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Holiday on Madeira - 11/10/15





'Pearl of the Atlantic'


Madeira island forms part of an archipelago which includes the island of Porto Santo, and the uninhabited Desertas islands.  Approximately 53 kms in length and 23 kms wide, this volcanic island is located in the North Atlantic ocean.  The climate is considered to be sub-tropical with average temperatures of 24° C in the summer, and 17° C in the winter.  It is no surprise then that it's so popular as a holiday destination, especially with Europeans trying to escape the cold, dark days of winter.  Throughout the year, cruise liners make Funchal's recently extended harbour a stop-off point but there is so much to be explored on Madeira, I often felt that the passengers were 'missing out' during their whirlwind one-day tours of the capital.


Keith and I first visited Madeira several years ago after a tragic double bereavement and were amazed to see the 'before and after' photos of ourselves. The stress and unhappiness of life at that time had melted away, so it was with this in mind that I  chose the island as the destination where we would celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary.  I was adamant.   'This is not a fishing holiday' I said to Keith.  'Of course not' he replied, smiling in the knowledge that he had already packed his travel rod!


I didn't want a package holiday for this special occasion as there were several Hotels I wanted to try, so I booked everything myself using the internet.  Our previous stay was at the world-famous Reids Hotel in Funchal, a stately establishment which has been the destination of the rich and famous.  Former guests include Sir Winston Churchill who famously painted watercolours in the nearby fishing village of Camara do Lobos.


I chose three Hotels; the Vidamar; Casa Velha do Palheiro and The Cliff Bay Hotel; all five star, and each very different from the other. So I'll give a brief overview, beginning with the Vidamar.


Hotel:              Vidamar Resorts Madeira, Estrada Monumental No.175-177

                        9000-100 Funchal - Portugal

                Airport transfers not included.



     Travel: British Airways flight from London Gatwick to Funchal, Madeira, approx. 3hrs.45mins. 
     Pre-flight Hotel and parking: Holiday Inn,
 Gatwick Airport.


First impression of the Vidamar is that it's a smart Hotel, but it has the clinical feel of a modern airport. Reception and guest relations' staff are clearly kept very busy and there was no warm welcome; just an efficient check-in.  However, on entering room 306, we were touched to see a bottle of champagne, courtesy of our daughter Jenny and a chocolate gateaux, compliments of the management.  What a lovely surprise that was and very welcome after our flight from London and the unexpected heat of late afternoon.


Our room was air-conditioned and reasonably spacious, with a balcony which overlooked the gardens and down into the restaurant.  This meant that we were visible to diners.  We could also see into the gym on the ground floor, where incredibly fit individuals practised 'Boxercise' - quite exhausting.  The view from the balcony also looks back onto the main Hotel rooms which have been built in the style of a cruise ship. 

It wasn't particularly busy whilst we were there but I wouldn't like to stay in high season as the room and balcony would be overlooked by the other guests and proximity to others means that you can smell people smoking cigarettes on their balconies, and hear them talking.  However, a definite plus for this room was the side view of the sea.


The highlight of any stay for me is the food.  I love to cook, but I also appreciate good food cooked by someone else!  Accommodation was on a half board basis which allowed us to 'dine around' in the three other restaurants located in and adjacent to the Hotel.  Breakfast and dinner were in the main restaurant which was buffet service but the quality of food and presentation were a disappointment and need improving.  Waiting staff in the restaurant were pleasant and hardworking but having sampled the food, we decided to try the other restaurants. 
Here, the staff were polite and completely unfazed by the fact that we mixed up the bookings and turned up on the wrong nights.  Best of all was the Sushi restaurant which was the culinary highlight of our stay at that Hotel.  The entire experience in that restaurant was a joy; from the setting and ambience, to the food and impeccable service with a smile.  We couldn't fault it.  Would we stay at the Vidamar again?  Maybe.  Would we eat in the Sushi restaurant again?  Most definitely.


Finally, and because this wasn't a fishing holiday, I'd almost forgotten that during our stay at Vidamar, Keith managed to find a specialist food shop where he bought frozen prawns and a loaf of bread.  Later, whilst lazing in the Hotel's infinity pool, I looked down onto the jetty where he was happily fishing.  He'd attracted a small crowd which included a young bikini-clad blonde who appeared fascinated as he caught fish at almost every cast.  She borrowed his rod and tried to catch a fish and when we met later, thanked him and said she'd enjoyed it so much she was thinking of taking up fishing.  What a 'babe magnet' that rod turned out to be!


