Day 1. Travelling to Funchal, Madeira

After staying overnight at the Crowne Plaza, Manchester Airport, we woke refreshed and ready to check in at Terminal One for our mid morning TAP flight to Funchal via Lisbon.  Sitting by the window in the Giraffe cafe we sipped large cappuccinos whilst we watched planes preparing to depart to foreign lands.  The rain was lashing down on this grey November morning and we felt very fortunate to be escaping this dreary weather for the next 9 days.

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Our TAP plane at Manchester Airport
It was to be my third visit to the beautiful island of Madeira and the second to the Casino Park Hotel in Funchal where we stayed at the same time last year.  Although I love to visit new destinations,  it’s also rather nice to sometimes return to the familiar and know what to expect when we arrive.  Doubtless, we will still find new things to do and places to see.
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Food served on our TAP flight from Manchester to Lisbon

Our flight to Lisbon departed on time and we were served large chicken salad sandwiches, wine, smoothies and hot drinks.   Our connecting flight to Funchal wasn’t until late afternoon so we settled down in one of the cafes with coffees and our iPads until it was time to leave.
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Our room at the Casino Park Hotel, Funchal

The flight left on schedule and we were served a small snack en route to Funchal Airport,  the flight time being only 90 minutes.  We then transferred to our hotel on the airport/hotel shuttle bus which costs €5 each and takes less than 30 minutes.   It was very convenient as it dropped us off just outside our hotel, the Casino Park, where we checked in  whilst enjoying complimentary glasses of Bucks Fizz.   We were then shown to our comfortable room which was to be our home for the next 8 nights.  After unpacking, we just had time for a bite to eat and to take a short walk in the warm night air before bedtime.

Day 2. Exploring Funchal, Madeira

What a difference a day makes!  Less than 24 hours ago we were in cold, wet Manchester and  this morning we woke to warm sunshine being able to enjoy a sumptuous breakfast out on the hotel terrace overlooking the ocean.    We then set off for a stroll into the centre of Funchal along the typical Portuguese mosaic style pavements.

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The hotel terrace
Hearing music, we wandered towards the cathedral to find a full orchestra delighting the passing onlookers with their Sunday morning music, so we paused awhile to listen ourselves.   It’s the wandering around and discovering the unexpected that I so love about travelling.

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Cruise liner in Funchal harbour
Continuing our walk, we visited the bright yellow fort at the end of the old town and returned to the hotel passing two cruise ships which had just come into the harbour.  Our Sunday afternoon was spent lazing by the outdoor pool reading from our Kindle’s and browsing our iPads.  The outdoor pool wasn’t heated and felt cold as we dipped our toes in, so we took  a swim in the indoor pool instead which has subdued lighting and felt very restful.
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Indoor pool, Casino Park Hotel, Funchal

We returned to the town centre for dinner and then relaxed with a drink in the hotel lounge whilst listening to a live jazz band.   The end of our first full day here in beautiful Funchal.

Day 3. Funchal’s traditional market hall and a coastal walk

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Funchal waterfront
We ate breakfast out on the terrace again and it seemed even warmer than yesterday.  Our plan for the morning was to walk along the seafront to the old town and then take the cable car up the mountainside to Monte, but it didn’t quite work out like that.  We managed the first part, enjoying our stroll along to the cable car station but we decided against taking the ride up the hillside as there were huge queues waiting to board.  The reason being that the P & O Ventura had arrived in port this morning and most of its 3,000 plus passengers seemed to share our plans.

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Funchal Market Hall
We thought it best to postpone our trip until later in the week, and instead, we headed to the beautiful old market hall with its stalls of exotic fruit, flowers and vegetables served by ladies in traditional national dress.  The market is set round an open courtyard with a traditional black and white mosaic paved area, the upper floor has some craft stalls and a pleasant open air cafe.
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Central courtyard of Funchal Market Hall

We continued our walk through the town, returning to the hotel for a light lunch.  About an hour later we set off again along the coast in the opposite direction, following the path to its end past the Funchal Lido and on to the Forum shopping mall.  This shopping centre,  although not large, contains a good variety of international brands over four floors overlooking an open courtyard.  We paused here for coffee and then returned to our hotel along the seafront.  The walk took approximately 40 minutes passing the ‘hotel zone’ home to many of the newer, large hotels.

