We take a trip to the home of Ronaldo – the beautiful Portuguese island of Madeira
There’s a spontaneous and enthusiastic round of applause as our plane touches down in Madeira.
We are cheering both the gentle landing and the stunning approach to this airport said to be so challenging to land at that pilots need special training.
Stepping off the plane, I catch a first glimpse of the countless red-roofed homes scattered over the hills which will become an abiding memory from this trip.
That and the view from our hotel room, pina colada slipping down as easily as the waves roll over the rocks in the Atlantic Ocean below us.
I’ll be as bold as to say this might be one of the best hotel room views we’ve ever had.
But then we are in Madeira – an island where stunning scenery is around every corner.
Our particular corner of this Portuguese island is the village of Canico de Baixo.
And our hotel is the Riu Madeira. A large, all-inclusive resort with two outdoor pools, an indoor pool, as much fresh food as you can eat and as many cocktails as you can drink.
One of the outdoor pools
There’s also a tennis court, games room, an area to play bowls and evening entertainment from singers, bands, magicians and a ballroom dancing duo who call up our daughter to help demonstrate her Strictly Come Dancing skills.
The applause makes her day. And it’s the staff here, especially those in the busy restaurant area, who deserve a pat on the back.
It can’t be easy to keep guests from over 300 rooms fed and watered but they come round to top up your wine glass with an efficient smile before it’s even half emptied.
We’re almost as quick to clear our plates of tasty food. The main restaurant is buffet style catering to every possible preference. There’s also a more adult focussed Kulinarium restaurant with table service. And a poolside bar and grill.
The main bedroom in our junior suite
Our room is a junior suite with two large beds and a sofa bed for the four of us to choose from.
Having a separate lounge area allows us to spread out as does the large dressing room area – all kept spotless by our lovely maid.
Oh and that balcony I mentioned earlier overlooking the sea. It is literally a stone’s throw from the Atlantic Ocean.
Sea view from the balcony of a junior suite room at the Riu Madeira hotel
And there are plenty of stones to throw on the rocky beach.
The area around the hotel is a fun place to explore with caves, a small seawater pool, exercise equipment and a busy promenade to enjoy.
The lure of the swimming pool at our hotel is just as popular with our children – indoors if the showers sweep in, or outdoors when the sun shines.
Fortunately the sun is out for most of our week in Madeira so we can explore the narrow, hilly roads around the island.
We head east to the stunning clifftop walk of Ponta de São Lourenço .
The view from our walk at Ponta de São Lourenço
Drive north west through mountains and tunnels to the natural seawater pools and aquarium in Porto Moniz.
Seawater pools in Porto Moniz
And go south to Câmara de Lobos – a fishing village made famous by Winston Churchill, who painted its pretty harbour when he came in 1950.
Looking at Churchill’s view in Camara de Lobos
One must in Madeira is to head up high.
We take the cable car from the centre of capital Funchal to Monte. It’s a spectacular ride and at the top you can enjoy the beautiful Monte Palace gardens before riding back down again on the cable car.
Monte Palace Garden
Another way down is by toboggan on a traditional wicker basket sleigh along steep streets, guided by two people with nothing for brakes but the grips on their shoes.
If you like heights it’s worth stopping by at the Madeira Skywalk. You can walk across a glass walkway on a balcony 580 metres above the sea attached to some of the highest cliffs in Europe.
After a busy week of highs, it’s nearly time to leave.
The cliffs beneath the Madeira Skywalk
For a last time, we awaken and pull back the curtains to enjoy the view and the sound of the Atlantic from our bed.
Then it’s back to the airport, named after the island’s most famous export.
Not its fortified wine but the footballer Cristiano Ronaldo.
He was born here and returns regularly and this is one happy family which may follow suit.
We review the Riu Madeira Hotel on the Portuguese island of Madeira and give you a video tour
We love a Riu hotel so when we found out the Riu Madeira had been refurbished, we were excited to try it out. Here’s our full review and guide to this four-star all-inclusive on the gorgeous Portuguese island of Madeira.
Where is it?
