An olfactory explosion of floral frequencies penetrated my nose as I alighted the aircraft at Funchal Airport, Madeira. After a very early start at Gatwick this refreshing scent acted as an amuse bouche and welcoming palette cleanser, enveloping me in warm flowery heaven, punctuated with savoury tones drifting up from the Atlantic Ocean. I literally stepped into paradise – what I didn’t know was that this was only the beginning.
Hosted by the Belmond group, an organisation known for its collection of the world’s most luxurious hotels, my fellow comrades and I were in for a weekend of perfectly curated activities centered around Madeira and its culture. We were greeted and transported to our accommodation by an old traditional style bus reaped in history – our bus had its own personality and was clearly a local of the area as it pounded up the mountainous hills of Funchal.
Words cannot put into perspective the sublime beauty of the views out onto the Atlantic and across the terrain all around us. The island has an intimacy about it, which is perfectly preserved by its local communities, ensuring the personality of Madeira is sustained for both locals and visitors alike.
We were being transported back in time to the Bell Époque, still very much reminiscent in the architecture and cultural traditions of Madeira. The island has a natural elegance, optimistic outlook and a great sense of regional peace, not to mention a vibrancy supported by cultural innovation and development. It is apparent how resourceful this community is, not only by the views into the mountain hills reaping local, tropical produce from grapes to sweet potatoes, but also throughout its engineering and sustainability effervescent in the architecture and amenities, used by all across the island. It is as near perfect as you can wish for.
To say we were welcomed by Belmond Reid’s Palace is an understatement. I have never witnessed such attention to detail, extraordinary luxury and faultless service as we were offered at this property. As I toured the hotel, taking in the very many corridors punctuated with famous portraits, moments of history and decorative elegance, I couldn’t help consider the history of this remarkable hotel.
William Reid originally arrived in Madeira in 1836 and began a lifetime’s ambition to build a luxury hotel overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Not an easy feat, especially considering the volcano island of Madeira and its vast expanse of solid terrain. Sadly Mr. Reid never saw the finished property, however Reid’s Hotel was opened in 1891 to much regard and success. The hotel today proudly portrays Mr. Reid’s initial design aesthetic, a giant amongst luxury hotels, settled in years of historical charm and revered simple elegance.
The public lounge areas, terraces and restaurants evoke tradition, brought to life with contemporary design and modern-day finishing. The hotel’s dining room is known as the ‘House of Lords’ for the British aristocrats that frequented decadent dinner dances held there, and Presidential Suites have been named after eminent guests George Bernard Shaw, and Winston Churchill.
Afternoon tea is served daily, tickling the taste buds of guests visiting from ocean liners visiting Funchal. You can imagine back in the day when the flotillas of boats would great these eager seafarers, escorting each guest to the hotel upon carriages carried by strong Portuguese men into the dining room. Here they would be treated to the best afternoon on the island, whilst enjoying the dazzling sun streaming across the Atlantic ocean. Pure bliss.
The suites at Belmond Reid’s Palace ooze luxury; elegance and comfort, where your needs are taken care of effortlessly. The views are sensational, given to the fact that the hotel is positioned high on the cliff face, which enables you to see far up into the mountains and out to sea. Luxurious interiors, carpets and fittings within the room are of the highest quality – these rooms optimise the very best of the very best.
The city of Funchal is vibrant, colourful and friendly, offering a range of exciting activities, excursions and unique ways to explore the island. Madeira is unique in that in that it exploits the best of warm and cool weather, making it the perfect place to grow a range of produce, and also to offer interesting tourist options for both the relaxer and adventurer.
We were treated to panoramic views as we ascended into the hills within cable cars, floating high above traditional style homes and other highlights across Funchal. This was our preferred mode of transport to ensure we arrived at one of Madeira’s famous cultural activities – land wicker tobogganing. Big burley men essentially push you down steep hills, gliding across unusually smooth roads, rushing past both old and new Funchal – a truly unique experience, but one important in the history of Madeira being a popular mode of transport throughout history.
