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Winter Sun in Madeira

By Ignacio Foley , 12 February 2019

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Having been at Kirker Holidays for more than a decade, I have travelled to Portugal several times and enjoyed the hospitality of the people and exploring its different regions – but I had not yet reached the island of Madeira. I was aware of its temperate climate and wonderful botanical gardens but I wasn’t prepared for how wonderful and diverse it really is. In 2019 the island celebrated 600 years since it was first discovered by two sea captains in the early 15th century, and today it is still a remarkable island to arrive at from the air or sea. The approach into Madeira gave me a good idea on how spectacular the geology is of the island. The mountain peaks, which do get snow in winter, are striking.

We were met by our Kirker driver and given a very warm welcome before being driven to our hotel. I was very lucky to be staying at the famous Belmond Reid’s Palace Hotel (pictured above) – an institution on the island. The hotel has a wonderful palace wing, with a terrace overlooking the Bay of Funchal where they serve their famous afternoon tea. They also have access to the sea where I braved the December water temperature (I would describe it as ‘fresh’ – definitely an invigorating experience).

We then enjoyed lunch in the Lido area, a beach suburb of Funchal, before taking a tour of the city itself. Funchal has a very pretty old town near to the modern city and marina and we managed to visit the biggest market (Mercado dos Lavradores) where the traders allowed us to sample local fruits and nuts associated with Christmas, and also the fish market where they were preparing a local delicacy called Espada. In December, with the temperate climate, we were able to enjoy the fun of Christmas Markets without the cold – and sampled more local treats including the rum-based ‘Poncha’ which certainly kept the conversation flowing. We also saw a family-run lace factory, which is still a very big tradition on the island and the workers were only too pleased to show us round.

An audience with the President of Madeira was an unexpected highlight, and he reminded us to visit the old canals, known as levadas in the mountains and to try the Wicker Toboggan known as ‘Monte Sledge’ – which we promptly did, and enjoyed very much, as well as meandering through the side streets of the mountain suburbs. The day was completed with a Madeira wine tasting at the Blandy Cellars in the heart of Funchal.

The following day we went to the Palheiro Estate located overlooking the Bay of Funchal. Here we visited the Casa Velha do Palheiro. This is a Relais & Chateaux country house hotel, part of the botanical gardens which form the Palheiro Estate, where many affluent locals also have their own private villas – you will not be disappointed with the views of the bay. The temperature was cooler and there was less humidity compared to the centre of Funchal, so I can imagine this is very attractive as a retreat.

Half way down towards Funchal is another favourite Kirker hotel called the Jardins do Lago. Again, this hotel is surrounded by lovely botanical gardens, with a wonderful pool area. The Manor House with its beautiful wooden floors and garden vistas also has lovely public areas for those cooler months of the years. We had a delicious lunch by the pool – something I certainly don’t do in December here in the UK.

Overall the Island really surprised me and on my next visit I’d love to take advantage of the beautiful walks around the peaks and return to the levadas and the dramatic scenery of the interior.

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