The hotel is in Praia dos Reis Magos in Caniço de Baixo on the south coast of the Portuguese island of Madeira, east of the capital Funchal.
It is nestled in the hillside overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
Outdoor restaurant seating
What is it?
It’s a four-star all-inclusive hotel with three restaurants and two pools and is one of the Riu Hotels & Resorts hotels.
As it’s all-inclusive, everyone wears a wristband and all food and drink is included. It also has a spa, hairdressers, lobby bar and a big room to watch shows and entertainment each evening.
Is it family friendly?
It’s great for everyone including families. Children will love the pools, location and food – there’s so much choice that there should be something for even the fussiest eaters including pizza and three pasta options every day.
There’s a tennis court and a place to play bowls. But there isn’t a RiuLand Children’s Club as we’ve seen at other Riu hotels and the two outside pools are deep although there’s a separate little paddling pool.
The reception area
There are 327 rooms, including single and twin rooms along with junior suites.
They all have air-conditioning, a balcony or terrace and free Wi-Fi, which was very fast and reliable.
The main bedroom in our junior suite
We had a fabulous junior suite with the most stunning view over the sea, wonderful to enjoy from the bed or balcony. It had two double beds pushed together and a separate area with a sofa bed. There were two televisions, a bathroom with two sinks and a shower, plus bathrobes which you could wear around the pool (not available in children’s sizes). The sound of the sea from the room was so relaxing.
The second room in our junior suite
Food and drink
There are three restaurants and all food and drink, including alcohol, is included.
The main buffet restaurant – we ate mostly in this restaurant which serves a huge selection of food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are plenty of tables inside and out, overlooking the pools. It only felt really busy on one morning, which was a Sunday.
The main buffet restaurant
Kulinarium – this is an a la carte speciality restaurant. The food is delicious, made from local produce and the service is fantastic, staff are so attentive. The menu is small and there is no separate children’s menu but if there is nothing they fancy, you can always fetch something from the buffet restaurant. This restaurant gets booked up in advance so make sure you book a night on arrival.
Pepe’s Food – this is a poolside grill bar which has a selection of food and drink open during the day.
Sports and activities
There’s a hard-surface tennis court, a card games room and an area to play bowls plus a small gym.
The tennis court
We spotted lots of people running along the sea front and many stop to use the outdoor gym equipment dotted around on the path running behind the hotel.
We went in February half-term but from around July to mid-September there’s a daytime entertainment programme for six to 12-year-olds, six times a week.
Our hotel highlights
One of the outdoor pools
*The pools – the indoor pool, one of the outdoor pools and the paddling pool is heated during the winter months.
*Entertainment – after dinner in the show room there was a different music act each evening until around 9pm followed by a show from 9.15pm including a magic show, a circus-themed performance and an Elton John tribute. Our favourite was the ballroom dancing as our daughter got picked to have a go.
The bar area
*Views of the sea – the view from our bed and balcony and many of the sunbeds of the ocean, were stunning.
View from the sunbeds
*The staff – staff were so friendly and attentive throughout the hotel.
Pool towels are available from a hut next to the outdoor pools. You are allowed one each but can swap for a dry one or for a pool card whenever you want.
The towel hut
Breakfast got busier later in the morning so go earlier if you can for a more relaxing experience.
If you want to eat at the a la carte Kulinarium restaurant book as soon as you arrive because it fills up quickly.
Tell us more about Madeira
Madeira is one of the Madeira Archipelago (group of islands), as well as Porto Santo, Desertas and the Selvagens. The islands are south west of Portugal, off the coast of Africa and are actually closer to Morocco than Portugal.
Madeira used to be hard to explore as it is so mountainous with rugged coasts, but today there are raised roads and loads of tunnels – two of them over 1.9 miles long.
My abiding memory of Madeira will be of all the red-roofed homes scattered over the hills and the pretty lights sparkling on the hillsides at night, which you can even see from the airport as soon as you arrive.
The view from the Madeira Cable Car
If you leave the hotel by its rear exit, you cross a narrow path to get to the pebbly beach.
