It was one of eight TUI flights departing the UK on Momentous Monday – May 17 – the day it became legal for Brits to take a holiday abroad. TUI invited the press to try out a flight with the new rules, so, along with 128 other passengers, I would soon be landing in the balmy 25C warmth of sub-tropical Madeira. As part of Portugal, this Atlantic Ocean island is one of only a dozen destinations to make it on to the Government’s Green List. It meant that thankfully we wouldn’t have to quarantine on our return to the UK.
Thrilling though it was to be flying again, it had been a bit of a long-haul to get holiday-ready. In these Covid times, preparation begins 72 hours before departure, taking a Fit to Fly PCR test – the first of a trio of tests required for my round-trip.
The hassle of arranging them – not to mention the expense – was a little off-putting, but TUI has teamed up with testing partner Chronomics to offer customers Covid test packages. For the affordable price of £60, the package includes a Fit to Fly PCR test, a Test to Return to the UK (lateral flow test) to be taken before the flight home and another PCR test, which will be sent to your home to be taken on day two after your return.
On receipt of my negative result, I registered on the Madeira Safe website to upload the result. I didn’t have to wait long for an email confirmation, and promptly logged back on to the site to find my QR code for presentation at check-in. Once I produced my passport and proof of the negative PCR result, I got my boarding pass.
On landing at Cristiano Ronaldo International Airport, after the novelty of having my passport stamped, I again called up the QR code and negative test result on my mobile for inspection before being allowed to leave the airport.
Once outside, I spotted a bust of the island’s most celebrated footballer, which made me smile – someone had cheekily added a face mask! It was a timely reminder that face coverings are mandatory in Madeira indoors, as well as outdoors where you’re not able to socially distance. But you don’t need to wear them when sitting down to eat or drink, or relaxing on the beach or by the pool.
At Hotel Riu Palace Madeira, in the south-east coastal town of Canico de Baixo, the staff greeted us warmly. That rare species, the British tourist, had been sorely missed.
There was an air of calm and security at the all-inclusive, four-star hotel. Our temperatures were taken as we stepped into the foyer. From behind screens, I was handed an envelope containing my room key.
Venturing outside the hotel, pandemic precautions were also much in evidence. In the village of Monte, masked boater-hatted carreiros (drivers) were eagerly waiting to take us for the twisting, mile-long downhill run in the famous wicker toboggans.
In the evening, we were treated to a sublime meal and glorious views of the harbour at renowned interior designer Nini Andrade Silva’s stylishly cool Design Centre Restaurant in Funchal.
Covid rules meant a maximum five people per table, and we had to abide by a 11pm curfew.
The buffet breakfast the following morning was a chance to sample the tropical fruits the island is known for, which included papayas and Madeira’s tasty miniature bananas.
Then we headed out to see the highest sea cliff in Europe, Cabo Girão, and stand hesitantly on the glass skywalk, 1,900ft above sea level for a giddy glimpse down. Lunch followed at Vila da Carne in charming Camara de Lobos. Espetada, a traditional dish of grilled beef on skewers was served up suspended from bars above our tables.
Then it was back to the hotel to take the lateral flow test, and upload a picture showing it was negative, along with my passport, to the Chronomics website for verification.
Finally, I filled in the UK Government’s Passenger Locator Form (PLF), with details of the negative test and a booking reference number for the Day 2 PCR test. Both had to be presented at check-in.
A late landing at Gatwick meant no queues, and it took Border Force staff just a couple of minutes to check my passport before waving me through.
Was it worth all the hassle? Well it’s travel – although not quite as we know it. But escaping the awful UK spring weather certainly did wonders for my soul.
Author: Marjorie Yue
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