My poor old passport has been locked in a drawer for three long years, so seemed like it was high time to take it out for a spin. Keeping things simple, I went for a package holiday to Funchal, Madeira, Portugal with Jet2Holidays.
Three reasons; firstly, they fly out of 9 UK airports, including Bristol airport, which is my local, secondly, they fly to Madeira, which has been on my bucket list for ages, and thirdly, my daughter who knows about these things, reckons over the last three years, they have been the most reliable tour operator around.
Only question is, after all this time, would foreign travel be worth the hassle?
After checking in online, we arrived at Bristol Airport to be met by a couple of very cheerful and helpful Jet2 staff. Must say, between arriving at the airport and arriving at our hotel several hours later in Funchal, we met at least a dozen Jet2 staff, they were all supremely and completely brilliant.
Helpful, friendly, always smiling, they were an awesome bunch from start to finish. Gold stars all round. Before we knew it, we were in the departure area enjoying a mighty fine coffee and croissant.
There were the usual jolly japes with the flight. It was slightly delayed, then had to stopover in Portugal for an hour whilst the weather in Madeira cheered up, but thanks to the ever cheerful crew, we arrived at the hotel in good spirits, in plenty of time for a fine supper before bed.
We were staying at the Girassol Suite Hotel, in a top floor executive suite which had a very comfy living area, complete with sofa and TV, plus separate bedroom with ensuite.
The balcony had far reaching sea views, looking over the bay and beyond, allowing us to sit and sip something tasty whilst watching the sun slip below the mountains.
We had opted for half board, meaning we had breakfast and evening meals provided. Though they do also offer an all inclusive option.
Must admit, didn’t have high hopes for the food. It was a package deal, after all. Basically thought it would be school dinners quality, but with alcohol to drink.
Turns out, it was very much better than that. Delicious dishes every day and lots of them, with fish, meat and vegetarian choices at all times.
Also, my companion has serious allergies, when we told the waiting staff, they sorted out an individually cooked meal, for every sitting, each of which was superb. Now that’s what I call, super service.
Should I Stay or Should I go now?
Some of our fellow holidaymakers, the ones wearing their all inclusive wristbands, seemed to spend nearly all of their time in or around the hotel. Can’t blame them.
There are a couple of fine pools, with bar, with a spa complex underneath. There is also a small attractive garden to stroll through. All in all, you really didn’t need to leave if you didn’t want to.
However, my companion and I wanted to go further afield, so after a hearty breakfast on the first morning, we headed out.
First thing we noticed, were the buses. There are lots of them. Single decker yellow ones for local journeys, double decker open topped ones for sightseeing tourists.
Red or yellow, take your pick. For our first day, we went for the yellow bus, giving us a chance to enjoy a trip round Funchal, to see what it had to offer.
Turns out, there are lots of things to see and do in this beautiful, buzzing old town.
Obviously, there is a port where tall ships, sail ships and kayaks come and go, as does the occasional cruise ship, I know all this because sitting atop the cliffs opposite there is a picture postcard park filled with greenery, fountains, a tiny church and, for no good reason, a delightfully ancient traction engine.
There is also a rather fine cafe where we stopped to watch the world go by whilst trying out the waiters recommended tipple. A local drinking delight, apparently. Coral Stout, with a twist of lemon zest. Very nice it was too.
Made me think we had definitely made the right choice by coming to Madeira.
Moving inland slightly, there are dozens of cute cobbled streets and tree lined avenues which make up the old town, climbing slowly but surely up the hillsides.
Filled with enough shops, cafes, half hidden churches and quiet corners to keep you busy, strolling and smiling, for several days.
Another thing to keep your eye out for, are the occasional burbling waterways, tumbling their way down past the backs of old houses. Very picturesque.
Once we realised that getting from our hotel to the centre of the old town was a pleasant half hour amble, we did it almost every day.
Always seemed to be new areas to explore. One of my particular favourites was the Forte de Sâo Tiago. The crumbling, custard yellow old fort that overlooks the sea at the far end of the old town.
As a fan of sea swimming, I loved the tiny beach in front of the fort, Praia de Sâo Tiago. With its boutique beach bar and clear blue waters filled with colourful fishes, it is a hotspot for swimmers, snorkelers, sunbathers and foodies alike.
It was Carnival time in Funchal whilst we were there, “Carnevale,” as the locals call it. Seemed to be a brilliant excuse for everyone to dress up in the craziest, most colourful costumes they could find, whilst parading through town behind a couple of slightly tipsy brass bands accompanied by a happy band of drummers, which definitely kept the wiggles coming.
Either way, looked like a lot of fun. Definitely gave us tourists something to enjoy as we sat quietly sipping our poncha, the local alcoholic punch, made out of orange juice, lemon zest and cane sugar rum. Mmm.
One of the things I wanted to do whilst in town, was take a trip on the famous cable car, the Teleférico.
For a few euros it whirls you up the mountain, taking you over the rooftops and gardens of the inhabitants below, well worth the ride for the views alone.
At the top you can either visit the beautiful Botanical gardens, or take a hair raising ride down on a toboggan steered by a pair of excitable locals.
Using a couple of ropes and some fancy footwork, these cheerful chappies whoosh delighted tourists back down the hill, with thrills (but no spills) guaranteed.
Must admit, after watching a few whizz of them past, still not quite sure who enjoys it most. The tourists or the cheerful chappies. Either way, it’s a great afternoon out.
Câmara de Lobos
Talking of which, one day we jumped back onboard the Yellow Bus, to travel a few kilometres along the coast to a nearby fishing village, Camara de Lobos.
It’s a sweet little spot, with dozens of fishing boats hauled up on the shingles, plenty of cobbled streets to wander through and enough bars and restaurants to gladden the heart. Another great afternoon.
Jet2Holidays have a byline written on their planes, “Package Holidays You Can Trust.” Turns out, they’re not wrong.
Every single thing from start to finish was top notch, their service was way above what I was expecting. How they offer such great holidays for such a reasonable price is beyond me.
More power to their elbows, is all I can say. After such a wonderful week away, I can report that foreign travel is, indeed, definitely worth it, once again. In fact, I’m already thinking about where to go for next year’s winter sun break.
Jet2 operates award-winning flights, all year round, to Madeira from Bristol Airport, flying on Monday. Fares to Madeira with Jet2.com start at £74 per person one way including taxes. Offering friendly low fares, great flight times, allocated seating, and a market leading 22kg baggage allowance, plus 10kg hand baggage.
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