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Madeira – an island of highs, views and pretty red roofs

Madeira – an island of highs, views and pretty red roofs

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 at the Riu Madeira hotel

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 room at Riu Madeira hotel

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

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

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

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.

Children looking at Churchill's view in Camara de Lobos

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.

A statue and flowers in Monte Palace Garden, Madeira

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.

Madeira Skywalk

Madeira Skywalk

After a busy week of highs, it’s nearly time to leave.

The cliffs beneath the Madeira Skywalk

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.

 

Where we stayed

The Riu Madeira hotel in Canico de Baixo, a four-star all inclusive, read our full guide and review to it here.

What to do in Madeira

*Visit the capital Funchal and take the Madeira Cable Car up to the large Monte Palace Gardens which are set on the steep hillside.

*Take a toboggan ride on a traditional wicker basket.

*Visit the traditional fishing village of Câmara de Lobos, visited by Winston Churchill and find the spot where he painted the view. Also look for his statue in the village.

*Visit the salt water pools at Porto Moniz and the small aquarium in the town.

*Take a walk at inland Levadas – similar to canal paths – at various sites throughout Madeira. The Fanal forest walk in the north west of the island is one of the best places to explore.

*Take a walk at Ponta de São Lourenço for stunning scenery and ocean views,

*Visit Santa Catarina park Funchal with its large playground, busy lake and views over Funchal and its port.

*Football fans can stop at the CR7 Museu – a museum dedicated to Cristiano Ronaldo on the waterfront in Funchal. There is a statue of the footballer outside.

*Stop by at the Madeira Skywalk on the cliffs of Cabo Girão and walk across the glass walkway on a balcony that juts out of some of the highest cliffs in Europe, 880 meters above sea level.

RELATED CONTENT: Riu Madeira – all you need to know about this refurbished all-inclusive hotel

*We received complimentary accommodation for some of our stay at the Riu Madeira, all views are our own.

 

 

Review: A family holiday to beautiful Corsica at May half-term with Eurocamp

Review: A family holiday to beautiful Corsica at May half-term with Eurocamp

Magnificent mountains and beautiful beaches – we take our children to Corsica and stay at Eurocamp’s two sites on this Mediterranean island

We have just arrived on a gorgeous, sunny beach, framed at each corner by pink and orange rocks.

I lay out a towel, get out the bucket and spades and our children squeal with delight as they take to the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean.

Minutes later we are scurrying to our car as a thick, black cloud descends down from the improbably steep mountains towards us and the heavens open.

This is Corsica: a land of extremes. Bright sunshine then brutal showers. Shallow bays and steep mountain passes. French-owned with an Italian influence.

An abstract concept which, for a family, boils down to croissants for breakfast and pizza for dinner.

And our week is a tale of two very different Eurocamp holiday parks (read our full comparison here).

Marina D’Erba Rossa holiday park, Ghisonaccia (full review here)

Marina D’Erba Rossa is our first stop. On the east coast, near the town of Ghisonaccia, an hour’s drive from Bastia Airport.

Swimming pool at Marina d'Erba Rossa holiday park in Corsica

Marina D’Erba Rossa swimming pool

“Mummy, an ostrich woke me up and now I’ve spotted a llama”.

We are next to the small animal park on this large site. Bulls, kangaroos and chickens alongside the holidaymakers who have arrived here from across Europe.

The holiday park is a little tired in places and our mobile home isn’t the newest but we can overlook that as there is so much for children to do.

The exterior of our Eurocamp mobile home at The swimming pool at Marina d'Erba Rossa in Corsica

Our Eurocamp mobile home

For a start, it’s on a big beach with inviting waves. There’s a great pool, next to the beach.

Then there’s a new playground/play area, mini golf, trampoline and zip wire enclosure, gym, ice cream parlour, tennis courts, crazy golf, pool tables – the list goes on.

Play area with slides at Marina d'Erba Rossa holiday park in Corsica

A small shop on the site sells essentials including fresh croissants and baguettes in the morning and at night you can tuck into very tasty pizza at the on-site restaurant.

Ghisonaccia is a fairly non-descript Corsican town but has all the facilities you need. Nearby Aleria has some of the island’s history on display at its museum.

