Story by Manos Angelakis
Belmond Reid’s Palace
Tel: +351 291 71 7171
Fax: +351 291 71 7177
The trip took place just prior to the COVID-19 travel restrictions.
William Reid was a true entrepreneur. He knew from personal experience that Madeira offered the perfect year round destination for people requiring a warm climate for health reasons. Summer temperatures rarely rise over 27 °C (87 °F), and, in winter, never fall below 10 °C (52 °F), with rain falling less than six days a month. Medical conditions such as tuberculosis and bronchitis were best treated far from the notorious damp fogs of Scotland and London’s smog. Even the respected Lancet medical journal had recommended the island for consumptive patients; "there is no warm country in the world where the irritating influence of wind and dust is so completely absent as in Madeira."
In 1887, Reid began to plan his dream hotel, commissioning the architect George Somers Clarke who had designed the original Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo. Apart from superb accommodation, first class service and cuisine, the hotel was to be surrounded by ten acres of beautiful sub-tropical gardens in which the guests could walk or rest in the warm sunshine. Before building began, baskets of rich soil had to be carried up the steep hill of Sao Martinho to create fertile land out of the barren rock into which a colorful array of plants, shrubs, and trees were planted.
In 1888, William Reid passed, before the completion of the building. His two sons, already in business as "Hotel Keepers and Wine Merchants" oversaw the end of construction with great attention to detail. In November 1891, Reid's Hotel opened its doors offering drawing rooms opening onto a verandah, a tennis court, a path down to the rocks and a sea-level swimming pool. And, of course, the lush gardens where, in the late-1950s, Sir Winston Churchill spent considerable time writing his war memoires and painting.
Orient Express took over Reid’s Hotel, recently renamed it Belmond Reid’s Palace and refurbished the legendary mansion that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. The Grand Dame on the Bay of Funchal is enjoying a renaissance.
Basking in the warmth of the sub-tropical climate, this prominent property recreates the elegance of days past. The service is discreet but omnipresent, respecting the guest’s need for privacy and tranquility. The magnificent exotic gardens surrounding the property, overflow the cliff the hotel is perched upon with breathtaking color. Two heated swimming pools, the larger with seawater and the smaller with freshwater at the upper level, and a sea-level pool with direct access to the sea, give the guests the choice of swimming in either fresh or salt water.
Having been for over a century the retreat of British politicians, poets, industrialists and stars of London’s West End, Reid’s is now enjoying a new favor among the entire world’s upper crust. It is no longer the exclusive domain of the stiff-upper-lip crowd that had afternoon tea at the verandah with sandwiches, pastries and warm scones, accompanied by leaf teas served in classic Wedgwood china.
Men dressed up every evening in white dinner jackets and the women in cocktail gowns – the women sporting more diamonds than a jeweler’s window - and they did not speak to you unless you were formally introduced; something the General Manager tried to do weekly, at the Manager’s Cocktail Reception.
During earlier visits in the ‘70s and ‘80s I well remember the very formal Dining Room offering British fare… much of it being thin-sliced Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding, appropriate I guess to the tastes of the majority of the guests. Currently, on Tuesdays, guests still don their finest and join in a dinner dance, while on Saturdays the Dining Room hosts a Champagne buffet. But, a formal dress code still applies.
Additionally, for excellent food, there is now the Michelin-plate-rated Ristorante Villa Cipriani, where the kitchen creates the mouthwatering regional Italian specialties the Cipriani name invokes; it replaced the informal, non-descript, Villa Cliffs Portuguese restaurant, that had no actual Portuguese guests any of the nights we dined there.
Les Faunes, the gourmet restaurant, was renamed as William Restaurant. It now has a single Michelin star and serves classic cuisine with Portuguese overtones. I fondly remember the chocolate soufflé served at Les Faunes at the time of our last previous visit, as the best soufflé I have ever had.
The Pool Terrace still offers a great buffet breakfast plus an extensive hot and cold lunch buffet, plus dinner every Tuesday, from 6pm to 10pm.
A friend from Chicago, that recently stayed there commented, “They do everything to make your stay as close to perfect as possible… I mentioned to the receptionist that I felt like a piece of chocolate one night and, before I was at the room, a waiter had delivered two chocolate bars on a silver tray to my door”.
If that’s not 5-star service… I don’t know what is!
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