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