The Finest in Madeiran Hospitality
The Portuguese Island of Madeira holds a wealth of splendours to those who come to its shores in search of an idyllic vacation, one such vestige of splendour being Belmond Reid’s Palace.
The English have had a long tradition in Madeira, the volcanic Portuguese Island in the Atlantic. Although part of Europe, it lies just 700 km from the African continent. South Africans have a great affinity with Madeira in that most of the Portuguese people living in South Africa originally came from the island. Back then, under a punitive dictatorship and poor economic outlook, Madeirans, as one local told me, were used as cannon fodder in the war as the island was so far from the Portuguese mainland that its people were thought politically dispensable. Many fled in search of a better life. Today, owing to the support of the European Union in particular, Madeira is a wholly different place, not least because of the network of tunnels that has made the use of the virtually impassable cliff paths a thing of the past. In fact, you can now whizz from one side of the island to the other via the tunnels in under an hour.
However, the English name most associated with Madeiran hospitality is that of William Reid. He had the foresight to build a hotel on a dramatically rocky outcrop called Salto do Cavalo (The Horse’s Leap) overlooking the Bay of Funchal.
Today, that hotel, Reid’s Palace, owned and operated by Belmond, remains the symbol of hospitality excellence. The hotel once secured the patronage of Sir Winston Churchill, at the peak of his postwar popularity, and that visit arguably put Madeira on the tourist map. Although the Churchill Suite, one of two premier suites at Belmond Reid’s Palace, is the actual room in which Sir Winston and Lady Clementine stayed, the furniture at the time of their visit was borrowed from the other wealthy families, as the owners of Reid’s were still in the process of decorating the hotel. Edmund Erskine Leacock also lent Reid’s Palace his Rolls-royce for Sir Winston’s use, most often for his frequent trips to the nearby Câmara de Lobos, the picturesque fishing village that Churchill liked to paint.
Beyond helping Reid’s Palace in its early stages, Leacock also built a splendid home dubbed Quinta da Casa Branca, a white house with its own botanical garden, banana fields, and vineyards. Today, this too is an exquisite hotel.
These days, breakfast at Reid’s, served at the newly refurbished poolside terrace, is a culinary highlight. On offer is a delicious array of fresh cheeses and local pastry delicacies, not to mention the home-cured gravlax and superb charcuterie.
Even in mid-winter, the climate is mild, with daily temperatures averaging highs of 21 °C. But because the island is situated in a sub-tropical region, it is subject to very changeable weather, which may include early morning rain and then many hours of afternoon sunshine. Be sure to pack accordingly.
With its 123 rooms and 35 suites, Belmond Reid’s Palace is very much the icon of fine Madeiran hospitality. Aside from an easy and gentle service style, the Madeiran staff members all speak English notably well. Tourism is the mainstay of the island, so most of the establishments here are fully geared to dealing with visitors.
At 126 years of age, Reid’s Palace is a similar age to The Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town, another Belmond property and, further linking the two, both properties are painted in a gentle pink hue. Afternoon tea on the balcony of Reid’s has been an institution since the early days. Both Villa Cipriani, the standalone Italian restaurant at Reid’s, and William, named after the hotel’s founder, are recommended in the
Michelin Guide. William has even been granted a Michelin star.
The garden-facing rooms in the original building have higher ceilings than the newer rooms, and there is a tidal pool as well as direct access to the Atlantic. There are two pools – one salt water, the other fresh water – both heated to 25 °C. The 10 hectares of gardens at Reid’s are an enticing environment in which to get lost, whiling away the hours on one of the benches overlooking the bay. As a resort hotel, the children’s facilities are top quality, and the tennis courts, gym, and spa are available for the use of all guests.
The main reception area at Reid’s has been relocated to a more spacious, light-filled area, and poolside dining has been given a facelift. Guests will appreciate that the mahogany key pigeon-holes have been retained as a feature.
Much like at Reid’s, the gardens at Quinta da Casa Branca are also a highlight, and its trees and shrubs are marked with descriptive labels. At Quinta da Casa Branca the historic Manor House – formerly the Leacock family home – juxtaposes beautifully with a modern glass-and-timber, 43-roomed hotel. Fans of the designs of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe will feel right at home here.
The green marble Garden Pavilion, in which an exquisite and sumptuous breakfast is served, sits like an emerald at the top of the garden. There are five vast and elegant suites in the Manor House, as well as The Pool Suite – a standalone villa in a traditional Madeiran style – but the contemporary chic style of the rooms which open onto the garden and the all-marble bathroom take the cake.
As an intimate property, the focus here is on the needs of each guest. Public areas include: the reception area, a raised glass box with blonde timber and classic furniture pieces; the comfortable library with its deep couches and high-back chairs; and a small but perfectly formed gym, steam room, and sauna. And, as is expected from a Small Luxury Hotel member, cuisine in the elegant Manor House restaurant is as refined as it is delicious.
Wherever it is that you stay in Funchal, the Madeiran capital will entice you to come back for more.
For more info, visit www.belmond.com and www.quintacasabranca.com.
Belmond Reid’s Palace Hotel
Quinta da Casa Branca