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Since our last three summer holidays had been touring ones, we decided to go for something a little more relaxing this year and chose Madeira. It had everything we wanted; beautiful scenery, great walking, good hotels and food and plenty to see and do. No proper beaches but that's not a problem for us. Oh, and no yobs! We booked through with Style Holidays (through Magic Breaks who offer good discounts) and chose 2 hotels, the Porto Santa Maria in the old town and the Choupana Hills Resort up in the hills, both on a B&B package. This proved to be an excellent combination. We haven't stayed in a hotel for more than 4 nights in years so it was a pleasant change not to be constantly unpacking and repacking. You'll find some links at the foot of the page. This diary is in 3 parts.

12th July 2004

We flew with First Choice Airlines (very cramped) from Bristol arriving at a deserted Funchal airport some 3 hours later. We were soon at our hotel, which was lovely and extremely well situated at the end of the Old Town, right on the seafront. Our room was a good size with a spacious bathroom (bath, shower, bidet etc) and well equipped with kitchenette and large fridge. Not that we did any catering, as we were just a couple of minutes from the dozens of good restaurants, all eagMadeira_9.jpg (88915 bytes)er to entice us to their tables. The harbour was just 10-15 minutes walk away with yet Madeira_5.jpg (62751 bytes)more choice (although a little more expensive). The hotel is new and spacious and would be an excellent choice for anyone who has trouble walking as it is in a flat part of town and has a lift. There are indoor and outdoor pools, both large and uncrowded and a spa offering a myriad of treatments. Once settled in we had a welcome meeting with our Style rep, Frances, who was very helpful and not at all pushy. We booked several trips - a jeep tour to the Western part of the island, 2 guided walks and a night at the Casino.

We ate just along the road at the O Regional where we had an excellent meal of espetada, the national skewered meat dish which is hung on wooden skewers at your table. We found that a 3 course meal with wine in this part of town cost about €60 for 2. Then we strolled along the seafront which was very pleasant and comfortably warm.

13th July

Madeira_10.jpg (85002 bytes)Madeira_11.jpg (87457 bytes)We spent the day exploring the town, full of very narrow cobbled streets and then foolishly found ourselves victims of a timeshare scam. I won't go into details, suffice to say I asked if it had anything to do with timeshare and was categorically told it wasn't. We were  taxied to the Royal Savoy Hotel to inspect their rooms - of course, it was timeshare and all the bonhomie vanished when we said we weren't interested. I had thought a company as prestigious as the Savoy group wouldn't have needed to resort to such underhand tactics. I won't be staying in any of their hotels in future. It was quite a long walk back but we went through the Parque de Santa Catarina, which was very pleasant. And we did get chance to see the tourist end of town which we wouldn't have seen otherwise, and were pleased that we were staying well away from plethora of large hotels. Then on to the harbour for a very light salad lunch. Be warned, they talk you into having far more than you want - we avoided lunch after that, delicious as it was, and tended to eat early in the evening. That night we ate in the hotel - a fish barbecue - but weren't hungry enough to do it justice! That was the only time we ate dinner there as there was so much other choice, and the restaurant did seem to lack atmosphere. 

14th July

We had an early start for our first guided walk with Madeira Explorers. At €35 each walk, per person, we thought this a little pricey but by the end of the holiday could appreciate that it was actually pretty good value. You are collected and returned to your hotel in good air-conditioned Mercedes minibuses, and sometimes that can be quite a long drive. The guides are excellent and you are provided with walking sticks if you want them. The walks are researched thoroughly and they always have alternatives worked out in case of landslides etc. in fact there was one on this very walk a week later and an alternative was taken. Below is the walk info as given on their website.

Poço da Neve (Arieiro) - Ecological Park
Leaving Funchal we drive to Pico do Arieiro from where we start the walk at Poço da Neve, an ice storage facility (shaped like a well), dug into the ground in the early part of the 19th century. We descend to the Ecological Park through the valley of Santa Luzia, Levada do Barreiro and Pico Alto. At this point we have one of the most magnificent views of Funchal and its bay. During this unusually beautiful walk, you will be able to observe some of the best examples of our local and unique flora including the very rare Madeira Rowan (Sorbus maderensis) of the Rosan family, there are only a few examples left in the wild.
Difficulty Grade: 2 - Moderate walk
Walking Time: approx. 4 hours
Distance: 10 Km

We almost ended up on the wrong walk (a 13km grade 4 difficult walk uMadeira_31.jpg (88704 bytes)p and down some mountains!) so I was glad I had my wits about me. There was a booking mix Madeira_17.jpg (66141 bytes)up but it was soon resolved. We started at the Ice House that can be seen on the left of the photo and spent a very enjoyable few hours walking, stopping for a picnic lunch halfway (where we were joined by some sheep!) The walking was quite tough in places, overgrown and steep, both up and down, but mainly down. Some of the time we were walking alongside a levada, levadas being old water courses that can be found all over the island. I'd have liked more time to stop for photos but as I was just about the slowest walker, I didn't like to keep stopping in case I couldn't catch up! By the end, when we had a very long and steep walk downhill, my knee was in agony and I struggled to finish. I was out of practice and it's not often we get chance to walk in such hilly terrain at home. In all, we had descended roughly 600-800 metres on foot during the walk. At the end of the walk we were taken to a lovely restaurant for a beer, where we sat on the terrace overlooking Funchal. Beer had never tasted so good! Back at the hotel, we relaxed in the jacuzzi and pool. That night we ate at the A Muralha, the closest restaurant to the hotel. Sore feet! We ate the local fish, espada, traditionally served with cooked bananas. Very good too and the bill was under €50.

15th July

Today we went on the cable car, which is just a couple of minutes from the hotel. It goes up to Monte and back - you can book one way or return. We could see the Oriana in the harbour and shared a cable car with a couple of her guests who had until 3.30pm to explore Madeira - not enough!

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The journey was good, with stunning views across Funchal and the hills. We decided to go to Monte Palace Gardens, and they were well worth the effort involved to going up and down hundreds of steps. My calves were very stiff after yesterday's walk, and I found the steps painful! This is one of the loveliest gardens I have seen and I've had to restrain myself from including too many photos. There was an excellent exhibition of African sculpture and another of crystals and precious stones - very unexpected. Madeira has so many beautiful flowers and the gardens were full of them. There is also a series of ornamental ponds full of koi carp, waterfall, oriental garden, Madeira wine tasting at the café and so on. 

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Then we walked up to the church, watching people being transported back down the hill in wicker baskets, a traditional form of transport for the area. We didn't really fancy it although it's not as unsafe as it looks. Mind you, you do share the road with passing traffic which was a surprise to us. We came back on the cable car and then walked along to the harbour to watch the Oriana departing. It's huge, dwarfing the island's hotels.

In the evening we went to the Casino for a 'Night on the Town'. Not usually our cup of tea but it came with dinner and so we thought it'd make a change. The floor show lasted around an hour and was OK - singing and dancing, supposedly of West End & Broadway songs, but there weren't too many of them. The food was surprisingly good. We moved on to the casino where I played Blackjack and made €30 profit on a €100 stake, not bad in half an hour. It more than covered our taxi fares there and back.            

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Style Holidays    Magic Breaks    Hotel Porto Santa Maria    Choupana Hills Spa & Resort   Madeira Tourism    Madeira Island  Madeira Explorers  Monte Palace Garden    Orchid Garden    Madeira Birds 



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