The great girlie escape to Madeira

When two life-long friends wanted to escape and relive (sort of) old times, and one had a limited time-off, Paul suggested Madeira. Easy to get to from both Manchester and Gatwick, here’s the low down on the 4 and 7 night great girlie escape in Funchal:

By Anna Waddington-Feather

When I first met Mary in the early 1990s at a dodgy backpackers in Sydney, Australia, little did I know watching the New Year’s eve Sydney Harbour bridge fireworks would lead to a life-long friendship. Fast-forward 27 years and while we still love being active on our girlie-getaways, these days we like to stay somewhere a little more upmarket than a backpackers!

Living in Shrewsbury, I flew in from Manchester on Friday, with strict instructions to recce the place before Mary arrived on Saturday from Gatwick.

Quintinha São João was the perfect base. Beautiful gardens, a delightful terrace, a gourmet restaurant and just a 20-minute walk into Funchal; the hotel really is a little oasis of calm in this bustling cosmopolitan city.

And did someone mention the word spa at the hotel? This girlie-getaway just got better.

After a rather early start from Manchester airport, it was nice to be picked up at the airport, and I had a very enjoyable 24 hours wandering round Funchal, checking out the farmers market and exploring the back streets, as well as taking advantage of the hotel’s facilities – catching up on my reading in the gardens and swimming in the heated roof-top pool.

The hire car was dropped off at the hotel, so on Saturday night, I donned on my chauffeur’s hat and picked up Mary from the airport!

We’re now both in serious holiday mode.

No need to make any decisions at dinner time that night; we took advantage of the Quintinha de São João’s delicious pairing menu.

This is several little courses of exquisite food paired with the best of Madeira’s wine; a good introduction to the wine and you’re sure of what goes best with which food when you venture into Funchal for dinner over the next few days.

The following day we got into our little red car, and feeling like Thelma and Louise, we set off to explore the coastline. Unlike Thelma and Louise though, we avoided driving over cliff tops at the end!

We headed east, and once out of Funchal, we both fell in love with the stunning rugged coastline, cultivated terraces and marvelled at the engineering of the tunnels and the immense pillars supporting Madeira’s airport runway. Our first stop was Machico, the spot where Joa Goncalves Zarco and Trisao Vaz Teiera first landed when they (re) discovered the island on 1 July 1419.

We then headed to Santana, and although the little houses are somewhat touristy, you still get the feeling you’ve just walked onto a film set for the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel.

Retracing our route, we headed to the Ponta de Sao Lourenco peninsula. In total contrast to the rest of the island, it is a beautiful desolate, finger of desert protruding out of the eastern end of the island.

A short walk in the barren landscape is a must, and we were rewarded with the stunning views to the Desertas Islands.

A quick turnaround at the hotel saw us scrub up for a rather elegant afternoon tea at Belmond Reids!

The next couple of days were a great mixture of activities and relaxation, with a guided 4×4 tour to the north of the island, riding the cable cars to Funchal’s stunning botanical gardens and taking the crazy toboggans being pushed by burly men down back streets to Funchal.

There were also ‘all aboard for drinks at six’ on the hotel terrace, where the owner Andres welcomed all guests to the hotel and we slipped in a couple of spa treatments for an added treat.

After taking Mary to the airport on Wednesday, I headed out to sea for an exhilarating ride on a ridged inflatable boat whale watching trip. I wasn’t disappointed; we spotted several pilot whales who obligingly put on a little show for us, and we even caught a glimpse of a very young calf.

As a keen horsewoman, I always love experiencing a country on horseback and to round off my 7-days on Funchal, I had some very special time riding a gentleman of a horse called Verdi (as in the composer), along the levadas and trails in the nearby national park.

madeira horse riding 1

Great weather, easy to get around, friendly people, a massive range of fun activities, some serious pampering, and a delightful hotel away from the hoards…… if you’re after a sophisticated girlie getaway, Madeira should be your destination of choice!

See more pictures of Anna and Mary’s bespoke great girlie escape, 7 nights on Funchal in the dedicated album on our Facebook page.

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