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The coastal path near the Lido
The Casino Park Hotel where we are staying,  is closer to the town centre and was one of Funchal’s first hotels built in the 1960’s.
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Casino Park Hotel, Funchal

On returning to the hotel we relaxed in the hotel’s spa awhile before enjoying a late evening meal in the town centre.

Day 4. Riding the Cable Car to Monte

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Monte cable car
We enjoyed yet another leisurely breakfast on our hotel terrace overlooking the ocean, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky so it seemed to be a perfect morning to take the Gondola up the hillside to Monte.  Patience is a virtue so the proverb goes,  and it was true for us this morning.  Unlike yesterday, when there were lengthy queues of cruise passengers waiting to take the cable car, today there is virtually no queue, so we felt pleased that we had not taken the trip yesterday.

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View from cable car
The cable car takes approximately 15 minutes to reach Monte, gliding over hundreds of bright red tiled rooftops on its way,  passing road bridges and tunnels hewn out of rock.   From the upper station it’s an easy walk leftwards to view the famous Monte wicker toboggan rides.  Originating from the 1850’s as a quick means of transport down the steep hills to Funchal, they are now one of the town’s premier attractions.

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Toboggan rides
Costing €25 for one person or €30 for two, tourists sit in a wicker chair with a sledge like base and are pushed down the steep hills by men clad in white uniforms wearing straw boaters.  The journey covers 2km and lasts around 10 minutes ending at Livramento, quite a distance out of town leaving many people needing to return to the town centre by taxi.

Standing on a cliff, high above the wicker basket rides, is the church of Our Lady of the Mountain.  Accessed by a long flight of stone steps, the small church has splendid Portuguese tiling and a small gallery on each side.  From the steps, panoramic views of Funchal and its harbour can be seen.  Wandering in the other direction we passed the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens and down a steep lane we came to a second Gondola taking visitors to Funchal’s Botanic Gardens lower down the hillside.

Returning down to Funchal we were fortunate to have sole use of a Gondola as we enjoyed far reaching views of the port and of our hotel, the Casino Park.

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The church at Monte
After a light lunch on the seafront we strolled through Santa Caterina Park up to our hotel where we spent the afternoon relaxing in the warm sunshine by the pool.  After a visit to the steam room we enjoyed pre dinner drinks and nibbles in the hotel before having dinner in one of the many restaurants in the centre of Funchal.

Day 5. Madeira’s mountain range : Curral das Freiras

It was a cloudy morning but still warm enough to enjoy breakfast out on the hotel terrace. We lingered over our coffees longer than usual as we didn’t have any specific plans until the afternoon.

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Remembrance service on Funchal’s seafront

Sauntering down into the centre of Funchal we noticed that two more cruise ships had arrived in port.  A little further along the seafront we spotted crowds gathering and, being inquisitive,  stopped to take a look ourselves.  Standing in front of the cenotaph we watched the annual Remembrance Day Service, it was 10.30 am on 11th November and civic dignitaries were gathered alongside members of the Portuguese armed forces with war veterans proudly holding aloft flags of their battalions.  It was a moving occasion and we paused to reflect on all those service men and women who gave their lives during wartime.
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Bank of Portugal, Funchal

After the service we continued our walk through the old town.  It’s my third holiday here in Funchal yet it’s surprising that each time we take a stroll through the labyrinth of narrow, cobbled streets I come across something new and yet to be discovered.

A short rest back at the hotel and at 1.30 pm we boarded a minibus along with six other people for an afternoon excursion into the mountains.

