Holiday In Madeira

The Forster family head out to sea

Clare and Justin, our daughter and son-in-law, have very stressful jobs, both working away from home for much of the time, and they desperately wanted a holiday. When they finally decided on mutually convenient dates, the criteria were warmth, quiet and somewhere to swim. Joan and I had a special anniversary coming up so they kindly asked us if we would join them. After much searching and deliberating, we came up with Madeira.

Madeira is situated 450 miles west of Morocco in the Atlantic Ocean, some 350 miles north of the Canaries. It is a volcanic island with many mountains packed into its’ 45 mile long by 15 miles wide. This became immediately apparent on our arrival as we collected the hire car at the airport. We were staying on the very rugged north side of the island, and we were some 14 miles from the airport as the crow flies. “It should only take about an hour and a half”, said our garage man. We assumed his English wasn’t up to much, but it did in fact take an hour and forty minutes before we reached Arco de Sao Jorge.

This was the first thing that impacted upon me – the roads. I have a terrible head for heights (so has Clare), and switchbacking up and down the mountains, driving along the edge of 2,000 foot plus drops with only a two-foot high wall meant that I spent most of the arrival journey looking at the floor. I did gradually adjust during our stay and appreciated the beauty of the island. Flowers grow wild everywhere and it was lovely to see “busy lizzies” along the roadsides. The mountains are all verdant with trees, mostly of the laurel genus, growing everywhere and vines cling to every spare piece of ground.

We stayed on a new development of eighteen chalets built on the site of a six-acre botanical garden. We looked out onto tropical flowers, banana trees, orange trees, passion fruit and other tropical shrubs. We had two swimming pools on the complex which was just as well as the island doesn’t boast any beaches that are suitable for swimming. We self-catered but were supplied daily with fresh bread, eggs, cheese, butter, preserves, etc. The village had an excellent small restaurant, which we frequented regularly, plus three small shops where we could buy most things. In short, we had struck lucky in all ways.

We spent most of the days driving around the island. It may be small but it does take a long time to get anywhere. There are many attractions to visit, botanical and tropical gardens, caves, beauty spots, and the capital Funchal. This is one of the few places that is at sea level and a stopover point for many of the long-cruise liners. The town itself is typically Old Portuguese with many museums, churches, including the cathedral, and a wonderful daily market. There are some very up-market shops and is the place where most people stay when they visit Madeira. There is a very good bus network as well as fleets of taxis, all clean and very well kept.

The climate is superb. Apart from one tropical thunderstorm, we had sun all day every day with temperatures varying from 24 degreesC to 25 degreesC. Apparently, the lowest it ever gets is 19 degreesC in January and even at 5,000 ft., there was no chill. As already mentioned, the views are marvellous and the island is a photographer’s dream.

To summarise, we had an excellent holiday made possible by Justin doing the driving. Except in Funchal, the pace of life is very slow and the people are friendly and welcoming. The road system is being improved by leaps and bounds and many new tunnels are at present under construction. It is not an expensive place to stay and with the pound being so strong against the euro, one’s money goes that much further. If we could arrange another duty driver, we would certainly return to Madeira – the climate and the grandeur make it the most relaxing place for the perfect holiday.

Graham Forster

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