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.

SLOW Magazine - - Contents - Text: Brian Berk­man Im­ages © Bel­mond Reid | Quinta da Casa Branca

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

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