I decided to get out of London for a quick weekend, to catch some sun and relaxation before the mad dash to the end of the year. I was hoping to accumulate enough miles to make 1K this year, but a mess up on another flight has put it out of reach this year. I wanted to go as far as I could without leaving Europe, get some sun, spend less than 250£ on airfare, and ideally visit a country I had never been to. The Portuguese island of Madeira, with the main city of Funcheal, fit the bill.
I flew TAP Portugal for the first time, and I liked the attendants cute lime green and magenta outfits, and the safety video starring actual passengers reading the lines (very cute, surprised I haven’t seen it ripped off). A quick 4 hours from Heathrow and I landed – the airport is built on the side of the mountain, with the runway propped up on huge columns, originally over the sea, now over landfill. I’m glad I only learned of this construction until after I landed.
Funchal is a port city at the base of a mountain range. The most interesting part of the city for me was the old section. I spent most of the day time there, with its charming streets, including Rua de Santa Maria, which had a lovely gallery and the doors were all painted with different designs.
The weather was a bit overcast so I didn’t get an opportunity to take the cable car ride up to the top of the mountains, which is a highlight of the city. I had on day of solid sun – I would recommend coming back when you have definite good weather as there isn’t as much to do in the rainy weather.
I stayed in the Residences at Porto Mare, to the west of the old town and city center where the action is. I had a full apartment, which was quite nice, and if I was staying longer would be a good deal with the full kitchenette. I only ate breakfast there, but the buffet was well presented, with all the usuals, including an omelet bar and lots of fresh fruit. The spa was mediocre – even with a facial treatment (which was a challenge as the clinician couldn’t explain what she was using), they charged extra to use the steam room/sauna which were tiny.
As it was holiday time, the town really came alive at night. All throughout the town were hung different electric light designs, creating a very festive atmosphere.
I had a few good meals – Tasca Literara Dona Joana on Rua de Santa Maria was a nice spot for tapas, mostly good, slightly inconsistent. A pianist played a nice selection of ballads and show tunes as accompaniment. Taverna Da Esquina is a great fish restaurant with outside seating in the street as well as a cool room in the back. I had parrot fish for the first time, and I recommend Espada-com-banana – a local fish dish prepared with the banana sauce.
One of my favorite things to do when travelling is go horseback riding. I checked on Tripadvisor, and the top rated ‘Attraction’ was riding with Quinto do Riancho. For a very reasonable price, I was picked up (and taken back) by Paulo, and taken on a 2.5 hour ride . As it was a little off-season, I had the ride to myself. I took easy with a slow pace and took in the scenery – all in all a very relaxing ride.
Madeira is known for its sweet wines – port wine originally comes from Portugal (get it… port – Portugal.. this was news to me). I bought a few bottles of the local wine – the most popular brand was Blandy’s – they have a fun wine lodge and store (don’t buy the wine at the factory store, its cheaper in the smaller bodegas in the town). I have yet to open mine up.. I look forward to doing so soon.
In all, Madeira was a reasonably priced excursion from London, definitely on the lower-key side, which is what I was looking for. While not in any rush to go back, for a quick trip for calm sun, I’d definitely consider a summer hop over when the London grey gets to be too much.