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Pico do Barcelos
We were the final passengers to be picked up and this proved to be a bonus as we were invited to sit at the front of the minibus alongside the driver.  Our first stop was just above Funchal at Picos dos Barcelos, a viewpoint from where we had excellent views down to the harbour and of the surrounding coastline.
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The pathway to the mountain lookout point

Returning to the minibus we continued along to Eira do Serrado, a viewpoint and hotel set high above the Curral das Freiras.  We had 40 minutes here, so ample time to follow the short trail along the hilltop and to admire the views.  Our final stop was down the narrow hairpin bends to the village of Curral das Freiras (Nuns Valley) where we visited the attractive old church with its distinctive blue and white Portuguese tiling and enjoyed afternoon tea on the upper balcony of one of the small cafes before returning to Funchal.

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Nuns Valley
The evening followed a usual pattern of strolling down to the centre of town, enjoying a meal in one of the many restaurants , returning along the promenade and then relaxing in the hotel lounge over a drink whilst listening to the live entertainment.  Tonight,  we listened to a very talented singer / saxophonist on stage who was proving popular with the audience.

Day 6. Camara da Lobos

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Harriet Hawk Handler
Another bright, sunny morning so we enjoyed our breakfast overlooking the ocean.  A bird handler employed by the hotel walks around the pool area each morning with a harrier hawk on his glove.  Occasionally, he lets the bird fly over the pool to scare off the seagulls, whistling for him to return.  Its quite a spectacle for the al fresco diners to enjoy whilst eating their croissants.

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Coastal walk towards Camara da Lobos
Shortly after 10.00 am we took a Rodeste bus to the village of Camara da Lobos.  The journey takes only 20 minutes after which we enjoyed a morning stroll along the seafront arriving at the picturesque little harbour where we stopped to admire the view and watch some small fishing boats land their catch.  Winston Churchill was a frequent visitor to Camara da Lobos spending his holidays painting scenes of this delightful little harbour which I don’t believe has changed much over the years.

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The harbour
We returned by bus to Funchal,  fares are inexpensive with a flat rate of  €1.95 for each journey.  After coffee and cakes along the seafront we spent the afternoon relaxing by the pool.  I read a few chapters on my Kindle but the sun made me sleepy so I dozed awhile in the bright sunshine.
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Camera da Lobos

At 6.00 pm we were invited to the manager’s cocktail party in the main lounge.  It was an opportunity to meet the management team and enjoy some complimentary drinks and nibbles with other guests.
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Enjoying drinks at the cocktail party

Soon afterwards we went out to dinner, later returning to the hotel lounge to participate in the Thursday night Musical Quiz.  The quiz turned out to be good fun, we were asked to listen to 20 short bursts of music and then requested to note the title and artist for each.  It was harder than we had first thought but we managed a respectable score of 22.5 out of a possible 40,  we didn’t win but neither did we embarrass ourselves.

Day 7 Relaxing in Funchal, Madeira

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Delicious Portuguese custard tarts for breakfast
We were appreciative of yet another November morning filled with warm sunshine.  Eating breakfast overlooking the harbour we watched a large cruise liner slowly slip into the terminal.  Another lazy day, we read our daily newspaper freshly downloaded onto our iPads then decided it was time to make a move.  We decided on a leisurely walk out of town, passing the historic pink facade of the Reid’s Palace Hotel which dates back to the 1890’s, then along past the Lido and the newer part of town known as the ‘hotel zone’ which is home to a cluster of modern hotels.  We are more than happy with our choice of hotel, the Casino Park, designed by the noted Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer and built in the 1970’s.  It’s now a listed building and is one of the closest hotel’s to the town centre.  It’s classified as a 5 star, but I think this is perhaps rather generous, the balcony furniture needs replacing and the carpets on the upper corridors are a little worn.
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Funchal’s main shopping street

Continuing along the coastal path we arrived at The Forum,  a modern shopping centre with a central courtyard.  We browsed the shops and I bought a pair of good quality walking shoes which appeared much cheaper than at home.  Afterwards we sipped cappuccino’s in the food court cafe before returning to our hotel along the clifftop.