It’s pretty to look at but not easy to walk on and quite hard to swim from – you’ll need shoes and there are a lot of rocks plus the sea seems rough. There is a jetty with steps down into the sea and further around to the left is a part sectioned off by rocks which feels safer to swim in.
The beach is pebbly
Madeira is a wonderful island to explore. We had a hire car and marvelled at some of the steep mountain roads.
The capital Funchal is just a 15-minute drive from Riu Madeira. We were lucky enough to be there during its Carnival celebrations and enjoyed one of the colourful parades.
We took a cable car from Funchal, it’s a stunning ride up to the top where we visited the beautiful Monte Palace gardens before riding back down again.
Monte Palace Gardens
Another way back down but not for the faint-hearted is by the famous Madeira Toboggan Ride. Passengers on wicker basket sledges are helped down the hill by two runners wearing straw boaters, in a tradition dating back to the 19th century and experienced by my grandparents in the 1970s.
We also visited the traditional fishing village Camara de Lobos which was loved by Winston Churchill after he visited in 1950 and stood at the site where he painted a portrait of the bay.
Looking at Churchill’s view in Camara de Lobos
We headed east to the stunning clifftop walk of Porto do San Lourenco and drove north west to the natural seawater pools and aquarium in Porto Moniz.
A seawater pool at Porto Moniz
When to go to the Hotel Riu Madeira
We went in February when the average temperature is 20 degrees and the rain is 97mm. This was perfect for us as we don’t like it too hot. Here is a year-round look at the average weather in Madeira:
January 20 degrees, 80mm rainfall February 20 degrees, 97mm rainfall March 21 degrees, 53mm rainfall April 21 degrees, 55m rainfall May 22 degrees, 22mm rainfall June 24 degrees, 6mm rainfall July 26 degrees, 1mm rainfall August 27 degrees, 2mm rainfall September 27 degrees, 28mm rainfall October 25 degrees, 89mm rainfall November 23 degrees, 88mm rainfall December 21 degrees, 118mm rainfall
Riu Madeira more information
Accessibility: The hotel is on a hillside but is said to be generally suitable for those with reduced mobility. There are stairs up from the pool area to the restaurant and reception but also a small lift.
Facilities: Gym, hair salon, spa, tennis court, bowls, three restaurants, three pools, paddling pool, free Wifi.
Address: Praia dos Reis Magos, 9125-024 Caniço de Baixo, Portugal
We take our children to review the all-inclusive Clubhotel Riu Oliva Beach in Corralejo, Fuerteventura
“Everybody is naked,” said my brother in a mock whisper.
The glorious beach at our hotel in Fuerteventura is full of surprises.
Not only is Corralejo bigger and sandier than any beach I can remember. With gently crashing turquoise waves, perfect for the children to try out their new bodyboards. And camel rides along sands which stretch for miles from the front of our hotel, the Clubhotel Riu Oliva Beach Resort.
Bodyboarding in the sea on Corralejo beach
But one day as we turn right out of the hotel and venture further along in search of rock pools, we unwittingly gatecrash a naturist section.
This eye-opening experience was not part of the plan for a family trip away to celebrate my mum’s 70th.
My embarrassed mum picked up her pace, I tried not to snigger like a child while the actual children with us didn’t bat an eyelid, except my eight-year-old nephew who asked if it was legal.
While I had carefully dressed my son and daughter in their UV swimsuits, the youngsters in this area were in their birthday suits, while relaxed adults strolled in and out of the sea.
And the giggle we had about it later (apologies to naturist readers) confirmed this as a holiday to remember.
The Riu Oliva Beach is a huge, all-inclusive resort set back from the sands.
We are Riu regulars and love the good food, child-friendly pools and fun feel of their hotels.
We knew this one was soon to be refurbished but the location more than made up for the slightly tired surroundings.
One of the pools at the Riu Oliva Beach hotel, next to the beach
The hotel is divided into a main tower and a lower rise annexe area better suited to families, where we stayed.
Our family room had a lovely large balcony, double bedroom and two single sofa beds for our children.
There are two swimming pools – the fish-shaped one was where we spent most of our time. It is well designed for children with varying depths and an island to swim around.
