A week in Madeira

Blandy’s Madeira wine tasting

Monday was our designated chill day, the intention was a trip to the lido, a swim in the pool and a bit of sun bathing. With my Apple draw-string swim bag and red flip-flops we wandered down to find the lido shut, until at least July. Hrmph. After an hour or so of wandering the bland hotel zone coast, passing the naval club and another uninspiring lido we gave up and chilled by our hotel pool. In the hot sun I read Ernest Hemingway’s “A moveable feast”, feet dipped in the deep cold pool, cold Maracuja juice in hand and with a cheese and ham toastie for lunch.

We realised we needed to get out of Funchal to see the best parts of Madeira, and a coach tour didn’t take our fancy. Around the corner were Hertz, Avis and all the car rental companies. We popped into Hertz and booked a Ford Fiesta for two days, starting Wednesday. We got a good deal and both of us were allowed to drive. Having never driven on the right and knowing all the hill starts I’d be doing I was nervous to say the least. Mission accomplished though.

Blandy’s Madeira wine tasting

Now a trip into Funchal to make the most of it, to do something interesting and enjoy a nice meal. After a whip around the Se (cathedral) we found Blandy’s Madeira wine tasting and tour. For a mere €5 each, with two tastings included, we spent 45 minutes learning about Sercial, Verdelho, Bual and Malmsey grapes, how the wines are fortified and what makes a vintage. The 3yr old ‘branded’ wine tasted bland, but the 10yr Bual was scrumptious. The couple we shared the tour with (a manager from Oxfordshire with experience as a banana and tomato farmer in Egypt) agreed. Two glasses each wasn’t enough and we ordered a flight of four 10 year old wines, one of each grape variety, for a proper taste. Our favourites were the Sercial and Bual, and at the airport we made sure to buy a bottle of each. We picked up a couple of aperitif glasses too.

Some restaurants are awful

Our dinner choice this evening was atrocious, and we ignored our golden rule of telling restaurant touts to piss off. Maybe it’s because one of our guide books recommended the place, but we really should have left before ordering. The culprit was O’Tapassol, a so called “favourite of old Madeira hands”, its inside menu was different to the one outside and in the small space rickety garden tables were crammed in for maximum profit, no elbow room to spare. The business cards and serviettes highlighted that this restaurant and the one next door, Le Jardin, were the same establishment, it all felt dodgy.

Food choices were conservative, a Madeira style Skabbard in a white sauce and sardines, with some limpets to start. Having drunk so much Madeira wine we ordered only water. From then on the waiters pecked at us, we had literally six different people attending to us. Our water was refilled every 20 seconds, sometimes without sipping. The food was poor, and the sardines weren’t gutted properly. Peck, peck, peck. The plate Sam used to put her bones on kept being taken away and brought back clean, every couple of minutes. Peck, peck. I had had enough, and after shouting at a waiter and telling the tout his place was shit we promptly left.

Maybe it was the alcohol I’d had earlier, but I don’t ever get angry, I’m mild mannered and polite even when I’m fuming on the inside. Today was different and the anger excited me, it was the only positive experience.

Hiking Ponta De São Lourenço then the fabulous Restaurant Tokos →