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Forum Shopping Centre, Funchal
Feeling better for our 90 minute walk we changed into swimwear and found a shady spot around the pool to read books on our Kindle’s and doze a little in the warm Autumn sunshine.

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Relaxing by the pool in Funchal
We ate dinner in one of our favourite town centre restaurants and then returned along the waterfront.  It’s far quieter here in the evenings when the cruise liner passengers have returned to their ships and set sail to their next destinations.  To end the day we relaxed in the hotel lounge listening to the live music which is always of a high standard.
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Evening entertainment at the Casino Park Hotel

Day 8. A visit to Sao Tiago Fort, Funchal

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Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth
We woke slightly later this morning then enjoyed our usual breakfast out on the hotel’s ocean front terrace.  We watched Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth cruise liner slip gracefully into port,  her navy and white livery gleaming brightly in the morning sunshine.  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky when we ventured out for our morning walk down the steep hill into town.

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Santa Caterina Gardens
We strolled along a path through the pleasant Santa Catarina gardens and watched local school children taking part in an orienteering competition.  Pressing on, we wandered along the cobbled streets of Funchal’s old town and decided to take one final look inside the Mercado dos Lavrodores  (market hall).  But it wasn’t the best time to visit as it was heaving with cruise ship visitors and we had to elbow past hordes of tourists to see anything of the market stalls.   Leaving after only a few minutes we continued along to the bright yellow painted fort of San Tiago.

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The Fort
It’s free to enter and panoramic views of the harbour can be seen from its ramparts.  There was little else to interest us though,  a few information boards explaining the fort’s historical significance would have enhanced our visit, but alas there were none to be found.
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Christiano Ronaldo statue on the seafront in Funchal

We returned to the hotel along the seafront, a 40 minute gentle uphill stroll stopping for awhile near the marina for our morning caffeine fix.   A little further on we paused to take photos of the statue of Madeira’s most famous son,  no other than the footballer Christiano Ronaldo.

Back at the hotel we enjoyed a glass of the local Coral beer and a few crisps on our balcony and then prepared for a lazy afternoon relaxing by the pool, reading and gently dozing in the warm sunshine.  Later, we visited the hotel’s spa for the final time this week and relaxed in the sauna.  Returning to our room we quickly packed some clothes into our suitcases then headed down the hill for dinner and drinks.  Walking back, we stopped at a pavement cafe along the seafront for coffee and cakes,  then after climbing the steep hill to our hotel one last time we returned to our room to complete our packing.

Day 9. Travelling home from Funchal, Madeira

We woke at 6.30 am and ate breakfast indoors this morning as it was not yet light.  We could see the twinkling lights of the two cruise liners moored nearby and as we finished our second cup of coffee the sun began to rise.

Returning to our room, we quickly gathered together our belongings and then took a taxi to Funchal airport.  The journey took less than 20 minutes this morning as the roads were traffic free so we checked in quickly for our flight home and then went out onto the viewing balcony to watch the small amount of airport activity.

Our flight to Lisbon was with TAP and we were served sandwiches and coffee during the 90 minute flight.  It was clear as we approached Lisbon providing us with panoramic views of the city and coastline as we came in to land.   We had two hours between flights, so we wandered around the terminal shops and then passed the remaining time drinking more coffee.

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Boarding our aircraft to Manchester
We boarded our connecting TAP flight to Manchester and during the 2 hour 30 minute flight we were served sandwiches, smoothies and a glass of local wine.  Following our snack we settled down for a short rest before coming in to land at Manchester.

On collecting our luggage, we retrieved our coats and gloves in readiness for the November chill that hit us as we left the arrivals hall.  Our stay in Madeira had been lovely, just what was needed at this time of year for those of us who reside in northern Europe.