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May, 2016

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Many visitors to the Portuguese island of Madeira seem to be regulars – but don’t let that discourage a first-time visitor, especially Silver Travellers. It is not compulsory to slide down the cobbled hill in a vegetable basket or hike along the hilly and rocky levadas, which seem to be among the best-known attractions; there is, thank goodness, much more to be seen and enjoyed – including the range of that famous local wine (“it’s very much nicer than beer”, as the Flanders and Swann song suggested years ago ….)

The island turned out to be an excellent location for a restful holiday, which no doubt is the reason for the regular returnees. In just over a 3 hours flight from Gatwick we were in warm sunshine in early May (though to be honest there were three days with occasional showers blowing in from the Atlantic, which we were assured is unusual in the summer months). But the tropical gardens and the abundant flowering shrubs and trees everywhere surely need at least some rain!

We stayed in the Rui Palace Hotel, on the coast about midway between the airport and the capital city of Funchal – about a 15-minutes drive from each. It was a good choice, spacious and comfortable with truly excellent, helpful and friendly staff in every department. The two spacious pools and poolside services provided the basis for a relaxing stay; and the dining room buffet offered an almost bewildering range of choices at every mealtime. The after-dinner entertainment was varied and highly professional.

The hotel provided a free shuttle bus service to and from Funchal, which proved to be a much larger city than expected. The 20-minute journey on the cable car to the peak above Funchal and the Monte Palace was the best way to see the spread of countless red-roofed houses stretching in every direction as a backdrop to the seafront hotel area. At the peak, the Monte Palace Tropical Garden is a spectacular area of 70,000 square metres dating back to the 19th century with exotic flora and mementos from many parts of the world (it deservedly became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000).

In Funchal itself, the narrow lanes of the original city are full of interest including buildings, shops and markets and the rest of the city can best be enjoyed by using the hop-on, hop-off bus service. This includes stops ranging from the famous Reid’s Hotel to the quaint, fishing village area of Camara de Lobos (where we enjoyed wonderful grilled sardines!) To go further afield in Madeira, as an alternative to taking a rented car through the twisty, mountain roads and villages, there is a wide range of very reasonably priced bus tours. So there is no reason not to see as much of the beautiful island as you wish without taking your hiking boots!


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