I must admit that when I first heard the words ‘all inclusive holiday,’ I thought, hmm the weight gain and reading a book in the sun sound very fun but I really don’t think it’d be for me – what would I eat?
Personally, buffets are a disaster for me – people have no buffet etiquette and use whatever spoon is closest to dip in the pasta and then in the salad next to it, finishing off in the potato salad before innocently returning the spoon where it began. Ready for the next person to come along and contaminate things further. You don’t need to show me any of these scary clown films sisters – I can conjure up my own personal nightmare based solely upon cutlery and mass cross contamination – I’m such a hoot.
However, the thought of reading a book in the sun was just the ticket to get me on the plane (though I packed half of Sainsbury’s free from aisle in my luggage and hand luggage – you’ll catch me absolutely no where without a snack on my person.)
The hotel we stayed in was the Enotel Lido Madeira – the Lido part is important as there’s another Enotel further into Funchal and I’m not on about the food there so if you book that one it might be different I haven’t the foggiest.
I’ll begin by giving a little overview of the hotel in terms of how the meals work but I will give a spoiler and let you know how much I did love the hotel, the staff and the food! Everyone was so kind and went out their way to ensure I was catered for and enjoyed good food just like everyone else. The food standard here in terms of flavour, quality and variety was amazing (not to mention quantity – goodness me my jeans did not fit by the end of the week.)
You can pretty much eat all day here; breakfast and lunch are in the normal restaurant but you can also have lunch in the sports bar where food is on nearly all day. Evening meals are either in the main dining room or in one of the other restaurants. These tend to have a culinary theme; there’s the Madeira restaurant, Japanese, Italian, Brasserie and the fish restaurant.
The one that took me most by surprise was the Madeira restaurant – I’d never really known what the Madeirans ate and it was delicious. The amount of food you get in these restaurants is amazing – I had ever so slight swap outs from my parents but if you let them know at the desk when you’re booking the restaurants (all but the main one needs to be booked) and the hostess always had it written down when we arrived and was ready to point out anything I could and couldn’t eat.
My favourite dish from the Madeiran restaurant was white fish, sweet potato (my favourite) with a sticky sauce on it and a glazed banana. There are lots of banana plantations on the island so it’s always nice to eat them where they’re actually grown – no air miles here!
The Japanese Tappenyaki was fun to watch the chef cook in front of us – though it did raise my blood pressure to see someone cook in front of me and watch any possible cross contamination! I really enjoyed the sticky rice, prawns and other fish and he kept mine separate so I didn’t get the soy sauce (contained wheat) on mine. I also had the sushi which was a teeny bit dry for my taste – then the next course (literally – how much more could they have fed us- super generous there’s so many courses) which was a meat course. I don’t eat red meat and it makes me feel a little queezy when it’s cooked next to my veggies so I didn’t eat this one – but if you eat meat you will absolutely love this course.
I was a bit worried about Italian night. However – the waiter told me they’d made me something special before presenting me with GF bruschetta which immediately made me a very happy camper. I followed this with GF pasta – there was then an antipasti course which I was in too much of a pasta coma to enjoy but I have on good authority that it was all delicious. Then desert – I opted for Madeiran bananas again, and then ate sweets in my room. I will admit that I had a lot of fresh fruit for puddings – so if you do like something for afters, I would recommend packing some in your luggage. Fruit was delicious here and full of exotic fruits but c’mon – if you’re on holiday you’ll want some sugar won’t you!
The brasserie and fish restaurant were two of my favourites. The fish soup was something I felt very brave ordering – I usually go out of my comfort zone when ordering approximately never. Then I had fish and veggies in the brasserie and fish paella in the fish restaurant – both I’d highly recommend and the staff were amazing checking what I could eat. I got sorbet and fresh fruit here which was great too. The fish restaurant has amazing views out to see and I absolutely felt like Moana wanting to go for a swim.
Now for the main restaurant. Everything here is labelled with gluten free signs – it will say the dish next to it and then have a ‘sem gluten’ if it’s gluten free. There was also a full allergen key with all the major allergens on. The chef was more than happy to come and tell me which ones I could and couldn’t eat – I’m embarrassed to say my Portugese is shocking – their English was incredible though and whenever we came into a spot of difficulty we could both point to the allergen key and then point to different dishes and say yes or no. One thing to note is that they call ‘dairy’ ‘lactose’ over there so that was a little confusing at first.