It’s no surprise that these types of experiences build up one’s appetite. The food at Belmond Reid’s Palace is of Michelin star quality, offering both local and international cuisine of the finest quality. We were treated to a tasting menu comprising of some of the best dishes I have tried in a very long time, including lobster ravioli salad with mango, coconut, balsamic vinaigrette; Black Angus tournedos “Rossini” reinvented and Deconstructed black forest cake, William 2015 version matched perfectly with a Palmeira e Voltas 2014 white wine and Qunita dos Aciprestes 2013 red.
The team at Belmond Reid’s Palace treated us to a full tour of the hotel allowing our creative minds to fully appreciate the opportunities of the venue. This spectacular hotel is the ideal destination-wedding venue or party space, offering an abundance of unique options, supported by world-class hospitality.
The old town of Funchal is charming and centered around everyday life for the local residents. A whole variety of markets, craft shops and local businesses really create a welcomed buzz, whilst tourists experience old Madeira in its true glory. We were treated to a personal tour in Tuc Tuc vehicles driven by some of Funchal’s local chauffeurs.
Lunch was served at the Villa Cipriani, where we were again wined and dined. We didn’t think it could get any better, but the quality of the food continued to blow our minds. A Carpaccio of beef tenderloin Cipirani style was our introductory course, followed by the most beautiful home-made linguini adorned with lobster and sautéed prawns before a classic tiamisù was placed in a chocolate shell with coffee sauce.
Our trip continued with a private yacht experience on the Atlantic ocean to witness the sunset over Funchal. It was honestly one of the most magical moments of my life, surrounded by wonderful people and sipping champagne whilst being treated to a cruise along the coast of Madeira. The views were breathtaking and contributed to an experience that I will never forget.
It was important for us to experience the nightlife of the city where we would dine and taste some of the local specialties. Here we tasted the famous drink “Poncha”, a lethal combination of locally produced rum, sugar, lemon juice and honey – a drink known for warming fisherman after returning from sea. Today it is a local delicacy and one not to be missed – sip slowly though! Our dining establishment that evening served the most exceptional prawns and chateaubriand that was literally mouthwatering. Could it get much better?!
Belmond hotels are famous for serving the most exciting breakfasts available. I was in heaven. Literally everything you can imagine you’d want for breakfast was available. From local fruits, to homemade waffles, fresh fish to cured meats, English breakfast to Eggs Benedict and champagne to Bloody Mary’s – you could eat as much as you like. The most impressive spread I’ve every seen served at that hour of the day, but then again you can’t expect less from Belmond who continued to impress us time and time again.
Our tour of the island continued with a jeep ride to see the Boca des Namorados (Lovers nest) through the Laurisilva forest. The dazzling heights of Madeira opened our eyes to another side of the island, venturing high into the mountains and through local farms harbouring an abundance of locally grown produce. Our words can’t do justice to how perfect the views were.
Our experience was rounded off with another sensational evening spent with the team at Belmond Reid’s Palace as we experienced a traditional champagne gala buffet and dance in the dining room. The range of cuisine was exceptional, including warm scallops, perfumed salads and tender beef Wellington in the most buttery and scrumptious pastry your lips can only dream of. The champagne flowed as guests of the hotel took to the dance floor and twirled their partners to the sound of soft jazz. We took advantage of the extensive cocktail list; sipping Pina Coladas, Passion Fruit Martini’s and Long Island Ice Tea, rounded off with locally produced lemoncello and Madeira digestives.
This experience literally blew my mind. Belmond Reid’s Palace is the most sensational of hotels and we cannot recommend them high enough. The facilities, rooms, service and quality of this luxury destination are of the most superior quality, making this hotel one of absolute musts when it comes to recommending potential venues for our clients. Above all, the attention to detail, exemplary customer service and loving team at Belmond Reid’s Palace ensured that I will always remember this experience as being one of my personal highlights, creating memories that will continue to make me smile in reflection of one of the most magical trips I’ve ever had. Special thanks goes to Nicky Price for being the perfect host – I’ve never laughed so much. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU.