Madeira is on the green list and 23C – perfect for a much needed post-pandemic break
As our flight landed at Madeira’s spectacular Cristiano Ronaldo International Airport, British holidaymakers on board spontaneously cheered.
It wasn’t just the relief of arriving safely on the runway, which is perched on a foreland jutting out into the choppy Atlantic Ocean.
Rather, for many, it was pure joy to finally be able to travel to a sunny destination after months of dark lockdown.
Because Madeira is on the UK government’s green list, which means it’s one of the few destinations we can currently travel to without needing to quarantine on our return.
So what can you expect from these Portuguese volcanic islands 320 miles west of Morocco? Well, rocky, sun-drenched beaches, rugged mountain scenery, and tropical hikes, if that’s your thing.
Or, if you prefer, all-inclusive resorts where you can relax by the pool with a cold drink. Most British travelers I have met just wanted to relax in the 23C sun after months of pandemic gloom.
Ali Rogers, 55, and his partner Shaun Cunning, 57, from Locks Heath near Southampton, flew with Tui on an 11-day break. Doctor Ali’s receptionist revealed, “We’re going to lie by the pool and relax in the sun. We want to de-stress.
A reminder that this is a vacation, but not quite as you know, arrives right away at Cristiano Ronaldo Airport. A statue of the legendary footballer – born on the island – has a Covid mask brazenly slipped over his face.
Making sure your Covid tests meet requirements is now as much a part of the vacation as packing sunscreen.
To enter Madeira, you need proof that you have received two vaccines – which can be displayed on the NHS app – or a negative ‘fit to fly’ PCR test.
Upon returning to the UK, you must pass a lateral flow test before your return flight and an additional PCR two days after arriving home. It’s tedious and can get expensive.
But sun and sea giant Tui, whom I flew with last week, offers inexpensive testing packages costing between £ 20 and £ 60 per person for Green List countries.
Upon arriving in Madeira I simply showed my negative flight certificate uploaded to the Madeira Safe website as I exited the baggage area and then was in the sun 22 minutes after disembarking from the airplane.
You can also take a test when you arrive at the airport and wait in your hotel room for the test result in quarantine if you prefer.
Nicknamed the ‘Island of Eternal Spring’ for its year-round mild climate, Madeira – a three-and-a-half-hour flight from the UK – has long been a staple on British holidays.
There was a mix of vacationers on my flight, ranging from older couples to families with teenage children. Soon we were greeted with a glass of local fortified wine at the four star all inclusive Riu Palace Madeira hotel.
You can check in remotely using an app and your keys are handed over by a hidden receptionist. The keys are inside an envelope with a welcome pack.
From my room I could hear the heartwarming sound of the Atlantic breakers crashing against the beach below. At the hotel’s buffet lunch, each guest took their own pliers to help themselves before placing the tool in a basket.
Subsequently, many people were content to simply soak up the sun by the two outdoor pools. But there is plenty to do if you fancy an excursion.
The capital Funchal has a charming old town made up of narrow, cobbled streets and café terraces.
The bustling farmer’s market, Mercado dos Lavradores, is worth a visit. It is an exotic mix of fruits, vegetables, flowers and fish that testifies to the tropical climate of Madeira.
From the old town you can take a scenic cable car in 15 minutes to the hillside suburb of Monte. Then you can descend on one of the famous wicker slides, piloted by two drivers wearing straw hats who skillfully use their boots as breaks as you descend 1.2 miles at a speed of 20 mph.
A bus trip out of town reveals a tropical paradise of craggy peaks and plunging cliffs. The mountain air is fresh pine and fragrant with herbs. At the magnificent Cape Girao, the second highest sea cliff in the world, a glass-floor observation platform offers a breathtaking view of the beach 580 meters below.
COVID: On the British government’s green list. Madeira requires proof of double vaccination, negative PCR or cure from cornavirus within 90 days. You will need a lateral flow test or PCR to re-enter the UK as well as a PCR test on the second day, with Tui offering discounted tests for travelers from £ 20.
GET THERE / STAY: Seven all inclusive nights at the 4H Riu Palace Madeira from £ 787 per person when booking online, including flights from Gatwick on July 12th and transfers. Book at tui.co.uk or visit your local Tui Holiday Shop.
MORE INFORMATION: See visitmadeira.pt.
Dining at the Vila da Carne restaurant, eight kilometers from Funchal in the picturesque Camara de Lobos, is a carnivore’s dream. The espetada – grilled beef on a long skewer – is served to the table with delicious local garlic flatbread by masked waiters.
Alentejo red wine is a perfect combination for the palate. Madeira has had low rates of Covid infection and its strict safety guidelines aim to keep it that way.
Tourists must wear masks at all times unless eating or drinking, on a sun lounger or in the pool, while restaurants and bars enforce a strict 10 p.m. curfew.
By the pool at the Riu Palace hotel, the resounding verdict is that those cheers on arrival on the plane in Madeira were not misplaced, despite Covid rules.
“It’s worth being here,” said a Manchester couple nestled among fellow British tourists on lounge chairs.
It’s no wonder, then, that Tui has added additional summer flights to Madeira from Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham. Madeira is ready to welcome them.