The fish-shaped swimming pool at Clubhotel Riu Oliva Beach Resort
On one side is a handy shop, filled with temping inflatables for the children and buckets and spades.
On the other side of the pool is the smaller of the two main buffet restaurants.
There is also a restaurant specialising in Asian cuisine and another boasting Canarian favourites.
Our party of 11 – aged from three to 70 – all found something to their taste.
There is children’s entertainment daily with a party at 5pm, plus an adults’ show every night at 9.30pm.
A children’s disco would also have been welcome in the early evening which we have had at other Riu hotels.
All-inclusive here means just that, all we paid for all week was a camel ride along the beach. And our inflatable dolphin for the pool!
Having all your food and drink included certainly makes it easier when you are in a big group as we were.
The nearby town of Corralejo has a pretty square, markets, a water park plus a ferry to nearby Lanzarote.
But we found plenty to entertain us at the hotel.
A camel ride along Corralejo beach
Mornings in the pool, afternoons at the beach and evenings enjoying the food, drink and entertainment.
One magic show for children was especially good.
You might find plusher venues in the Canaries but I doubt you will find one in a better spot to enjoy the landscape.
Just remember to watch where you walk if you want to explore the sands.
Or pack extra sun cream.
*For a more detailed review of the hotel, see here.
Accommodation: We stayed as guests at Clubhotel Riu Oliva Beach Resort, an all-inclusive hotel in Corralejo, Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands, Spain, for the purposes of this review. All opinions are our own.
Answer these questions before booking an all-inclusive hotel for you and your children
All-inclusive holidays have never been as popular as they are now in 2018.
Holidaymakers on all-inclusive breaks can relax knowing after paying one price up front, all their meals and drinks have been paid for in advance. But it certainly doesn’t suit everybody.
So should you and your family go all-inclusive or not? The answer depends on you, your budget and where you’re going. Our comprehensive guide can help you decide.
What is all inclusive?
All-inclusive usually means that the accommodation, meals, drinks (soft and alcoholic) and entertainment are included in the cost. Some or all activities can also be added and occasionally also the airfare.
Where are you going?
It is important to take into consideration your destination when deciding whether to go all-inclusive.
In general the more familiar, cheaper and developed the location, the easier self-catering or a non all-inclusive hotel stay, will be.
In places like France and Spain, there are often nearby supermarkets, restaurants and bars, selling food and drink at reasonable prices.
But in destinations such as Mexico, parts of the Caribbean, Morocco and Cuba, there may be a lack of self-catering accommodation, limited restaurants and food can be expensive to buy. Also if safety is an issue you may be better off staying at and eating at a big resort.
So, unless you are a seasoned traveller, confident being out and about in less-developed areas with your children, staying at a hotel and eating there can be the more sensible option in some areas.
What do you want from your holiday?
If you want to relax away from the stresses of everyday life, with nothing to plan, everything taken care of for you, food prepared, drinks poured and entertainment for you and your children on the doorstep then all-inclusive could be for you.
But if you are adventurous, keen to explore the area, visit attractions and try out local restaurants, you may be better off self-catering, else you’ll be paying for food and drinks more than once and staying somewhere there is less incentive to leave. Self-catering also suits people who enjoy planning and are good at sticking to a budget while away.
We took a self-catering trip to Italy (read about it here) where we did a mix of cooking and eating out at lunchtime which kept costs lower than an all-in hotel.
How many people are going?
The bigger the group the easier all-inclusive may be. We recently took an all-inclusive trip to Fuerteventura (read about it here).
There were 11 of us, aged three to 70, and for us, all-inclusive was more straightforward.
It meant the children didn’t have to sit for ages waiting in restaurants for food as we ate buffet-style quickly and easily, there was something for all tastes and there were no worries about the bill or paying for drinks.
A villa is another good alternative for a big group. You can split the cost of accommodation, food and drink and take it in turns to cook. You will also have more space than a hotel room with communal spaces to socialise.
How long do you want to stay?
One complaint often levelled at all-inclusives is that it gets a bit samey. Same food, same pool, same activities.
