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  • Writer's picturesi newell

A long weekend in Madeira

Day One

It’s January 31st and the Uk leaves the EU the next day - perfect then to spend a long weekend avoiding all the naive ‘celebrations’ in a beautiful and warm part of the union - the charming island of Madeira.

We got up in the early hours to drive to Gatwick for an 7am flight to Madeira’s interesting airport with its runway perched on 70m columns next to the sea.

Arriving in sunshine, we found the bus that took us to Funchal, deciding to get off early in the city centre to have a walk and a sketch lunch in the old town and have a beer along the promenade before checking in to the hotel.

I had stayed at the Casino Park Hotel previously and was wowed by the architecture by world famous Brazillian architect Oscar Niemeyer. A true original modernist, he was considered one of the key figures in the development of modern architecture and best known for his design of key civic buildings for the young city of Brasilia.

After freshening up, we walked through the Santa Caterina gardens (pausing for a quick sketch over the harbour) on the way to see the famous (or is that infamous) Christian Ronaldo statue outside the CR7 Museum. Born in Madeira, the airport is even now named after him.

Then a coffee by the water, dinner in the old town and an early night to catch up on some sleep.

Day Two

Waking up to a new day and unlike the rest of the Uk we are still in the EU - if only for a few more days.

The flow and minimalist grandeur of the hotel really shines through on the ground floor - a gently sloping ramp winds down into the dramatic double height restaurant with panoramic views of Funchal Harbour through huge panels of glazing that define the interior. The colours of the sunrise at this time of the morning are magical, further enhanced by the silhouette of the tropical planting and the stillness of the infinity swimming pool outside.

We decided to spend a few relaxing hours around the pool giving me a chance to try to represent the minimal qualities of the hotel flowing over the sumptuous gardens in a short sketch.

Before lunch, we ventured into the city, exploring the cute back streets and squares around the cathedral. After a further sketch we walked down to Old Town once again which focuses around Rua Santa Maria. This area has developed massively since my last visit around 7 years ago - if I’m honest I was slightly disappointed that some of the gritty artist galleries that proved to be the catalyst to the rejuvenation of the area had been replaced by more restaurants and bars - a victim of its own success maybe. It is still a very engaging district though, if not quite as authentic as it once was.

Then we took the nearby cable car up to Monte where you can enjoy wonderful views over the city, enjoy lush botanic gardens and is the location for the start of the famous Carriers do Monte sledge ride down the steep hillside roads back towards the city. We couldn’t resist trying it and it was quite an experience!

Then walking back through the city we made a booking for a Smart hire car the next day to explore further into the island. We then enjoyed dinner at an outdoor restaurant to the west of the city in the more touristic area, before returning to the old town for drink to check out the real Saturday night Funchal life.

Day Three

Up early to pick up our cute little orange Smart car and then straight up the steep hills of the city into the mountains.

Our first stop was Pico do Arieiro, Madeira’s third highest peak enjoying amazing views of the island. We walked around the hills within the area - amazingly it seems a popular place for runners - it looked exhausting just watching them!

Then back in our little car and off to Santana stopping at a hillside area to try out our drone (the tiny but very talented Mavic Mini). The wind appeared calmer at this lower altitude but it did give us a very nervous moment as the small drone got trapped in a gust and momentarily looked as if it was going to land on some inaccessible part of the hillside. When it eventually returned, we decided to put it away and practice in less challenging locations!

The roads that wound around the mountains were very beautiful and led us to Santana village. Several original Madeiran straw roofed houses have survived and have become a popular tourist attraction.

After lunch, we decided to press on towards Praia São Lourenço - the eastern tip of the island with spectacular scenery and great walks if we only had longer.

We then continued our tour to the Cabo Girão Skywalk - the highest cliff skywalk in Europe, located on top of the Cabo Girão Cliff to the west of Funchal. The dramatic centrepiece is the transparent glass floor looking down the sheer cliff face to the sea below.

On the way back to Funchal, we visited the traditional fishing village of Câmara de Lobos, which inspired Sir Winston Churchill to paint its lovely surroundings when he stayed there. We had a drink overlooking the water while I sketched my final image of the day.

After a tasty meal at one of the local restaurants, we returned to Funchal and dropped off our now beloved little Smart. I didn’t want to give it up!

Day Four

Waking up early gave me the opportunity to sit on the hotel balcony and sketch the view to the west of Funchal Bay towards the historic and famous Reids Hotel.

After breakfast, I did one final walk around the Casino Park and Niemeyer’s wonderful architecture. I do hope the hotel gets preserved as it deserves, despite no doubt the pressure to maximise the site with something dense and unworthy. Great modernist architecture occasionally creates something so delicate yet brutal, minimal yet opulent and glamorous. In the wrong hands, it might have been a disaster, but here is a masterpiece and a lesson to all us architects of today to discover real beauty.

After checking out of this sinuous concrete sleek beam that hovers delicately over the verdant landscape, we head towards the old town and a wonderful square that opens up to the sea for one final lunch before catching the bus back to the airport and the Uk - now severed from Europe at least for this generation.

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