Making the Most of Madeira

Writer Mark Smith | November 10, 2016

Madeira is famous around the world for its cakes and fortified wine and has a gastronomic reputation that continues to grow with the opening of new hotels and restaurants. At just 56km long and 22km wide, the island boasts stunning flora, spectacular mountains and famous levadas trails. Known for more its slow tempo and gentle climate, Madeira has been popular with tourists since the 18th century. More recently it has gained a new and exciting reputation for wellness tourism.

Located 500 km north-west of the coast of Africa, Madeira is the largest island in the subtropical Portuguese archipelago, with a population of just 245,000. The capital, Funchal is the starting point for most visits and boasts an array of gardens to visit including the renowned Botanic Gardens and the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens. Aside from historical sights, there are festivals throughout the year culminating in the New Year fireworks celebration.

Away from the main tourist trail, things take a more adventurous direction where visitors follow the paths of the traditional levadas. Irrigation channels built to transport water from the north to the south of the island, levadas are carved into the mountains and provide the perfect setting for gentle walks which can extend to day-long treks. With stunning scenery and verdant forests, it’s a magical sight to behold. The more adventurous can try a sidecar tour of the island, join a jeep safari across the Paul da Serra or take a tandem paraglide flight. Scuba diving, canyoning and horse riding are just a few more of the adventure activities lined up for visitors. For the kids, there’s always the chance to head out to sea on a catamaran to spot whales and dolphins on their migration through the Atlantic. With seafood dominating the main meal followed by the sweet delights of locally grown bananas, honey cake and fortified sweet Madeira wine, it’s a food lovers’ paradise with something for everyone.

Belmond Reid’s Palace

The grand dame of Madeira’s hotel scene, Belmond Reid’s Palace embodies traditional luxury travel at its best. The premier luxury hotel retains a sense of history and style. Exuding a genteel elegance, the hotel has rooms decorated in a classic style with every room looking out across the sea or gardens. Large bathrooms feature amenities by Penhaligon’s and a touch of English hospitality running through the service, which comes into its own at high tea on the terrace. It has a large spa, reported to be the best spa in Madeira, where guests can truly relax.    

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Situated on its own private promontory on the edge of Madeira’s capital, Funchal, it’s just a few minutes walk to the centre of town, and has its own manicured gardens, two outdoor pools, sea access and bathing loungers by the water. There are a couple of restaurants on site but none as impressive as the iconic Villa Cipriani, serving classic Italian food overlooking the sea and hotel. Dress to impress at the Belmond Reid’s Palace, cocktail hour is an event in itself and after dinner enjoy a drink in one of the bars, ideally looking out across the sea as the sun gently sets over the ocean. www.belmond.com

Estalagem Ponta do Sol

Situated on the sunny south side of the island, Estalagem Ponta do Sol is a modern property, set on the top of a cliff with spectacular views along the coast. The hotel, a member of the Design Hotels group, was renovated to blend the existing old quinta with new, ultra-modern hotel buildings in a distinct, contemporary style.

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The new and old blend seamlessly to provide a hotel that is sleek and futuristic while being warm and welcoming. The atmosphere is simple and relaxed, yet remains sophisticated. The outdoor infinity pool is eye catching and is the main hub for daytime relaxation with a poolside bar and sun loungers. The main restaurant serves local dishes with a contemporary twist and offers stunning views to the small town below and sea beyond. The rooms are simple, sleek and have everything you need for a comfortable stay. The vibe and ambiance is arty, friendly and cool chill-out beats ensure a happy vibe for guests at weekend events. Whether it’s relaxing by the pool, an afternoon swim in the sea or taking cocktails at sunset on the terrace, Estalagem Ponta do Sol has it all. And adrenaline junkies rejoice – organised tours include walking, paragliding, canyoning and whale watching.

www.pontadosol.com

Choupana Hills Resort and Spa 

Set in the countryside hills above Funchal, Choupana Hills Resort and Spa is a luxury resort that takes its design inspiration from Asia. Just minutes from the Botanical Gardens, the resort is home to more than 200 different species of flora, spread over 17 hectares of land. It’s a world away from the hustle and bustle of the capital’s city streets and a true escape for mind, body and soul.

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The hotel features wood and stone as main building materials, interlined with African and Asian influences. Accommodation features bungalows built on stilts with mod cons including flat-screen TV and Nespresso machines. The resort presents a choice of 62 bungalows which include deluxe and superior options, a few designed specifically for families. They all feature balconies with some enjoying views of the gardens and others built to make the most of the sea. The pool bar is where most guests gather during the heat of the day, after hours Restaurant Xôpana presents world-class cuisine serving fresh locally sourced produce. The Basalt Bar offers drinks and light snacks, while the Lounge allows for relaxed afternoon tea.

Two swimming pools are located in the heart of the resort, a tropical outdoor lagoon pool overlooking Funchal and a heated indoor pool next to the spa area. The spa offers an array of relaxing and rejuvenating treatments inspired by Asian massage therapies and Ayurveda.

www.choupanahills.pt

Away from the main tourist trail, things take a more adventurous direction where visitors follow the paths of the traditional levadas