10 January 2011
Madeira: Generation Games
A visit to Reid's Palace in Madeira keeps all the family entertained.
Touching down at Madeira's smart new airport with our seven-year-old son, Jon, and my pensioner parents, my dreams of laid-back days on this luxuriously green island were mixed with questions as to how we would all get along. We had chosen to stay at Reid's Palace for its family-friendly credentials: but could it really keep three demanding generations entertained?
Would the Fun@Reid's programme for children be as exciting as it sounded? Would the oldsters find the hotel gardens as enticing as described? And would we, the couple 'in the middle', be able to escape into the countryside and breathe in the mountain air?
Giant Mountains, Green Valleys
Our first glimpses of Madeira really got our juices flowing: towering volcanic mountains dotted with patches of snow reared up at the centre of this overwhelmingly lush, subtropical island. Radiating outwards like spokes of a wheel, jagged valleys cut down to the coast. Despite this being November, the weather was T-shirt warm. Flowers were in bloom wherever we looked: plants we
Fabulous FlowersMadeira is a giant garden. Discover amazing blooms (such as the night-flowering cactus) in the Reid's Palace gardens. Explore Funchal flower market for tropical blooms to take home. Or visit in April for the Flower Festival.
kept in tiny pots at home were giant bushes here.
Where Children are Special Guests
Perched in his special car seat, Jon was king of the castle when we arrived at the hotel, and even more so when he was welcomed by name at reception and a huge fuss made of him. Reid's is a wonderfully grand building dating from 1891, but rather than this fazing Jon, he - rather worryingly, I felt - took to it 'as if to the palace born'. So much so that when he received an invitation to a children's (fruit juice) cocktail party stating that parents were also welcome, he announced quite proudly "This is for me" and only reluctantly allowed us along.
From then on, it was difficult to prise Jon out of the hotel's grounds. By now he had teamed up with Oscar from Sweden and had established base camp in the Casa de Santana, a child-size version of Madeira's traditional pitch-roofed houses. My parents, too, were in no hurry to move and spent hours on their balcony compiling shipping reports of the various craft they spotted out at sea.
Nature and Culture Trails
This gave my partner and me the opportunity to get out and about. We had a wonderful half day walking along the Ribero Frio, a 'balcony' walking trail following one of the island's levadas (tiny streams built centuries back that bring water down from the mountains to the coast). This ravishingly beautiful track,
Funchal FunFunchal is a fabulous place to roam, with cobbled lanes and ornate balconies. Old world bars have been joined by chic cafes. Sample the local espada (scabbard fish) and bolo de mel cake.
overhung with arching trees and ferns, led to a trout fishery where we had a fresh-from-the-pond lunch. We also headed to the island's capital, Funchal, where we were amazed by the treasures in the Sacred Art Museum and Quinta das Cruzes, an historic house filled with beautiful antiques. Then it was on to a wine tasting in the atmospheric Sao Francisco cellars - the ancient barrels and wine-making paraphernalia were especially interesting having seen the vines growing on steep terraces the previous day.
Our parents took a Jeep safari past Cabo Girão, Europe's second tallest cliffs. They described the winding roads that wriggle up and down the sides of valleys covered with agricultural terraces and swathes of sweet chestnut trees. The trip also took in the raffish old port of Camara de Lobos, where Winston Churchill painted scenes that can still be seen today.
All Together Now
While each of us had their 'me' time, there was also lots to do together. We especially enjoyed a stroll along the city levada (irrigation channel) that runs from up behind the hotel, taking us past gardens with banana trees sprouting huge hands of fruit.
And while normally doing everything possible to avoid the obvious tourist trail, we loved taking the cable car up to Monte, swaying high over ravines, then wandering through the tropical gardens where tree ferns sprout from scarlet oriental pavilions and Jon was mesmerised by the giant carp. We returned to Funchal, screaming, in the giant 'laundry basket' toboggans that zig-zag down through the narrow streets.
At the end of the day
After all the day's activity we would watch the sun set over the sea and then get together in the Ristorante Villa Cipriani, which we found exceptionally family-friendly, with great pasta. The baby sitter organised by the hotel meant we could ring the changes and sample Reid's more formal dining rooms, too.
When the time came to leave, Jon was invited to leave his comments on a special children's questionnaire. When he wrote (with a little help from us and prompting from his grandparents) that he would like to come back and go dolphin watching next time, I knew that this holiday had really hit the 'g-' (generation) spot.
By Amanda Keene, a UK-based travel writer.
What activities did you most enjoy in and around Reid's Palace?