Two 'Yanks" At Reid's Palace - Madeira
While planning our itinerary to Portugal, we managed to squeeze some extra days into our holiday schedule. Although we considered a number of mainland options, the Portuguese islands looked interesting as well.
During previous trips to Europe and Africa, we have flown over these archipelagos, but had never visited. Being remote and so topographically different from our day-to-day surroundings, we were curious to explore and learn more. We considered an auction package for the Orient-Express Reid's Palace in Funchal, Madeira.
Some on-line reviews characterized Funchal as a frequent destinations for older sun starved British travelers escaping the rains and cooler temperatures of their homelands. Other comments included "nice port city for day long cruise stop."
So, we wondered if the destination and the property really be a good fit for us. A historic hotel dating back to the late 1800s, primarily built for upper-class travelers, boasting an impressive list of 'who's who' as prior guests including Winston Churchill in 1950 (there wasn't even a road to the property at that time and all guests were delivered by launch to a private seaside landing).
After scrutinizing the Reid's Palace web site and reviewing a list of activities scheduled for the time frame we would be visiting, the property was sounding uncertain as a fit for our travel style:
- Dancing Lessons in the Salon 28, prior to “Reid’s Dinner Dance” in the “Dining Room”
- QI GONG (or CHI KUNG) The art of longevity
- RIDE BY CLASSIC CAR (Morris Cowley from 1930)
- Reid's Easy Levada Walk
- Jazzy Evening music with “Swing Feel Band”
There was a list of suggested 'dress codes' for restaurants and guest interactions. I would not pack a tuxedo or even a business suit for this trip. After all, this was my holiday and I didn't want to spend leisure time dressed in formal wear or a business suit.
I was just about to write off Reid's Palace when I discovered they had a very active presence on social media (Facebook and Twitter). I ventured out to exchange 'tweets' to probe for clarifications and information:
- Q: What is the temperature of UR lap pool - how late does the spa stay open?
- Q: Can I we attend Afternoon Tea, without wearing a jacket?
- Q: Does 'smart casual' wear translate 2 a suit or jacket?
- Q: Must I wear a tux or business suit 2 the Dinner Dance?
- Q: Can U arrange interesting/adventure excursions, as we R not constant pool dwellers!
- Q: How late does UR dance club remain open? (This was a 'ringer', I already knew they had no club).
- Q: The travel package includes R/T airport transfers, can U guarantee a Mercedes?
Their 'tweet' responses were swift, incisive and to the point.
Reid's Palace was beginning to kindle our interests.....a visit could be a serious upgrade to our casual travel style and expose us to a wealth of classic sophisticated European culture.
So we hit the buy button and decided to indulge in what Reid's Palace unabashedly calls the 'art of pampering?'
* * * * *
After an overnight trans-Atlantic flight and a change of planes in Lisbon, we arrived at the architecturally-impressive Funchal Airport (few experiences can generate adrenaline like landing on a runway built on stilts - OK, maybe on aircraft carriers). Upon exiting the arrivals area we were greeted by a distinguished gentleman holding a placard with our names, who immediately escorted us to his waiting black Mercedes parked curbside. This was going to be different travel experience!
At the stately front door of Reid's Palace, we were greeted by name and accompanied to the front desk, where we were met by Ulisses Marreiros, General Manager (attired in a smartly tailored suit). He extended his hand in welcome. "It is a pleasure to have you join us here at Reid's Palace. If you have any questions during your stay, please don't hesitate to ask any of the staff or you may 'tweet' me." He smiled, confidently and removed a smart phone from his inside coat pocket. He then scrolled through the numerous Twitter exchanges we had shared during the prior months.
"We are a historic institution here on Madeira and we very proud to carry on our traditions for our clientele," said Ulisses "but, we also acknowledge the presence and evolution of technology and I wanted you to know you can reach me when necessary."
The following five days were remarkable. To our knowledge, we were the only two Americans in residence. Our fellow guests appeared to be from the UK or other northern European regions. We were somewhat astonished at the number of returning guests who had been coming to Reid's for 20, 25 and more years. Many of them requested and
received the same rooms or suites year after year. Although the demographics represented a good bit of maturity, the level of active guest participation was impressive. In a short period, we never felt as though we were just guests, but rather as part of their "privileged family."
On the day of our arrival, Adler, the hotel music conductor and pianist was playing in the reception area adjacent to the Tea Terrace. We walked out on the terrace and I raised my arms, leaned against the railing and reveled in the gentle Atlantic breezes (think Leonardo DeCarpio - Titanic). Turning to the pianist, I asked if he could play 'My He
art Will Go On' (OK, sounds a little 'hinky', but no one else was watching us and besides, I had been flying all night). He smiled and complied with a masterful rendition.
During the following, four days and nights, anytime Alder was playing and saw us, he would cleverly intertwine 'our song' into his arrangements.
Staff members were faultless in executing their duties. No requests seemed unreasonable and were addressed promptly. Housekeeping was flawless. Everything in our room was attended to at a remarkably high level (would be wonderful to have team like this watching after our own home).
Just wandering the halls and common areas of the hotel was akin to a museum visit. Historic photographs and memorabilia adorned the walls and display cases offering a visual insight into more than 200 years of good times.
Lavish floral displays were prominently displayed in the public areas and even our room had bud vases replenished daily.
Our highlights included:
Dinner at Brisa do Mar Restaurant. What an impressive open air setting, stars twinkling above and the flickering lights of Funchal in the background, while the waves from the Atlantic pounded the cliffs below.
Testing our aquatic skills in three swimming pools (2 salt water and 1 fresh water) and even taking a plunge off the low rock cliffs into the Atlantic for an invigorating swim.
Two unforgettable hours in Reid's Palace Spa indulging in luxuriant treatments.....was that really therapeutic for jet lag or simply a hedonistic indulgence.
Spending a full day hiking the levada trails (irrigation channels) http://www.madeirarural.com/levadawalks/levadawalks.cfm on the western end of the island.
Taking an off road vehicle experience (of course it was a Land Rover) to Pico de Arierio , the highest peak on the western end of Madeira. The vistas were incredible and the air was as pure as could be. A dynamic hiking experience in every respect.
James, our driver, even found time to stop and allow us to taste several glasses of homemade 'cidra da maçã' made from apples grown in a mountain orchid overlooking the winding road back to the city.
Formal afternoon tea with finger sandwiches, scones and desserts on The Terrace (and not having to wear a jacket) was pure retro decadence....Isabel de Portugal, the Activities Director, at Reid's even instructed the Food and Beverage Manager to have our sandwiches made separately - sem manteiga, por favor. We chose a day for tea when there were no cruise ships in port, seems like many passengers like to stop by Reid's and take advantage of afternoon tea.
Funcal proved to be a very walk worthy and safe city (especially http://www.madeira-web.com/camera/cam-01.html). We skipped going into town on the days cruise ships were in port to avoid the crowds. Late afternoon and evenings seemed the best time for explorations, admiring the restored houses with strolling the old cobbled streets. Both the waterfront and Old Town afforded a variety of restaurants, many of which were reasonably priced and offered alfresco dining and great people watching.
Madeira proved to be pleasant surprise, offering a wide variety of experiences for both the active and passive visitor and most of all, a pleasant climate.
Unfortunately, there are a lack of superlatives to adequately describe the guest experience at the Orient-Express Reid's Palace....there is an abundance of traditional Madeiran hospitality, accentuated and infused with British poise.....a perfect place for Two 'Yanks" to spend a holiday.