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walking holiday

  • Madeira June 1998

    Back on Monday from Madeira: three days walking the levadas - the irrigation channels that cling to the Madeiran hillsides - and three days just pottering around. Bananas grow everywhere along with lots of other exotic fruit: custard apples, mangoes and the like.

    The levadas are stunning. The smell of mimosa and eucalyptus. Agapanthus and a dozen other exotica. The quiet and the views!  
    It did seem as though we were in something of a floating old people's home - most of the hotel guests were 50+ and willingly shephereded to tour buses for 'exciting' excursions every day. The hotel manager offered a jacketted reception and we could play bridge on Thursday night.

    We avoided all that (it was my first time on a proper package holiday) and did our own thing - local buses up into the hills, swim in the 30's style lido mid-morning, then got our own breakfast on the lawn. We were self-catering in a much more attractive building than the rest of the hotel (no matter how many stars it has). We also went to a mildly dire recital of piano duets given by two hatchet faced Hungarians.

    Restaurant food was pretty awful (tho we were on a budget). They practise the unsubtle art of vegetable massacre every evening in the Funchal kitchens. Broccoli and spuds boiled beyond recognition to an amorphous, mushy pulp. The main fish comes from very deep down - the scabbard is an ugly looking brute with one great glassy eye that stares up at you from the fishmonger's slab.  
    The only relief came in a restaurant where the vegetables where treated with proper respect. To the accompaniment of great bunches of flowers and Albinoni.

    We had one meal on a restaurant boat by the harbour that used to be owned by the Beatles. We were also unceremoniously chucked out of a desperately posh hotel - Reids - because I was wearing (smart) sandals and Marc brown corduroy trousers. Later we ate 'english cake' - Madeira cake - best covered in jam - at our hotel - 'your home from home' as they excruciatingly style themselves. 

    In the market there is a great bustle of fruit and veg, huge red huge hunks of tuna, and the scabbard fish. I bought one of the peculiar coarse wool mountain balaclavas the locals still wear. Many are still very poor - in spite of the million of EU money spent on roads and the like. And on Sunday we went to an almost medieval country fair in a village high in the hills. 

    We went round the Madeiran wine cellars, walked to the botanic gardens and were picturesquely pushed in a kind of snowless sledge down the hill from Monte by two gnarled old gents old enough to be our fathers.