First impressions are often so telling. Minutes from the airport I sensed the scale of the mountainous peaks and craggy cliffs with houses surrounded by blazing bougainvillea and banana leaves and villages with terracotta roofs dotted amongst the patchwork of the terraced cultivation carved out of the mountainside.
In the capital Funchal’s famous market, the ‘Mercado dos Lavradores’ I sampled prickly pears, loquats, paw paws and durians which were sliced for me to taste, including four types of passion fruit.
The flower sellers in their distinctive red and yellow striped skirts certainly stand out in their famous ‘Festa da Flor’ Flower Festival in May which is a highlight of the Madeira calendar.
The locals are open, easygoing and mellow. They have many preoccupations including huddling round a café wall to gamble at cards.
Beyond the main promenade is the magnificent salmon pink edifice Belmond Reid’s Palace (www.reidspalace.com) where I was lucky enough to stay. Founded by William Reid a Scotsman, it is one of the world’s glamorous historic grand hotels, alongside London’s Ritz, Istanbul’s Pera Palace and Havana’s Nacional. It’s steeped in history with its many distinguished guests such as George Bernard Shaw, Churchill and Thatcher.
Jazz was played one evening in the bar and a chamber orchestra performed in the ballroom the next. The scenic and stylish ‘done thing’ is to take high tea on the ‘balcony’ overlooking the amazing garden below.
A lift took me down to the seashore and to a ‘tidal pool’ that is refilled daily by the Ocean . A visual delight. A fantastic viewpoint.
With Atlantic Pearl (https://www.atlanticpearl-catamaran.com/en/atlantic-pearl/) I boarded a catamaran to see the whales, dolphins and turtles out to sea. My host and the skipper both exuded a warmth of welcome and a passionate knowledge of the mammals to come. I was very pleased to see two whales.
The Design Centre Nini Andrade Silva by 7 Funcahl’s main promenade. (http://www.ninidesigncentre.com/en/) is set high up on a second floor and is now a stylish, contemporary panoramic restaurant. With jazz tickling my ears and plump vast cushions propping me up, all my senses were engaged to prepare me for the taste of dinner to come.
My next place to stay was the Quinta Jardins do Lago (www.jardinsdolago.com). This newly converted hotel has blended harmoniously with its manor house origins with recent extensions housing many antiques. In my room, there were water seascape oil paintings, a marble bathroom floor and a balcony and verandah that made it feel like the private house it once was.
The gardens have trees with exotic names and it was the setting for my breakfast outside, by the ‘Jade Room’ .
The Portuguese phrase ‘viajou na maionese’, literally to travel in the mayonnaise, and meaning to live in a dream world summed up well my experience of the leisurely charm of Madeira.
Classic Collection Holidays (0800 047 1064; classic-collection.co.uk) offers 3 nights at Quinta Jardins do Lago and 3 nights at Belmond Reid’s Palace from £1398 per person. Price based on 2 sharing on a bed & breakfast basis, all private transfers, or car hire, and return flights from London Gatwick. Adam had further support from www.gatwickexpress.com and www.holidayextras.co.uk
Adam Jacot de Boinod.