Recently I had the pleasure of being invited on an official Press trip to the Madeira Islands, courtesy of the Madeira Tourism Board. I must say that my perception of the place changed once I arrived there. Prior to the visit my thought was that Madeira, also the birthplace of the famous footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, was on a similar status to, say, Ibiza, Majorca or some of the other Islands which usually attract your average 18-30 clubbers known for drinking (and causing trouble) etc. Thankfully my perceptions were very wrong. Madeira is a very up market destination and is perfectly suitable for honeymooners, young couples, hikers, families and even those who want to retire away in an affluent place. Why is this all so? Well, Madeira has the perfect warm weather all year around, plenty of fresh healthy food is available (seafood, especially Tuna, is in abundance), and lovely locally made wine (the famous Madeira Wine is known the world over). Apart from these core offerings, there are also plenty of opportunities to enjoy walking, diving, snorkeling, fly-fishing or just sun bathing on white sandy beaches surrounded by clear turquoise colored waters. Madeira is also host to the popular Madeira Walking Festival, organised by Terry Marsh (who arranged the whole trip with thanks).
Having been initially discovered by Portuguese sailors around 1420, and located around 500 miles on the south west of Portugal’s coastline is the country’s most beautiful island, Madeira. Although physically the Madeira Islands, which consist of the Island of Madeira and Porto Santo Island, are located close to the African continent (around 300 miles), they are nevertheless culturally, economically, geographically and politically a strong part of Portugal. The Island of Madeira forms the main part of the archipelago, while Porto Santo Island is smaller and quieter. Although tourism on the latter island is steadily growing annually. The Madeira Islands are blessed with spectacular natural landscapes that have earned it the nickname 'Pearl of the Atlantic'.
I flew Business Class with TAP Air Portugal from London Gatwick, and the pleasant non-stop trip took just under 3 hours. There are a few things which distinguish one airline from another, and TAP’s in-flight catering is just exceptional. The food was scrumptious, was provided at the right time and of a 5-star quality. The cabin crew and the rest of the staff (even at Check- In) were very professional. If you are lucky to have a window seat (usually you can specify for one at Check -In even if you are sitting in Economy class), and provided you have a clear view, as I did, then as you approach Madeira, you will come across some wonderful views of the Desertas and also part of the capital of Madeira, Funchal. On final approach, the tight 30 degrees right hand turning into the runway reminded me somewhat of Hong Kong’s former Kai Tak Airport- with the only exception that in Madeira (thankfully) you don’t fly over any residential areas!
During the 5 day trip, I was the guest of two five star hotels (both part of the same group of hotels, The Charming Hotels Group). The first hotel was the luxurious Quinta do Monte, a hotel with an ambiance which makes you feel as if you have gone back to the Colonial days of the British. With stunning views across to the sea and the town of Funchal in the distance, the hotel had everything you would expect from a five star residence. Upon entering my enormous room, I was greeted by the sight of a complimentary bottle of sweet Maderia Wine, some complimentary food and a tempting piece of Bolo de mel (Madeira honey cake). There was also a welcome pack which contained various important leaflets and promotional material for Madeira. One of my colleagues was even luckier to have the VIP Suite, which contained a Jacuzzi and a “living room” connected to his room! The other two days were spent staying at the equally exceptional Quinta das Vistas Palace Gardens, an oasis located near downtown Funchal. If you are arriving back after a long day hiking around places such as Pico Areeiro or Rabaçal, Risco waterfall and 25 Fontes (as I did!); then a good way to relax is to take one of the body massages offered by the highly trained staff at the Quinta das Vistas Palace Gardens. Its well worth it and you will for sure feel revitalized! I highly recommend that one tops this up with a dip in the Jacuzzi or one of the two swimming pools. There’s even a Turkish bath!
Madeira also holds the world record for the biggest coastal fireworks display during the New Year, and for this reason many hotels are fully booked well in advance (we are perhaps talking months before the New Year festivities’). Its only 3 hours away from London and with such good connections to the rest of Europe, there is really nothing stopping anyone who wants to experience a truly wonderful place. It is easy to understand why many European city workers who are tired/stressed from the hustle and bustle of metropolises’ such as Paris, London or Frankfurt, would love to escape for a short relaxing break to Madeira. Even in the winter, there is plenty of warm sun around. I know for sure that after my trip I am very much tempted to go back to Maderia for quite a many weekend breaks.
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