Harry’s Ramblings. Idyllic Madeira holiday
Madeira is an island in the Atlantic Ocean, about a thousand miles off the northern coast of Africa. Don’t ask me to be specific, it’s not particularly relevant.
Many thousands of years ago, (number unimportant) it erupted into the sea as a volcano, hence no beaches, lots of mountains, lots of hills, and a soil ideal for lush vegetation.
Obvious point, but as an island there are limited methods of getting there. Cruise ships dock in Funchal harbour, the main landing point on the island, for the day, but the season is more outside the summer months. The island relies on tourists throughout the year.
Since 1990, Pam and I have been there for a holiday on twelve occasion, a further three for the day. We have always stayed at the same hotel, sad I know, predictable, but it’s only human nature when you want to return where you are comfortable. I even remember the room number, reception request usually being granted.
The Girassol is a family run four star hotel about a mile walk west past Reid’s Hotel, which is the posh place to stay, let alone have tea. We have never walked inside, it is just not for us. Our clothes would give us away, we spend carefully instead of excessively like George and Amal Clooney. Would they feel comfortable in the Girassol? No. Would we feel comfortable in Reid’s? No.
The staff are constant, remember you, the standards are high, and I am receiving no incentive for writing such nice words. They are just true.
Madeira has developed so much over the past thirty years, opposite our hotel used to be banana plants stretching right down to the sea, with wild dog families inhabiting, howling late into the night. Now there are apartment hotels. Beyond the Girassol going west used to be a country road, linking fishing villages. Now more conurbations have sprung up, no end in sight.
But the pleasant thing we have noticed over the years is the fact that despite constant building, it is still the most idyllic holiday location we could possibly imagine. We were in our early forties when we first arrived, could have gone to Cyprus, made it to Madeira instead. The now extended runway was very short, the pilots had to have a special licence to land because of the strong winds coming off the sea, with the high hills alongside, creating a vacuum.
Even now, on Monday which is regarded as the main change-over day, the winds seem to be worse, flights are sometimes cancelled despite the runway being extended. Initially, on the flight home, the weight of the fuel plus passengers plus luggage meant it couldn’t take off and get home to the UK safely, so the adjacent island of Porto Santo with the ex-NATO airbase and fuel reserves had to be visited for top-up to get the flight back to the UK.
1990 saw the journey from airport to the east of Funchal to hotel take an hour, single carriageway roads when if a local wanted to overtake, they would just toot their horns, and then go. Frightened the hell out of me. The first year we hired a car for three days, after half a day I parked it up and have never driven there since. But it has improved considerably, with dual carriageways and lots of EU money thrown at development.
The Girassol is next door to a lovely typical Madeiran restaurant called Proa Azul, which resembles a boat and has our nickname of Submarine. Lunch time finds the staff dressed in sailor outfits, evening more formal. Reasonably priced, good local food, especially the fish. The same proprietor and staff, we have decided that we are growing old together.
They suffer, because of the building development. In the past three years, there have been four new restaurants nearby, but no more influx of tourists. The numbers have maybe improved slightly, but not sufficiently to warrant such capital spending. I do wonder if there is an illegal culture supporting the unwarranted growth.
Madeira has had a lot of EU money thrown at it on capital programmes, such as a comprehensive cable car system to the higher village of Monte, then onward to the Botanical Gardens, which have been there for ever.
It is a Portuguese island, always neutral, which didn’t stop a German submarine going into the harbour in 1917 and bomb indiscriminately. Portugal was a military dictatorship until 1974, when the general was overthrown, Madeira just carried on, unaffected.
Bananas are grown throughout the year, local avocados are delicious, the neat rum from local sugar cane is lethal even in small amounts, so don’t even be tempted. Maybe have a sniff.
But do drink the Madeiran fortified wine. You usually get a complimentary shot glass at the start of your meal in any case, just like sherry it can be sweet or dry, the free lot is usually strong sugar.
I will devote another article just to the food. Yummy.