My Rating:       ****

Food:                **** (Tip: pre-book the 'dine-around' option and the Sushi restaurant)

Bed Comfort:   ****

Welcome:         **



Next stop:


The Casa Velha do Palheiro, Rua da Estalagem, No. 23, 9060-415, Madeira, Portugal  T: 351 291 790 350

A Relais & Chateux hotel.


I booked a two-night stay at the Casa Velha do Palheiro Hotel which is located high in the hills on the Palheiro Estate and adjacent to the golf course. Transfers to and from Funchal are complimentary so there are no worries over access and this small Hotel's location could not have been more different from that of the Vidamar.

Set in the Palheiro Gardens which are open to the public, this small Hotel has a welcoming country-house feel and from the moment we arrived, we were made to feel 'at home' by Catia, the receptionist, and the Hotel's General Manager, Celeste Ringertz.  There was an unhurried and therefore relaxing feel to our check-in and Catia took the time to tell us about the Hotel and its facilities before we were shown to our spacious room, No. 10, on the ground floor (easy access for anyone with a mobility problem). 


I won't spend too much time describing the Hotel as you'll find everything you need to know on their website, but for us, Casa Velha has so many pluses which include its peaceful location and history.  (Ask the charismatic maitre d'hotel, Luis Emmanuel to show you the photo album which has photographs of members of our Royal Family when they visited the Hotel).

The gardens are beautiful, even in October and in season, are renowned for their 200 year-old Camellia trees.
  I was particularly fascinated to see the different species of trees from around the world, which thrive in the sub-tropical climate of Madeira and Keith was able to photograph the fabulous migrant butterfly, the Monarch which, after a long chase and much to my delight, settled on my hand.

At Casa Velha there is a charming tea room, a garden room in which to relax; levada walks from the grounds, a fitness room and outdoor and indoor pools (small) and a spa where I enjoyed a very relaxing massage.
  Add to this afternoon tea served in the library; excellent food and impeccable service from Luis Emmanuel and you are sure of a memorable stay. 

And finally, to my delight, not a fishing rod in sight although the Hotel does have its own boat and organises fishing trips from Funchal.

Fortunately for me, our two-night stay didn't allow time for that!  Would we stay there again?  Most definitely. 

My rating:       *****

Bed comfort:   ***

Food:               *****

Welcome:        *****



Final location on this trip:


The Cliff Bay, Estrada Monumental no. 147, 9004-532, Funchal, Madeira, Portugal (a relatively easy and level walk into Funchal)

Bom dia - getting into the swing of things by now and learning a little Portuguese, we arrived at The Cliff Bay courtesy of Casa Velha.  Located on the same road as Reids and the Vidamar, this five star hotel is everything the Vidamar needs for its rating. Reception staff were welcoming and informative and because we arrived early and our room was not ready, we were treated to a complimentary drink in the poolside bar, in addition to the glasses of fizz on check-in.


We were also given a complimentary upgrade to room 506 which is accessed by a lift, and has lovely harbour views from the balcony and on our anniversary, a chocolate dessert for two, topped with gold was delivered to our room, compliments of the Michelin-starred restaurant, Il Gallo d'Oro.


This hotel has just the right amount of luxurious informality to ensure that our stay was relaxed and enjoyable.  The staff are friendly and helpful and the buffet menu is of a good standard but the icing on this particular celebratory cake was the option to dine in Il Gallo, the only Michelin-starred restaurant on the island.  This holiday experience was superb and is one of the reasons why I've already booked our next stay there during the island's Flower Festival in April 2016.  Can't wait.  Oh, and on the fishing front, Keith fished from the Hotel's jetty and took a day's fishing trip on 'Our Mary' although he didn't manage to catch a Wahoo.  Next time - maybe!


My rating:       *****

Food:               ***** (Recommended: Il Gallo d'Oro for fine dining)

Bed comfort:   *****

Welcome:        *****


Tips:                Look at purchasing one of the special packages on offer at the Hotel.  This can be done when booking, or at check-in. Transfers from the airport are at an additional cost and can be booked with the Hotel, or through another provider, which is more cost-effective.




Explore with one of the several island tours on offer or take a trip on the Yellow or Red 'hop-on-off' local bus service.  For a 30 minute film on the history of the island, visit the Madeira Film Experience located in the Marina shopping centre and if you enjoy music, visit the Auditorio Centro de Congressos Casino da Madeira to listen to the established and heart-warmingly nurturing Mandolin Orchestra.  Weekly concerts are held there.  Added to which, there are gondola rides to the tropical gardens, volcanic caves in the north; levada walks and of course Blandy’s world-famous Madeira wine.  All in all, Madeira is a great holiday destination at any time of the year.


For Keith's fishing diary of this and other experiences, click on this link:-