A week suits us but I know people who love two weeks, as they feel they can really relax.
Pick a good all-inclusive like this one in Gran Canaria with three or four restaurants and you might find you have enough variety for 10 to 14 days.
The other way to break things up is to get out on excursions or attractions to keep the scenery fresh.
What is included?
Check what is included before you book an all-inclusive as it varies from resort to resort and some travellers end up paying for things they expected to be covered.
Added extras can include bottled water, snacks, activities, resort fees, hotel safe and Wi-Fi charges (and Wi-Fi is sometimes only available in the hotel reception).
There are usually one or two main buffet restaurants serving similar food.
There can be other restaurants such as Japanese, Thai or Asian eateries, which can be buffet-style or à la carte.
Sometimes only meals in the main buffet area are included in the cost and you have to pay to eat in any other restaurants.
Others allow a restricted number of visits to other restaurants while expensive all-inclusives may have no limit.
Sometimes there may be a cost for items like lobster and steak.
Often you have to reserve tables in all but the main buffet restaurants in advance. Check first as this can be before the holiday or on set days while you are there. Also ask whether there is a dress code.
The food package sometimes includes snacks and ice cream between meals.
For some people the free (well, included) drinks is the biggest draw as bar tabs can get very expensive.
Often it is the local brands of drinks (such as spirits and wine) that are given, with charges for imported brands.
But high-end all-inclusives can include premium brand international drinks. At more expensive resorts, you may also have waiter service on the beach, fetching you drinks and cocktails as you relax on a sun lounger or, more likely, build sandcastles.
Minibars in some all-inclusives include free drinks and snacks but check first. At the same time confirm whether room service is free.
So how much do you drink?
If you are a family of four, we calculate that both adults need to be at least moderate drinkers to save money going all-inclusive.
In a country like France where a decent bottle of wine can cost about £3, you won’t save a lot so assess the destination and be honest about your drinking!
The activities included in the cost vary enormously, so check first. They can include non-motorised water sports like kayaking and paddleboarding, beach games, exercise classes, water aerobics, water sports and scuba diving. So it is a good opportunity to try out new things. There may also be a games room, tennis courts, gym, children’s clubs, water park, playground or mini golf.
Normally you will pay for motorised water sports, spa treatments, excursions and babysitting.
Check the entertainment schedule straight away so that you don’t miss something you may enjoy.
There can be discos, live shows, children’s discos, children’s magic shows, character breakfasts etc. The quality also varies considerably between hotels so check out reviews.
Double check before what happens if you have to cancel your trip, will you lose the whole all-inclusive cost including meals? Make sure you have a good travel insurance policy.
Do you need to tip?
Lots of people like not having to carry cash around but tipping is welcomed at some hotels, find out the resort or culture’s tipping policy in advance.
Tipping is usually appreciated but not required to recognise good service to staff including bartenders, servers and housekeepers.
Will you save money?
Here comes the crunch – is all-inclusive it cheaper? Unsurprisingly the answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no. Let’s do a quick comparison.
We price-tested a week to the Costa del Sol at May half-term for a family of four.
All-inclusive prices (flights, transfer, hotel, food and drink) range from £2,500 to £3,200 for a decent four-star resort.
Now the DIY option. Flights come out at £350 per person for four people (total £1,400). A comparable hotel with breakfast included, ranges from £800 to £1,000. That gives us a total of £2,200-2,400, leaving £800 for a week’s food and drink. That is the true cost of the all-inclusive.
Meals out in the Costa Del Sol at a reasonable restaurant would be around £60 for a family of four. So it comes down to lunch and how much booze you want.
Will you save money going all-inclusive?
An all-inclusive resort can be cheaper if you take advantage of all they have to offer but often the cost is comparable, so it is about choice and what will work best for your family.
We have always thoroughly enjoyed all-inclusives with our young children, in between other more active and adventurous breaks.
I love the huge range of food and beautiful pools and our children like the familiarity of being in one resort and getting to know what to do and where everything is. We still try to get out and about a bit too to explore the area to achieve the perfect balance.