Emma is one of my tennis playing friends and I was delighted when she asked for my help in planning a holiday for her and her partner, Peter. They both enjoyed Madeira, getting out and about to experience all the island has to offer and I am hugely excited about their next trip to Canada this Autumn...
I usually tailor-make my own trips so this was my first with a travel agent and tour operator in many years.
We were after a week of warm September European sunshine, staying at a boutique style hotel in a good location for sightseeing, restaurants and preferably with some fabulous sea views.
With Susan’s expert assistance, we settled on Funchal in Madeira, somewhere new for us. We were delighted with the recommendation of the 4* Quinta Bela São Tiago, originally a traditional Madeiran Manor House built in 1834 and in the right location for us.
We booked the holiday a few months in advance and then didn't think too much about it until nearer the time, to avoid setting ourselves up for disappointment if the trip got delayed or otherwise impacted by Covid.
Susan had arranged our trip with a tour operator with whom she had good experience in handling Covid-related issues and provided us with the necessary reassurances in the event of any rule changes.
We were a little anxious as it was our first overseas trip since the onset of the pandemic and the range of government regulations was confusing to follow at times. Evidence of vaccination had to be provided pre-departure, then a Covid test taken 48 hours before our UK return. The Madeira authorities, however, were very well set up to deal with all the requirements and our test didn't cost anything!
Everything was efficient at Birmingham Airport; the terminal wasn't particularly busy, and it felt clean. We flew direct and mask wearing was compulsory throughout but was fine.
Arrival felt normal aside from going through a medical checkpoint, where our vaccine documentation was checked, and all the local staff were very friendly and welcoming. The chaos outside the terminal felt very 'normal' and we managed to find our private transfer driver and half hour later arrived Quinta Bela São Tiago.
The hotel was exactly what I had in mind - a converted/ extended manor that felt more personal than a purpose-built resort but with decent views and ideally located. Our room was lovely with a splendid sea view.
Slightly surprisingly, the hotel was full and with guests of different nationalities, but it never felt crowded. Masks around the public areas were required and our temperatures were checked at breakfast each morning.
There was a great variety of sightseeing options and things to do, considerably more adventurous than I had imagined. We walked, took cable cars, journeyed on local buses, went on a group Levada walking tour, did a 4x4 excursion, visited shops and markets, ate out and had picnics. Some of the views we encountered were magnificent. Apart from mask wearing, nothing felt different or limited at all, and all the locals we met were very friendly and welcoming.
The return was seamless - the Madeira government made it all very easy via their online app and we were delighted with our decision to have gone.
Madeira is not really a beach destination but that's not what we were looking for. It was perfect for a balance of activity and relaxation with good weather, plenty to see and do along with excellent food and drink; and it was such a pleasant and easy stroll into the old town for dinner each evening.
Thank you, Susan for your help and identifying the perfect package for us.