I’ve just spent eight days away from routine on the island of Madiera. No emails, no FB, and very little writing. Well, a little writing, I was staying in a place I intend to use as the closing location in the final Daniel series book ‘Trial’, so I had to make notes didn’t I? Trial is nearing completion. I will despatch it to my editorial angel for her magic touch and then aim to publish on my birthday, the 24th of Feb. That seems a nice way to close the door on Daniel, Lauren and Bonny.
Funchal on the Atlantic island of Madeira has become a regular bolt hole for us. B has been three times but last year was my first time. We have a week’s timeshare. The timing is perfect, as Christmas approaches, we are in need of rest and above all sun! Last year at the same time, we had six days of sun, this year we had seven. The temperature was a comfortable 22c -74f.
The Residence Porto Mare, is located on Rua Leichlingen in the Lido area at the edge of Funchal. It is a big complex that includes the Porto Mare and Eden Mare Hotels, all within the Vila Porto Mare resort. I would normally run a mile from resorts of any kind and was very sceptical about taking a share here. But the apartment is located perfectly on the top floor on the end of The Residence block; completely private and silent apart from the sea sounds and an occasional loud voice from the bars nearby.
That is rare, since Funchal seems to attract mostly older people and there is therefore more decorum. No loud clubs banging out music into the night. The place is clean, well kept and has an air of understated luxury that is very restful.
One can cook for oneself or eat in one of three restaurants in the complex. There is a bewildering variety of cafes and restaurants nearby. Everything cost less than here in Ireland, even though we do share a currency, the Euro. It makes one see how heavily taxed we are here in Ireland. It’s possible to eat well and very inexpensively. The local speciality is a deep sea fish called Scabbard. Black skinned, long and sword like, it is ugly to behold and to my taste would be better left in the dark depths they drag it from. Not the best choice. Tuna is plentiful and a much better bet. Grilled meats are popular. Beef is served on a hanging steel spit like a rapier and cooked over wood. It comes all the way from Brazil but it is tasty and succulent. Vegetarians will struggle to find much other than salads here. The rich barrel aged wine for which Madeira is justly famous is wonderful, as either a sherry-like drink or better still, for cooking.
In the centre of Funchal the marina restaurants are elbow to elbow. They have waiters outside hustling and that gets tiresome. The further from the sea one gets, the fewer hustlers there are. They are polite but they don’t seem to get the idea that many are put off by the hustle. I’d never eat in a place they tried to hustle me into. We found the best places to eat to be in the narrow lanes of the old town, beyond the cable-car station. (The cable car ride up to Monte is a must.) They’ve let artists loose on all the doors here and the area is now a delightful walk-through gallery.
The island is worth having a hire-car for but you’d better be good with the clutch and low gears. Hills, hills and steep hills everywhere. The roads up the many gorges are fascinating and provide stunning views back to the sea.
The south-side of the island (Funchal side) is lush and semi-tropical, covered with either Banana plantations hacked into improbable terraces or wild Eucalypt forest. The north-side of the island is wilder, with dramatic sea cliffs and big drops if you misjudge a bend.
One warning we didn’t get before we went: They have had an infestation of African mosquitos, which may be carrying Dengue Fever. Precautions are needed. Insecticide sprays were provided by our hotel a few days after we arrived! Too late for B, who got badly bitten. We are counting the days till she is past the incubation period for the virus.
We came back refreshed having had more sun than we got during all our so-called Irish summer! I’d highly recommend Madeira – if you are of a certain age and in need of a gentle recharge.
Now for Christmas with my daughter. I’m looking forward to that.
Merry Christmas. (To all who do it.)