Cocoon’d in Madeira

Eyes down for a full house! We’re on a pensioners’ vacation in Madeira.

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When I mentioned I’d booked an Easter break to Madeira, I couldn’t find a single soul who had holidayed here. Friends’ reactions varied from polite curiosity, open-jawed incredulity, and the no-holds barred, ‘WTF? Isn’t that where all the old biddies go?’

To be fair, the reviews for our hotel read a little something like this… ‘Having just recovered from a heart attack, a trip to the Cliff Bay was just the tonic…’ and ‘Cliff Bay was the perfect place to celebrate our Golden Wedding Anniversary…’.

Great, I thought, there’ll be no rowdy horse-play around the pool, no blaring bar music and the ageing residents – me included – will be tucked up in bed by 10pm. It sounded like my kind of holiday.

The husband was also wholly underwhelmed by news of the impending excursion.

To be fair, I did book it on a whim while he was busy lording it up – P Diddy style – on a ‘business’ trip to Miami, in what is purported to be the city’s trendiest hotel (the Fontain Bleu, for those interested). To a Miami socialite, Madeira is a bit of a step down.

In a final attempt to prove Madeira wasn’t just for the over 60s, I Wikipediaed the capital Funchal, where we were staying.

One statement stood out above the rest: ‘Madeira has drawn ailing visitors since the 19th Century. Many were so ill that they never made it home; they are buried in Funchal’s unassuming British cemetery.’

Jesus.

So it was with some misgivings that the husband and I boarded the flight to Funchal. As we suspected, there was a sea of grey heads stretching as far as the eye could see.

The flight itself was a very civilised affair. Large queues for the toilets admittedly, but lots of friendly, smiling elders (and not a lager lout in sight).

And when the captain announced that there was no charge for the trolleys at the airport, there was a collective ripple of approval from the silver-haired masses.

It was a seamless glide through baggage collection and a pleasant taxi ride to our hotel. Madeira was as pretty as you’d imagine: terracotta-roofed villas dotted the lush green landscape and as the taxi wove down the steep hills, the Atlantic sparked alluringly in the distance.

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We decided to take an evening stroll along the promenade. Due to its influx of the more mature visitor, the island had an unhurried and relaxed feel to it – a stark contrast to our usual frenetic lives.

As we trundled past many golden oldies with their walking sticks, we spotted a man unzipping the bottom portion of his trousers to turn them into shorts. I privately thought this was quite an ingenious idea.

‘If I ever wear shorts with zip off leg bits or open-toed sandals with or without socks, shoot me on the spot,’ said the husband.

‘One day, we’ll be old too,’ I mused.

‘We will,’ the husband agreed. ‘But I still won’t ever wear open-toed sandals. I will retain my keen aesthetic eye.’

Back at the hotel room, I weighed up our rather large bed.

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At first glance, it appeared to be a super king – in fact bigger than super king (uber king?!) But on closer inspection, I realised it was in fact two large single beds, each with their own separate sheets.

This meant an end to the husband hogging the duvet, digs from stray limbs in the night, or in-your-ear snoring… Here was the future of slumber. And I liked it.

Next door to our hotel, perched atop the hillside was the grand dame itself, Reid’s Palace – former holiday residence of Winston Churchill, no less. Visiting it for drinks one evening, I instantly fell in love.

Black and white photographs adorned the grand tiled entrance and the cocktail lounge was straight out of Mad Men. There was even a bridge room!

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The clientele were nearly as old as the walls themselves: all Panama hats and cream suits, sipping Martinis with shaky hands, while haughty waiters circled officiously. It was timeless elegance and OTT pomposity at its finest. I felt like I’d stepped back into the 50s.

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Romanticism aside, there’s another advantage to being on a senior citizen’s break: no need to rise at the crack of dawn to seize a sunbed (see last year’s Battle Of The Sun Beds in Croatia).

The elderly, it seems (with the exception of the occasional sun-baked wrinkly) prefer to seek shade, rather than bask in the Portuguese sun. By midday, there was still a bountiful supply of available loungers. The gym was virtually empty too.

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I lay on my sunbed for a couple of hours. There wasn’t a soul around. I started to get bored.

I missed people-watching; the occasional booming bronze-bellied buffoon to chuckle at (see The Ghost of Holidays Past)… Hell, I even missed the race to secure the most coveted sun-lounger.

I was on a Saga holiday and I wanted a saga.

‘It’s too quiet,’ I groaned, prodding the husband with my big toe.

The husband merely gave a sanctimonious smile, popped his headphones in, and closed his eyes.

He was only one step away from a pair of open-toed sandals.

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