Agents discover why Madeira is set to become a hot year-round destination

Madeira holidays
By Linsey McNeill
Home » Agents discover why Madeira is set to become a hot year-round destination

Madeira shot into the spotlight last year when it was one of only a few holiday destinations on the UK’s ‘green’ travel list, which led to a big increase in demand for the Portuguese island. Many of those visitors didn’t know what to expect but were so bowled over by what they saw that they vowed to return.

Even though the world has opened up again, Madeira is still expecting to capitalise on its new-found fame, especially as Ryanair will start flying to the island from both London Stansted and Manchester this summer.

Hotels, restaurants and bars in Madeira are already way cheaper than in competing holiday destinations such as the Canary Islands, but with one-way fares starting at under £40, Ryanair will make travel to the island more affordable and – more importantly – it will increase accessibility and more than likely attract more families and younger travellers.

While Madeira has traditionally been sold as a winter sun destination for the over 50s,  who visit mainly for the warm weather, quality hotels and excellent food, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t appeal to a broader age range, as agents on a fam trip with Madeira Selection Hotels discovered. Travel Gossip also went along for the ride.

So many fantastic, totally unique activities were crammed into our four-night stay on the island, the highlights of which were an off-road jeep experience (there was A LOT of screaming), a three-hour cruise where a pod of dolphins raced in front of the catamaran and a turtle was spotted nearby hitching a ride on a stick, and a toboggan ride down a steep street – in a giant basket, which is a centuries-old tradition on the island.

We also sampled one of Madeira’s many levada (canal) hikes up to a magnificent waterfall, took a wine-tasting tour, learned how to make poncha, a lethal rum, juice and honey cocktail, and experienced the Madeira Skywalk, standing on a glass viewing platform almost 600 metres above the sea.

Families of all ages will love these activities, while golfers can choose from two golf courses on the main island, plus a third on the island of Porto Santo, a 2.5 hour ferry ride away.

The many lidos – some with natural swimming pools carved out of the rocks by the waves – more than compensate for the lack of sandy beaches, and several hotels, such as the family-friendly Sentido Galosol and the neighbouring adult-only Sentido Galomar have a wide range of activities for couples and families such a diving, kayaking, yogo and zumba.

The Aqua Natura Bay in the coastal resort of Porto Moniz, one of 15 hotels in Madeira Selection, is a great base for clients who want to explore the walking trails in the UNESCO-protected Laurissilva Forest, plus it has an incredible lido area with natural sea water pools.

Sophie with the statute of Ronaldo. Photo by Ian Robinson, Exclusive Travel Holidays

The capital city Funchal is the cultural heart of the island, where visitors can mooch around the colourful food and flower market, take a Madeira wine-tasting tour, eat al fresco in cobbled alleyways lined with street art, wander down the main avenue lined with heavily scented jacaranda and tulip trees, visit the museum dedicated to Madeira’s most famous son, Ronaldo, or just enjoy a glass of beer and the traditional Madeira prego sandwich made of bolo de caco (garlic bread) steak, ham and egg sandwich in a simple café.

“Previously when elderly clients came in looking for cultural holidays I always sold Italy, but now I’ll be recommending Madeira,” said agent Sophie Martin of Seaside Travel in Sacriston, who was one of the agents on the Madeira Selection fam.

For younger clientele, Funchal can’t compete with the likes of Ibiza and Mykonos for clubbing, but it does have a decent night scene with buzzing bars and some good quality, affordable three-star hotels, such as the Dorisol Mimosa Studio and the neighbouring Florasol, which will appeal to younger travellers.

For those looking for luxe, agents on the fam felt there were several good options within the Madeira Selection range, such as the recently renovated Four Views Baía, in a lofty location close to the city centre. “I’ve already got clients in mind for this hotel,” said Aaron Tanner of Hays Travel in Southampton. “They’ll love it for the views and, because there’s a free bus service to the centre, it’s good for those in their 60s and 70s. Also, the pool is spectacular.”

Several agents on the Madeira Selection fam came away enthusiastic about selling Funchal as a twin-centre with the more rugged north of the island, which is a great base for some of the more challenging mountain hikes.

 “I would sell three or four nights in Funchal with three or four nights in the north,” added Aaron. “I’d definitely be able to sell walking tours to my more active clients. Maybe combined with a few nights by the beach.”

All hotels in Madeira Selection offer something different, from the traditional 19th century quinta family homes to five-star resort hotels like the Melia to city centre bolt holes like the Se Boutique, which Megan Mitchell of Thorne Travel in Kilwinning in Scotland thought would be a favourite with her clients.  “It’s got a mix of modern and traditional, it’s a funky and groovy hotel with a great roof terrace; it’s the sort of secret escape my clients are looking for, they’re not bothered about an outdoor pool, they want to explore, and the food here is excellent, so I’d tell my clients to come for lunch here, even if they don’t stay at the hotel.”

Haley Powell of The Travel Directors said: “I think Madeira has everything for the 30-plus market and I would sell it as a two-centre destination, with three to five nights at the Four Views Baía and two nights at the Aqua Natura in the north.”

Banbury-based Charlotte Cole of Travel Counsellors said families would love the Four Views Oasis in Caniço because it has children’s facilities, including a separate pool, a good buffet and family rooms. For adult-only, she said she would recommend both the Galomar, Madeira’s first fully sustainable hotel, which is perched on the cliff at Caniço, plus the Four Views in Funchal.

Charlotte, pictured, was also impressed with the Ayurveda Atlantico Hotel, which specialises in wellness breaks. She said: ”It’s amazing value and much cheaper than travelling to other destinations for a detox.”

Agents were treated to some delicious local specialities, such as seared tuna steaks and – a favourite – Espetata grilled meat skewers at the Vila Da Carne.

More agents will have the chance to discover Madeira for themselves at next month’s Advantage Conference, which will be held at the Savoy Palace Hotel.

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