Travel to Madeira feels like a holiday in the ‘before times’

·5-min read
Mary Ann Haslam in Madeira
Mary Ann Haslam in Madeira

In, out, in, out, shake it all about. There was certainly some travel hokey-cokey involved before I finally arrived in sunny Madeira for a short break last week.

Portugal was originally on the green list when England’s resumption of international travel began on May 17. Then the European nation, including its islands Madeira and the Azores, went amber on June 3, meaning many British holidaymakers had to quarantine for 10 days upon returning to home soil.

Three weeks later, at the next travel update on June 24, Madeira, along with other island regions, including the Balearics, turned green again. Then the Balearics went amber. Are you keeping up?

With all this flip-flopping, it’s little wonder so many Brits find going abroad so confusing right now, myself included.

At the time, Madeira insisted it should never have been categorised as amber along with mainland Portugal, as it is an autonomous region and 1,077 kilometres away from continental Europe, which was reporting surging Covid-19 cases due to the Delta variant.

Camara de Lobos fishing village - Getty
Camara de Lobos fishing village - Getty

Having experienced travelling in Madeira recently myself, I also have to wonder why it ever became amber in the first place. With the UK’s ‘Freedom Day’ on July 19 meaning nightclubs have reopened, while Delta variant cases continue to surge, I felt safer stepping out in Madeira’s quieter streets than I did in my own neighbourhood. And travelling around felt so delightfully normal.

The island has one of the lowest coronavirus rates in Europe, with a total of 9,827 confirmed cases – 210 are currently active. That means a case rate per 100,000 over seven days of 39.2. The UK’s, by comparison, is 466.5.

As someone who is yet to receive their second jab, I was concerned about entering Madeira, especially when Portugal tightened its rules so that British travellers who are not fully vaccinated must quarantine for 14 days.

I needn’t have worried, as the archipelago is welcoming all visitors; tourists without a full course of the vaccine need to provide a negative PCR test valid 72 hours before departure, while fully vaccinated visitors and those recovered from Covid-19 can enter without the need for a PCR test.

In addition, travellers will need to fill out a form on the Madeira Safe To Discover app, where they can also upload their Fit to Fly and vaccination certificates and will be sent a QR code for arrival. Easy enough.

Aerial view of Laurisilva Forest in Madeira - Getty
Aerial view of Laurisilva Forest in Madeira - Getty

Having completed the necessary test and form beforehand, I arrived to a long queue at customs and, after about an hour, I was ushered through the “green corridor”, for travellers with negative PCR results. Visitors without a certificate are offered a free PCR test on arrival, at the numerous pop-up clinics situated at the airport, with results within 24 hours. You’d just have to quarantine in your hotel until you get your negative result.

So what’s it like being in Madeira? Masks are mandatory in all public spaces and everyone is encouraged to keep their distance. On a tour of Camara de Lobos – the famed fishing village that hosted Sir Winston Churchill in 1950 – my (masked) tour guide Graca Lopes told me that most locals adhere to the rules and those you see without masks tend to be tourists. However, masks needn’t be worn on the beach or when doing outdoor activities.

Visitors looking to party until the early hours will be sorely disappointed, as there remains a curfew of between 1am to 5am, including on weekends, in a bid to curtail the virus. Bars and restaurants are open, though, and can serve food and drinks up to midnight – no need to download an app to check in or order, either.

There is plenty to keep visitors occupied during the day. With Madeira typically a popular hotspot for UK holidaymakers, the joy of travelling post-lockdown during peak summertime is that there are not as many crowds, allowing you to social distance to your heart’s content.

During my short break I went off-roading in a 4x4 with True Spirit from the south of the island from Ponta do Sol to Porto Maniz, a town on the northern coast, stopping at scenic points, for a swim in lava pools in Seixal and to see the misty, otherwordly Unesco-listed Laurisilva Forest.

Mary Ann Haslam in Madeira
Mary Ann Haslam in Madeira

Morning yoga on Calheta beach was also on my itinerary, as well as a ride on the cable car, a walk around the peaceful Botanical Garden and a visit to Cabo Girao to see the coastal vistas from one of the highest cliffs in the world, at a dizzying 589 metres. After months of being grounded due to lockdown, it was a real feast for the eyes.

The hotels I checked into – 1905 Zino’s Palace in Ponta do Sol on the south-western coast and Caju, Le Petit Hotel in capital Funchal – only required masks while moving around public spaces and sanitiser before entering. The latter hotel even provided a “hygiene kit” by the bedside, containing a disposable mask and two sachets of antibacterial gel.

Spas throughout are open, with some restrictions. The Laurea Spa at the famed Savoy Palace, where I booked in for a relaxing massage, could only allow 10 in the gym and 25 in the spa maximum – but no mask was needed for my treatment or in the spa itself.

All that was required to fly back to the UK was to complete an antigen test within 72 hours before departure and the passenger locator form, plus a Day 2 test at home.

Besides that it felt like business as usual and, although it was a headache to complete the PCR tests and forms, it was more than worth it for an extra dose of vitamin D and a taste of normal life.

Read more: Telegraph Travel's guide to the best hotels in Madeira

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