Paradise Found at Madeira Island’s Belmond Reid’s Palace
If you took Madeira’s photo from space, the hilly Portuguese island 300 miles from Morocco is blanketed in green, hence its nickname as the “floating garden in the Atlantic.” Zoom in closer and the terracotta-tile roofs of the capital city, Funchal, will pop into view. Look west of the city’s Christian Renaldo airport, named for the island’s most famous citizen, and you’ll spot a pink palace spectacularly perched at the edge of a cliff. Since 1891, Belmond’s Reid’s Palace has reigned as Madeira’s grand dame. From Prince Albert of Monaco to Empress Zita of Austria, countless royals have vacationed at this historic hotel. With 130 years of practice, it’s not surprising that each guest feels like royalty the moment they arrive.
Though the lobby has just been revamped, its glittering chandelier, old black and white photos and exquisite marble floors evoke a timeless elegance. While Reid’s Palace provides plenty of Instagrammable fodder—like the shadows that dance across the checkerboard-floor veranda—guests check into the 158-room cliffside hotel to check out from the chaos of modern living. This is laidback luxury without a whiff of pretense, just the intoxicating scent of jasmine and hydrangeas. A sumptuous high tea is served on the veranda, which overlooks the hotel’s botanical garden that begs to be strolled in at leisure. A bookshelf by the pool is stocked with paperbacks left by previous guests and there are rooms for bridge and billiards. In the hallways, tour the property’s rich history through historical photos and artifacts, like the Guide To Madeira published by the first general managers, Wilfie and Alfred, founder William Reid’s sons.
This guidebook embodies the warm hospitality for which Reid’s Palace is known. There are convivial Tuesday-night Madeira wine tastings and Monday-eve cocktail hour, hosted by Ciriaco Campus, the affable Sardinian-born general manger. Soon to come, Ciriaco and his wife will cook and serve authentic Italian dishes family-style at informal alfresco dinners. The dog-friendly hotel offers spa services and a special menu for its furry friends. How many hotels have a Michelin-star chef that caters to canines?
Executive Chef Luis Pestana, the only Madeira-born Michelin-starred chef, ensures culinary travelers have plenty of palate-pleasing options at Reid’s Palace. Guests can tuck into Italian specialties at Villa Cipriani or savor gastronomic greatness at William’s, the hotel’s Michelin-starred spot. Both restaurants both stunning views of Madeira’s coast, as does the cocktail bar, which shakes up the island’s traditional, sunny orange tipple, poncho. The sumptuous breakfast buffet, served poolside, gives guests a taste of Madeira fruit like filodendro, aka banana pineapple, custard apples, and the small bananas signature to the sub-tropical island. Reid’s just wrapped up The Art of Flavours, a 3-day gastronomic festival featuring 8 Michelin-starred chefs. Time your visit for next year’s event, scheduled for June 13-15, 2019.
For working up an appetite or working on your tan, choose between the saltwater pool deck up top or the sea pool alongside the Atlantic. The latter solves Madeira’s lack of beach problem, for guests can dive directly into the sea and sunbathe on the hotel’s tiny dock. Observing Madeira from the sea, you can see why the island lured travelers to pause during their passage between Africa and Europe. If you can pry yourself from your pool chaise, Reid’s Palace offers a handful of intimate excursions. Witness a sunrise above the clouds from the 1818-meter Pico do Arierio, the highest peak accessible by car. Toast the natural wonder, and the fact you got out of bed early, with champagne, fresh pastries, and fruit in a nearby park surrounded by pine forests.
The concierge can organize hikes along the levadas, Madeira’s 16th-century irrigation canals that weave across cliffs and through lush forests. At a staggering 1864 miles, these aqueducts have earned the island its reputation as a hiking paradise. Book a boat to go deep-sea fishing or watch playful dolphins jump and dive along the boat’s wake. Continue onto Fajà dos Padres a secluded 15th-century winery, small restaurant, and plantation reached only by sea or from above via a jaw-dropping cable car. Reid’s arranges special tours that take guests from the banana and mango groves into the cellars where the winemaker, Mario, scoops tastes of his organic Madeira straight from the barrel. The cherry on top of this unique spot—some of his beloved wine is made from a pre-phylloxera Malvasia. The restaurant serves Madeira’s famous bolo de caco, sweet-potato garlic bread, limpets in the same garlic butter goodness, and grilled fresh-from-the-sea tuna.
Whether you prefer to make like Magellan and explore the island or stay put like Churchill, Belmond Reid’s Palace is open to all types of travelers. The British president wrote part of his memoirs at the hotel. Famous for working in bed, Reid’s Palace would be just the place to put that in practice.