For breakfast, there’s a little free from nook which is set away from everything else that had in it. Alpro toffee yogurts became my morning ritual, there was lots of different almond, oat and soya milks to cater for various diets, along with gluten free bread and cornflakes. There was also a buffet of fresh fruits, plus Continental breakfast so I did end up having a boiled egg and beans most days – the toaster was one to stay away from if you’re gluten free, but I do think they would have toasted my bread in the kitchen had I asked.
Lunchtime was honestly rather delightful – my mum calls me a ‘right chipface’ because honest to God if I could eat chips all day errday, I absolutely would. With chips on tap at the hotel (GF fryer don’t worry) I was predictably content. There was a salad bar the colour of the rainbow, a dish of the day (sometimes paella, often chicken or beef in a sauce) plus fresh fish being fried at a counter in front of you. Then there was irrelevant things to me such as a giant buffet of cheese and crackers and some Mediterranean buffet which I walked round a few times and had some fish from but could take it or leave it. The paella was unreal and the fresh fish was my favourite, some of the fish I’d never tried before as they’re either quite local or I live under a rock and hadn’t tried them before.
Dinner in the restaurant was equally fabulous. By the later days in my stay, after telling literally everyone in hearing distance I’m dairy and gluten free all week, I knew my way round the buffets and who could tell me the allergen info I needed to know. I also wore my fluffy sliders once or twice (for which an old man actually laughed IN MY FACE over) and so they did probably refer to me as the crazy English girl in private. There are often themes to the evening meals for the cuisine – Madeiran night was my favourite with the sweet potatoes and syrup and fresh fish. The paella was incredible too, I definitely went back for more. All three meals in the restaurant have the GF cards on top of all the main dishes so that took some of the leg work out of asking what I could and couldn’t eat, obviously, it’s still worth asking having said that.
As for Madeira itself? Well, I can’t wait to go back honestly. The Island is beautiful, we got to see it in Spring so the Island was absolutely in bloom so the colours were everywhere and amazing, the perfect backdrop to the blue sea in the background. If you go, you might even get to meet my cat – a stray I called Bruno Tonioli and that loved me simply for the reason I was feeding him. He might not at all times respond to his name, but he will respond to the siren call of a Whiskers packet of biscuits which he does prefer to the cans of food, just an FYI. He’s a diva.
I read “The Choice” whilst I was away which is written by Edith Eger, whilst it’s not an easy read it stays with you as you continue reading Edith’s story, you’ll realise what a remarkable woman she is and her outlook is honestly stunning. A Holocaust survivor she tells her story and the years afterwards – I don’t want to give too much away but you will be left Googling Edith and wanting to learn more about her and her unbelievable strength and positivity. Someone we could learn from for sure. But if you do manage to drag yourself off the sun lounger and away from reading material, then there’s lots to do. Take the cable cars up to the top of the island and see the Toboggan run on the sledges, wander the streets of Funchal, visit the Zara because it’s better than in England by miles, wander the shore and see the boats come into dock. There’s also the flower market with the spice market upstairs with new and exciting spices, plus the Old Town with the painted doors are great to see.
There’s different entertainment on in the evenings and personally, I couldn’t have enjoyed the traditional Maderia dancing more. They encourage you at one point to join in, so obviously I went to join the conga and then after did their traditional dances – though awkwardly, had no idea what was going on at one point whilst I was dancing about and the girl had to kneel with a boy on a handkerchief – kiss his cheek before they could get up and the process repeated round the circle. No idea what it meant, I absolutely could be married to Barry from Southend for all I know. The all inclusive includes booze and whilst I tend to not drink, I did enjoy mocktails – Madeiran Dream is my fave – and from the dancing, we could tell others had decided to enjoy the drink a little too much…
All ways round, it’s a great place to visit I couldn’t recommend it more. If you do go, for the food, the views and the people, I’d highly recommend you stay at Enotel Lido.