Madeira, Pico do Arieiro

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April, 2016

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Our flight Easyjet EZY6967 was scheduled to take off at 3.15 pm on 21st April. It did not take off until 4.00pm but that did not worry us a great deal. However the captain did say something about the weather not being good for landing in Madeira and we heard that there were crew problems hence the delayed departure. All went well until around 6.30pm when the captain said that due to storms at Funchal airport we would be landing at Lisbon and re- assessing the situation. We did this at 7.00pm so we had been on the plane for 3.5 hours by then. However we were told that we could not disembark as the captain hoped that a window for landing would present itself later. I understand that several other planes were grounded in a similar way but unlike Easyjet they decided it was not safe to take off again. Our captain told us “he would get us there tonight” and that “it should be fun” and we took off again at 9.00pm and flew down to Madeira where we circled ten times and he attempted two landings finally abandoning the attempt at midnight and decided to fly back to Lisbon where we arrived at 1.00am in the morning. It was a very frightening experience and it may be the captain’s idea of fun but it certainly not ours. We were offered a cup of tea/ coffee and a chocolate bar or crisps as a consolation prize which I think is far from adequate for such a long delay. When we did land again at Lisbon we were told the ground staff would look after us and would let us know what time the bus would pick us up to bring us back to the airport in the morning. In actual fact the ground crew never spoke to us and they raced off so the passengers struggled to keep up with them and find the coaches. When we did get on the coach we were taken to the Sheraton, a very nice hotel, who were not prepared for the passengers and no easyjet rep was there to help us so it took over an hour to check in and did not get to bed until 3.30am in the morning, all of which could have been avoided and which caused my disabled husband further pain and discomfort on top of the nearly 10 hours sitting on the plane. Needless to say the hotel had no idea of the time of pick up the next day and were still in the dark the next morning so we were unable to leave the hotel. Eventually at 12.10pm the clerk phoned and said the pickup would be in 5 minutes. We raced down but the coach did not eventually arrive until 1.05pm. Originally we were told the new flight would be 3.00pm but this was rescheduled to 4.00pm or 4.15 depending on which member of Easyjet staff you asked. It was not on the departures board as apparently it was a “rescue mission” and it eventually took off at 5.00pm and arrived 6.30pm on the Friday, virtually 24 hours late. We had lost out on a five course meal on the Thursday night and a booked day trip with a driver on the Friday.

When we did eventually arrive at the hotel, Quinta da Bela Vista in the hills above Funchal we were very pleased with it. We had a roomy and comfortable ground floor room and the hotel was full of antiques and very smart, set in wonderful gardens.. Staff were helpful and check in was smooth and quick. The first night’s evening meal was excellent – all five courses! First course a delicious vegetarian grilled vegetable quiche followed by broccoli cream soup, a small but tasty pasta dish, a soya steak and finally yummy passion fruit parfait. We had been a bit worried about the vegetarian catering as we knew there was a set menu each night but we need not have done so, the chef appeared very inventive and we never received the same meal twice, nor were we given omelettes or cheese dishes as usually happens. Top marks there! The following day’s breakfast was also excellent, plenty of fruit, a wide choice of cereals and breads and cakes, cheeses etc. The cooked part was not great as it was egg only for the veggies but there was so much other choice you did not need it anyway.

We were offered a replacement trip on the Saturday but having sat in the plane for so long we wanted to walk about so we opted to visit two of the gardens in Funchal accessible by the excellent and very scenic cable cars ( 2 routes – one up and one across the valley). The first, Monte Tropical gardens was very good and admission included a small glass of Madeira wine to try. The garden was full of exotic and wonderful plants but also lots of statuary and interesting design. It also had an excellent museum of gemstones and of African sculpture. We filled three very happy hours there and then headed off for a quick sandwich lunch on our way to the second gardens, Jardin Botanico, equally excellent with a wider range of plants, more educational but less formal. We returned to our hotel for another excellent meal and worn out by all the walking! On the Sunday we had one of our included trips with a driver for the day touring the eastern part of the island and through the centre to the very deeply hidden “nun’s valley”, Curral das Freiras. This is not a trip for those scared of heights but we enjoyed it. The small towns are pretty but it is the mountains and the views which are exceptional. We also went up to the highest point on Madeira, Pico do Arieiro which was very dramatic and we benefitted from clear blue skies and just a few drifting clouds that we were above! It was a spectacular but tiring day and the plants are amazing, clivia, protea, strelitzia, amaryllis, agapanthus, mimosa and a host of fruit and vegetable plants and trees. It truly is a gardener’s paradise on Madeira. We stopped for lunch at a traditional place but were less than impressed as it was mainly kebabs which of course were not suitable for us. We had two traditional soups but we felt they were overpriced and we were charged for the so called complimentary drinks, not a hit and we told the driver so as I think they take you to places where they get a back hander or a free meal.

On Monday we were somewhat disappointed – we had paid extra for a full day garden tour but as we had already visited two gardens the driver claimed there were only two more to visit so we could only have half a day. It was a bank holiday so there was no courtesy bus from the hotel running and the other buses were less frequent so were stuck in the hotel for the afternoon. The hotel had wonderful gardens but they do not take long to explore and it was not quite warm enough for the outdoor pool. We had to content ourselves with a meal by the pool and a rest. We are taking this up with Inspired Luxury Escapes who we booked with but found it very difficult to get through to them, they only appear to work part time ( mornings Mon to Fri.) and they do not respond to emails so not very good customer aftercare and we don’t plan to travel with them again.

The next day we went on the courtesy bus to Funchal and enjoyed wandering around the town and looking at the cathedral, museums etc. Plenty of shops and restaurants which are not too pricey and have a good choice for vegetarians ( and everyone else). The famous market is a lovely building but don’t go looking for souvenirs to take home as it is basically fruit and flowers with fish in the basement. The cafes around the market are also the most expensive in Madeira so go a bit further away for your coffee fix. You can get plenty of free fruit though, Madeira grows up to 14 different kinds of passion fruit and the traders are keen for you to try them all!

On the Wednesday we had another included trip, this time to the highest cliff on the west, Cabo Girao, which had an exciting glass floor, and over the mountains through the national park to the very pretty Port Moniz, very beautiful and with natural pools to swim in. We were surprised that with all this greenery Madeira supports very little wildlife – its largest mammal is a rabbit and there were very few small birds while we were there though we were lucky enough to see a couple of different kinds of buzzards and hawks. We also saw lots of cute wall lizards and a few butterflies but few insects in general – no mosquitoes thankfully!

We flew back on the Thursday but as our flight was not until 8.00pm we went into Funchal on the courtesy bus for a final day and spent some time in the lovely Santa Catarina gardens and also had a pleasant lunch. Our pick up from the hotel went smoothly, less so when we arrived as Easyjet did not have their bag drop open so we had to queue after all. The airport at Funchal is small but pleasant and without the very high prices you normally get charged at airports. It was strange to look out to sea from the terminal as the runway is built into the ocean. Our flight as expected was a late taking off by about ½ hour but landed on time to a snowy Edinburgh – what a shock to our systems when we had not needed a jacket all week.

We can definitely recommend Madeira and the hotel Bel Vista if you don’t mind being out of town and paying for extras such as water with your meal but try to avoid flying with Easyjet if you can.

Tina Fox

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