The fact that Marina D’Erba Rossa is on a lovely beach was the biggest draw for us. But this island, birthplace of Napoleon, is much more than just a beach holiday.

You have to head inland. Onwards and upwards into the mountains.

Sampolo Lake and mountains in Corsica

Sampolo Lake

The routes immediately become steep and twisty, rocks hang over the edge of the road, ears pop, civilisation becomes more sporadic.

And it’s at the start of one of these roads we find our second campsite, Sole di Sari. Keep reading for all the details.

Sole di Sara campsite, Solenzara (full review here)

Outside the town of Solenzara, the small site Sole di Sara campsite is fresh and modern.

Eurocamp Sole di Diri mobile home exterior

Our mobile home at Sole di Sari

The mobile home is nearly new, nestled into the hillside overlooking a stunning backdrop of mountain peaks and a gentle river.

A girl sits beside the river at Sole di Sari

The river at Sole di Sari

And the river isn’t just for looking at, it’s for swimming in too. The water is even colder than the site’s clean but small pool but is well worth exploring.

Sole di Sari swimming pool complex

Sole di Sari swimming pool

There’s also a play area with swings and slides, a modern bar and restaurant, boules, table tennis and a basketball court.

Sole di Sari play area

Sole di Sari play area

From Sole di Sari, you can get to the nearest beach by car in five minutes or head up the mountain road that the park sits on.

Just watch out for the wild bulls! One comes charging down the road and then chases us on our way up the snaking route to the Col de Bavella.

A 20-minute slow drive rewards with astonishing views across the mountainous valley. We stop about two-thirds of the way up after losing the bull, where there is a short but spectacular walk.

The vew at Col de Bavella mountains in Corsica

Col de Bavella

Adventurous families with older children can go canyoning and hiking to hidden waterfalls.

There is also a zip wire and treetop rope courses including one for youngsters (but check for opening times, they are closed when we go).

Children will also enjoy the rocky streams and turquoise coves lower down the mountain road.

Back at sea level we sample an abundance of colourful beaches on this stretch of coastline. Highlights near Solenzara are Scaffa Rossa, Fautea and Canella.

Palombaggia Beach in Corsica

Palombaggia Beach

Further afield we combine a visit to the wealthy walled town of Porto Vecchio and its yacht-filled marina, with a trip to Corsica’s most famous beach Palombaggia.

Shallow waters, soft sand and a wonderful view along the coast draws thousands to this beach, which means sharing the sand with plenty of other people, something we haven’t had to do elsewhere.

Peaceful, picturesque places aren’t hard to find whether you choose the mountains or the beaches on this island of contrasts.

Corsica facts

Where is Corsica?

Corsica is a French island in the Mediterranean, north of Sardinia. It is west of Italy and southeast of France.

Is it family-friendly?

Yes. And families in Corsca can combine a beach holiday with adventure in the mountains and rivers further inland.

English isn’t widely spoken everywhere so you do need to be a bit more adventurous than, say, heading to Spain but that’s all part of the fun.

Is it easy to get to Corsica?

It’s short two-hour flight from the UK to Bastia in the north and Figari in the south.

When is the best time to travel?

Between April and October. We went at May half-term which was nice and quiet.

Have you been to Corsica? Where did you stay?

Eurocamp

Eurocamp has a choice of camping holidays in more than 175 parks across France, Spain, Italy and elsewhere in Europe.



Four holiday in Dorset: Following in the footsteps of the Famous Five

Four holiday in Dorset: Following in the footsteps of the Famous Five

We spend a day exploring the spiritual home of the Famous Five in Enid Blyton’s beloved Dorset

“Dick,” shout my children, calling to their dad as we climb the hill to ‘Kirrin Castle’.

“DIIIIICK, come here!”

I fare best when our children ask us to pretend we are the Famous Five for I get to be feisty cousin George (Georgina).

My son is Julian, my daughter, Anne and Timmy is our imaginary dog.

Today’s game feels far more real, as we are playing at the very locations in Dorset which inspired the Famous Five stories.

I devoured Enid Blyton as a child. Night after night I’d stay awake until all hours reading book after book, series after series.

