday, although the prices for food and the like are not too bad when you get there.
We travelled to the Island's capital, Funchal, quite a few times on the Hotel's courtesy bus and the local bus. It is only 1/2 an hour from Canico de Baixo. The courtesy bus took the motorway and was very quick. The local buses take the back roads, so hang on to your hat. The views on these roads are spectacular though.
The island is very well maintained throughout. The levadas, canals, carry water from the hills, in the north of the island, so that there is never a shortage of water. You can walk along these Levadas yourself or on organised walks where the scenery is special.
Canico village has a pretty square with a church, a few shops and supermarkets. There are good views from the village looking down to the coast. Although you could walk to the village from the hotels, it is quite a walk and all uphill. We opted for the easy way, the local bus there and a pleasant stroll back down, with the occasional beer and ice cream for refreshment.
Garajou has a replica statue, of the one of Christ on mainland Portugal and in Rio de Janeiro. This statue is much smaller than the original, but is well worth a view. The statue was not well signposted though and took some finding.
It is about 30-40 foot high, facing the sea, on a very scenic headland. Apparently, non-Catholics who had died were thrown from this cliff. Looking to the right from here there is a great view of Funchal and looking to the left a good view towards Canico de Baixo.
When we visited Funchal, we found that there were quite a few museums and galleries. There is a replica of the Santa Maria, in the harbour, which has daily excursions.
From Funchal we rode up to Monte, on the cable car and the views were fabulous. You can find the cable cars near the bus station in Funchal. Once there, we went to visit a tropical garden. There were some beautiful flowers in there but make sure that you have water with you. The cafe is hard to find. A map is supplied with your entrance fee.
The gardens have a reasonable three-storey museum, come gallery, incorporated in them. On display, there was African Art, Modern sculpture and South American minerals. The entry fee was included in the original admission price.
From Monte, you can take another cable car if desired, in a different direction, to another tropical garden. There is also a church and street vendors, a restaurant and a cafe in Monte.
Having spent a good few hours, we came back via the cable car, for which you can pay a return fare. This works out cheaper than two single tickets. If you are feeling a little daring try, a toboggan ride back into Funchal. It is something a bit different and one for the album. However, it is a little pricey and only takes you about half way into Funchal.
There is an open top bus if you fancy exploring Funchal this way. As Funchal is the capital of the Island, it is where most Madeirans live. It is a sprawling place with a large lido, many shops, museums, banks, a casino, the famous Reids Hotel, good restaurants and tourist places. On the waterfront there is even a boat, which belonged to the Beatles It is set in concrete these days and is a cafÃ©. One cafe has little boats, where you are served, floating around a cafe pontoon.
Near the casino is a very pretty park with good views. The ferries, which take you to Porto Santo or mainland Portugal, arrive near here. You can also take a helicopter from here to Porto Santo, if you prefer. As already mentioned, this sister island is not as green as Madeira, but has miles of long sandy beach. You will only really find volcanic beaches on Madeira and a few man-made ones.
Do not be afraid to barter for goods on Madeira, as most small shops are open to offers. The local buses round the island depart from Funchal and you can get a timetable here. Bus prices are reasonable. We did not use taxis but were told they were good value also, but to make sure that we got a price first.
The traffic is quite bad in Funchal and the pace a bit hectic. There are plenty of things to do and see, statues and architecture included. There is a good fruit, vegetable, fish and meat market in Funchal, which is well worth a visit. You can see fresh Tuna fish and the local Espada. Espada is an ugly looking, long black eel type fish of the scabbard family. It comes from deep in the Atlantic Ocean. It looks revolting but, when boned and cooked, is delicious to eat.
You can also visit Blandy's famous name sherry house in Funchal, if you like this sort of thing.
Local trips with companies such as Turitans from Canico are good value. They are much cheaper than the ones the travel agents sell.
We did find the island was not quite the British haunt that we had been lead to believe. There were plenty of German visitors and people from mainland Portugal also.
The locals were lovely and very helpful. They all speak good English but if you can manage the odd obrigada, thank-you, or bom dia, good morning, you will get a great reception.
Apart from food and drink, the local specialities are cane woven into baskets, embroidery and knitwear. You will find shopping for clothes, or say camera cards, competitive and there are many modern shops in Funchal.
The scenery is consistently spectacular, the weather glorious and the people warm and friendly.
Although all age groups seem to enjoy Madeira I feel it is more an island for the 30 upwards age range. Someone told us that, the average age of British visitors also.