Around 12 months ago the UK government opened up travel for citizens who had proof they had been vaccinated against Covid-19. Those looking to become ‘guinea pigs’ and test out the earliest travel restrictions were able to visit a select number of destinations deemed safe to visit by politicians.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps announced a dozen destinations where UK holidaymakers could head to the sun, and while many were not accessible, trips to the island of Madeira got the go-ahead. Anyone who rushed to jump on a plane needed to take a PCR test before leaving the UK, have a pre-departure test up to 72 hours before return travel, and a single PCR test on or before day 2 of arrival.
It wasn’t easy and that’s not even taking into account the dreaded Passenger Locator Form. For many, these regulations were a travel turn-off. So what has changed in a year?
When the first flights from England touched down at Madeira’s Cristiano Ronaldo airport in Funchal during early May 2021, tourists were shocked. Medics in hazmat suits and a tented village of testing stations made the airport resemble a field hospital rather than a holiday gateway. Arrivals were subjected to temperature checks and a grilling over potential Covid symptoms before they had even collected their luggage.
Masks were worn everywhere and opening hours of bars and restaurants were strictly restricted. But fast-forward almost a year and Madeira is now a totally different place – although some rules on using face coverings indoors remain.
The Portuguese paradise in the Atlantic Ocean retains the unique charm it had before the pandemic. However, many things have taken the resort to another level. It is no longer ‘God’s waiting room’ filled with visitors of a certain advanced age, who flocked to the island for winter and spring holidays.
Madeira is now a destination that prides itself on its natural beauty, tremendous gastronomy and exciting tourism experiences. A visit is now an adventure and in just a few months it has transformed itself.
Hotels, bars and restaurants are filled to the brim with visitors from all over the world – there’s even a direct flight from New York each week. One of the best hotels is the majestic Savoy Palace in capital Funchal. The 16-storey delight has much to offer, from a varied and moreish range of restaurants, to a charming spa and many luxurious pools.
Savoy Palace is 20km from the international airport, providing the perfect base to explore the stunning and varied archipelago of Madeira, with various excursions and activities on offer to guests. On the same latitude as Morocco, and with some of the most striking landscapes in Europe, it has a sub-tropical climate and dramatic mountainous terrain.
The 352-room venue is set beside the Atlantic Ocean with football legend Cristiano Ronaldo’s home just a stone’s throw away. To really push the boat out, you can treat yourself to suite with its special guest facilities.
Each day, culinary delights are delivered to the room; from macarons and Portuguese pastel nata tarts, to fresh fruit and sweet Madeiran wine. There is also access to the Jacarandá Lounge & Club, which offers delicious breakfast options.
Savoy Palace also boasts a diverse dining experience with seven separate options, including the new Pau de Lume. But the culinary highlight was the Galaxia Sky Food experience overlooking the twinkling lights of the city below. Located at the very top of the hotel, it serves some of the most delicious dishes made from quality products and paired with exquisite wines.
The food, cocktails and wine are all served with wonderful product knowledge and a cheerful demeanour. Feast on a five-course tasting menu featuring Wagyu beef skewers, fresh fish and artisanal breads with homemade butter. Each dish is a work of art on a plate.
A stay in the Savoy Palace would not be complete with a visit to the Laurea spa. It’s a relaxing space with a stunning pool and jacuzzi set amongst striking interiors to provide nature-inspired healing.
Dreaming of when you may be able to go on holiday again and where that might be? Want the latest travel and staycation news sent straight to your inbox to help you plan ahead?
Sign up here for regular updates on the latest travel advice, plus top destinations and wonderful places to stay post-Covid.
When you subscribe we will use the information you provide to send you these newsletters. Sometimes they’ll include recommendations for other related newsletters or services we offer. Our Privacy Notice explains more about how we use you data, and your rights. You can unsubscribe at any time.
Outside the hotel, activities in Madeira extend from land to sea, with so much to sample. Explore Madeira’s mountainous expanses in a day-long Land Rover tour with personal guide operated by BraveLanders.
The wine-tasting tour includes a visit to the vineyards at Quinta do Barbusano for a traditional lunch and sampling excellent wines set atop towering cliffs with tremendous coastal views. As well as enjoying the marvellous Madeira landscapes at places tourists rarely see, the tour ends with a magnificent trip to Paul do Mar to view the sunset and enjoy dinner at the famous Maktub venue.
To see the island by sea, try out a sunrise cruise around Funchal harbour and along the coastline on board the Happy Hour boat, with an excellent and healthy breakfast included – an invigorating start to any day. So, a year since Madeira started to welcome UK visitors again, the island of flora and fauna is definitely back in bloom again.
For more stories from where you live, visit InYourArea.