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This spectacular palace began life as the dream of a canny 14-year old Scottish boy who’d left his family farm for the warmer climes of Madeira in the mid-19th century. It was an era of the Grand Tour and even grander ocean liners, and this Portuguese island made for the perfect pitstop between Europe and Africa. Today, perched on the rocky promontory amid ten acres of heritage gardens filled with orchids, palms and exotic flowers, Belmond Reid’s Palace serves as a gateway to a the Golden Age of travel.

Rooms

The old-school charm that permeates the hotel is a rare and timeless vintage. Don’t expect cutting-edge, contemporary design and gadgets in the hotel; it’s just not that kind of place. Each of the 123 rooms and 35 generous suites are an ode to a bygone style of elegance and pampering: crested robes and toiletries pepper softly lit marble bathrooms while freshly made cakes and Madeira wine are laid out ready to be enjoyed on your private balcony or patio. A restful night’s sleep is guaranteed thanks to a pillow menu featuring botanicals by Aromatherapy Associates.

If luxury is a fine art at Belmond Reid’s Palace, it’s slickly dressed staff are the master painters. Treating every guest like royalty, they are what keep this magical place sparkling.

What’s for breakfast?

There are great breakfast buffets, and then there’s the Belmond Reid’s Palace breakfast buffet. Set in the utopian pool terrace overlooking the Atlantic, this is a feast both for the stomach and the eyes. Take your pick of a rainbow of fresh produce with a medley of cereals, nuts and yoghurts (vegan options are available). This, of course, is merely a prelude the cacophony of cold cuts, smoked fish and cooked dishes. Sweet tooth? We recommend the waffles. Worth skipping lunch for.

How about lunch and dinner?

Afternoon tea on the tea terrace at Reid’s Palace is one of Madeira’s most celebrated traditions. Expect classic finger sandwiches and weightless scones coupled with local twists such as bolo de mel – a rich spiced honey cake that’s nothing like madeira cake – and the hotel’s signature tea blend.

For larger meals, the dining room captures all the glamour and drama of the hotel’s history. Between September and May it plays host to a champagne gala buffet and a traditional dinner dance. Yet the biggest draw is the hotel’s fine dining restaurant William. Named after hotel founder William Reid, this Michelin-starred gem is a destination in its own right, pairing elegant plates that celebrate the island’s finest produce with vistas over Funchal Bay. Come evening, sample a slice of la dolce vita at Ristorante Villa Cipriani where Italian specialities can be savoured on the moonlit terrace.

Is there a bar?

The sophisticated cocktail bar is open throughout the day and late into the night, but head here at twilight for live music and spectacular views as the island’s warm white lights stretch out like vines across the Bay of Funchal. Fine Maderian wines (there’s a tasting evening every Tuesday) and snacks are on offer, though many opt for bubbles. It’ll come as no surprise to read that the Palace is Madeira’s largest consumer of champagne.

Amenities

Such is the variety of services available at Belmond Reid’s Palace that guests needn’t stray from the its walls. Most outstanding is the clifftop spa; enjoy a sauna, a Turkish bath or a massage to the rhythm of waves lapping on the shore below. Take a splash in one of three sea- and fresh-water pools or stretch out on a lounger by the sea-level rock pool. Should you feel the need to burn off last night’s banquet, there’s a fitness centre – overlooking the sea, naturally – and two tennis courts.

Browse the bridge room library, request for flowers to be arranged or visit the in-house hairdresser and beauty salon. There’s a laundry service, access to international newspapers, shoe-shining, parking, snooker and a signature boutique. Want to get out and explore? Hop on the hotel’s courtesy shuttle-bus service into central Funchal.

Things you should know

Like a museum come to life, the sprawling hotel is a maze of corridors and rooms lined with artefacts of its colourful history. Since the hotel first welcomed guests in 1891, many illustrious characters have walked its corridors. George Bernard Shaw learned to tango in the ballroom. Captain Scott stopped by in 1901 en route to the Antarctic. After victory in WWII, Winston Churchill retreated here to write his memoir and paint.

In the former reception, a large wooden key cabinet decorates the wall, but only a third of the keys remain; many returning guests have taken the key of their favourite room – a testament to the place the hotel holds in many hearts.

Within a short walk you can find

Madeira is the island of eternal spring and there’s many ways to make the most of the its year-round azure skies and diverse natural beauty – with 24 microclimates, the environment here varies from lichen-covered misty forest to sun-drenched banana trees within a short drive. Wander cobblestone streets and plazas lined with lodges stacked with vats of Madeira’s eponymous wine. Discover spectacular botanical gardens, walk the famous levadas (a 16th-century open aqueduct system) or sail out into the Atlantic and spot dolphins or try your hand at big-game fishing. The island offers entertainment for all generations and holidaymakers: take in the mountainous terrain by bike, try windsurfing or scuba diving on the coast, saddle up for a horseback forest adventure or hang-glide over the ocean. The hotel can arrange all of these excursions and more. Do make sure to wake early for a jeep-ride up Pico de Arieiro mountain where, after watching sunrise, the hotel will arrange an outdoor champagne breakfast among the clouds.

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