So, it’s been magical to revisit childhood favourites with my own children from The Magic Faraway Tree through to the Adventures series.

The Famous Five stories may be old fashioned with some outdated ideas (I take the opportunity to explain this as I read). But with more than 100 million copies sold they remain as popular today.

The daring children have remarkably grown-up free adventures, finding treasure and smugglers and, it strikes me these days, never needing the toilet!

All amidst a rural backdrop of blue skies, sea and countryside, bicycle rides and lots of deliciously described picnics.

Today we are exploring the Dorset Enid Blyton loved and visited with her family for over 40 years, on the Isle of Purbeck, (which is more a peninsula than an isle).

The first three Famous Five Books

Kirrin Castle

The first Famous Five book, Five on a Treasure Island, was published over 75 years ago, in 1942.

In it, we are introduced to Kirrin Castle, on Kirrin Island, which belongs to George, near her home in Kirrin Bay.

“It had been built of big white stones. Broken archways, tumbledown towers, ruined walls – that was all that was left of a once beautiful castle, proud and strong.”

The inspiration for Kirrin Castle is said to have been Corfe Castle in Purbeck, so this becomes our first stop.

It is not on an island but our children are thrilled as we near the fabulous ruins which loom over the surrounding area.

Corfe Castle, the inspiration for Kirrin Castle

Corfe Castle, the inspiration for Kirrin Castle

They race up the grassy slope to explore the 1,000-year-old castle, which survived the English Civil War when it was partly demolished by Cromwell’s troops and now belongs to the National Trust.

We explore all the hidden nooks and crannies and remember the adventures the Five had here, such as finding lost gold.

Even without the Blyton connection, we would have had a great time.

(Tip: If it is a school holiday get there early as parking in the small village of Corfe can be difficult. The small car park opposite the castle fills up quickly and the other option through the narrow village is a five to 10 minute walk away and was almost full when we visited).

Steam train

Enid Blyton first saw Corfe Castle when she arrived by steam train.

The steam train at Corfe Castle

The steam train at Corfe

And this is something you can still do today – Swanage Railway runs steam trains between Swanage and Norden. There is a picturesque stop at Corfe Castle so you could arrive or depart from here on your Famous Five adventure.

Of course, the Famous Five often travelled by steam train – particularly to return from their boarding schools ready for the holidays and more adventures.

Bathing – Swanage Pier

Next stop is the pretty seaside town of Swanage where Enid Blyton enjoyed swimming around the pier with her husband.

It was too cold for a swim when we went but we enjoyed a picnic, sadly no hard-boiled eggs, lashings of ginger beer or lemonade for us though.

Swanage

Swanage

On quiet days – if you are in the car – you can park on the seafront, alternatively there are large car parks a short walk from the beach.

Island adventure

Brownsea Island, in Poole Harbour, is said to have been the inspiration for Whispering Island, described by Enid Blyton as Keep Away Island in Five Have a Mystery to Solve.

In Enid Blyton’s day, visitors were not allowed – but now it’s owned by the National Trust.

The ferry to Brownsea island

The ferry to Brownsea island

We caught a ferry over from Sandbanks to explore. Brownsea Island Ferries run regular services from Sandbanks and from Poole Quay to the island. Greenslade Pleasure Boats also run a ferry service from Poole. Departures are about every 30 minutes with the last boat leaving at 5pm.

Once you have landed on the island there is lots to explore, the wildlife there includes rare red squirrels and we were lucky enough to spot three.

A red squirrel we spotted on Brownsea Island

A red squirrel we spotted on Brownsea Island

There are also clifftop walks, which lead down to rocky beaches. If you explore the far end of the island you can see where the first Scout camp was held by Baden-Powell in 1907.

Exploring Brownsea Island

Exploring Brownsea Island

A trip to an island, always led to an adventure for the Famous Five and we wished we had longer here. But our only adventure was nearly missing the last boat back!

In conclusion

This is a fabulous way for Enid Blyton fans to spend their ‘hols’ with lashings of fun.

You can base yourself in the Isle of Purbeck but it is only a 25-minute drive to family-friendly Bournemouth which has more accommodation and activities for children if you want to make your Famous Five day into a mini-break in Dorset.