Made in Madeira
Right: The view from the rooftop pool of the Vine Hotel, with the Atlantic ocean extending before you.
This trip, back in a bright & sunny November (in Madeira that is…) was the start of something special, in many ways. Mr G & I had known each other for only 6 weeks, and we decided to go away for a little ‘SB’, to get to know one another more. It was here in Madeira, I think we can safely say that we fell in love – and we also fell head over heels for Madeira too.
Viewed as an island for the oldies, it might seem a strange choice on first glance. However, I am always keen to explore & I hadn’t visited before – it was a good choice in terms of weather (it’s about an hour by plane north of the Canaries), and it was economical too – flights were around £300 each both ways, with a flight time of about 4 hours.
For this trip, I booked everything independently, as the hotel we opted for had a great offer on, when booking direct.
The Hotel – The Vine, 5* Boutique Design Hotel
We stayed at The Vine hotel, in Funchal, the capital of Madeira – http://hotelthevine.com/ – and in spite of a few hiccups, it was pretty excellent. The out of season deal was around £160 per night, B&B, and we were upgraded (it was Mr G’s birthday) to a junior suite gratis – perfect. The hotel is very design lead, and our room was very special, with a simply gorgeous bath tab, behind the bed, with a massage table that extended over the tub when not in use – tres romantique.
I particularly appreciated their efforts here with lighting – the asymmetric twiggy lamps above the bed, and interesting light feature on the ceiling, added to the ambience of the room, that felt slick, sexy & uber chic. We loved it.
The best part of the hotel has to be the roof top pool – it’s really something. You can gaze at the mountain, wreathed in mist, from the lovely day beds dotted along the pool, or turn over and look out towards the Atlantic – it’s a breathtaking vista. The hotel serves light snacks by the pool, and has a lovely bar that by day is great for sipping on a glass of bubbles, and by night, is a fab spot to gather pre-supper. One of the lovely bar tenders, Bruno, makes a particularly good gin martini – Mr G & I had headaches most mornings…!
Eating & Drinking
The first night, we had supper in their restaurant, Uva, which was lovely. I had gone to great lengths before arriving to discuss with the hotel that it was Mr G’s birthday, and they didn’t disappoint – it’s always the littlest things, the touches of kindness, that make something so special – and after pudding, they bought out a beautiful gateaux with a mirror glaze, to celebrate Mr G’s birthday – so sweet. The food was good, pudding was the highlight, gorgeous chocolate soufflés. The wine list was somewhat unnecessary, but overall, it was very pleasant. Their restaurant is also located on the top floor, making the most of the Vine’s best feature – the view. From our table, Funchal was lit up beneath us, with the sea in the distance and the mountain behind us – incredible. I should point out too, that the sommelier who looked after us was particularly sweet, and very helpful with said unnecessary wine list.
Breakfast each day was good – even if it was a buffet (which I didn’t go near, by Mr G was in his element). Cava was on tap, so we were pleasantly balanced each morning. The downstairs dining space though was something of a letdown – frankly bizarre décor (design for the sake of design) left you feeling as though you were eating in the set of a Jurassic Park movie – and, their courtyard is too small, so on two days we had to eat inside, as there was no space – it’s worth getting up early, in order to sit outside in the sunshine. There is also a rather sad bar in this area, that not once in the two times we have been at the Vine has been open – a bit strange.
Our only other real negatives about the Vine, are that the spa is overly pricey, and there are no efforts made to explain the facilities or encourage you to use it – we still haven’t used it for those reasons, which is madness – and not all of the staff are quite up to scratch, some of the receptionists are particularly sharp (I ended up having a bit of an argument about the bill with them) – and the housekeepers repeatedly entered our room for turn down whilst we were in compromising situations – not ideal!
The highlight of the holiday, was a trip taken to Villa Cipriani – this is a must for anyone visiting the island. It is also essential to sit outside – if you can’t, don’t go – there’s no point. Upon entering, Mr G was a little less than impressed – it’s all traditional trattoria, terracotta floors and marble bars (which I find charming, but Mr G, less so). However, the staff were superb from the minute we entered, and swooped us up over to the bar, for a glass of prosecco, before leading us to the terrace – which is pretty life changing. I’m not exaggerating.
Cut into the side of the mountain, with a drop down to the Atlantic ocean below you, is Villa Cipriani’s terrace – which is all Beverly Hills Hotel opulence, and is so utterly romantic I’m not ashamed to say I cried! It’s quite obviously a Belmond Hotel, through the quality of the experience – the team are wonderful, and the female maitre’d is really exceptional – I’ve tried to poach her a couple of times. The food here is simple, Italian dishes made using the finest ingredients and traditional methods – it’s pricey, at around £20-30 per starter and £40-£60 per main, but it’s definitely worth it for a blow out experience. If anyone is looking for a spot to propose to their loved one at, this would do the trick.
The other restaurants we visited were a little unremarkable in contrast to Cipriani, but were still good – food & service on the island is generally of a high standard, so you can’t really go too far wrong. We ate at Ristorante do Forte – literally a restaurant in the old fort of Funchal. It was a little hit and miss: highlights included the opportunity to be chauffeured back to your hotel in a vintage convertible Rolls Royce – very plantation glamour – lows included a service that was so rushed, one waiter stood to your right clearing your food whilst another waiter stood to your left serving you. We also ate inside, as the terrace was full, which put it somewhat on the back foot – it does however, have consistently good reviews, so perhaps we went on a bad day or are making unfair comparisons to the other two restaurants.
Ristorante Armanzens do Sal was our final restaurant – again, on the back foot as we were inside dining. Compared to the bright marigold yellow of Ristorante do Forte, Armanzen do Sal was grey – it rather puts you in mind of a medieval castle. Again this restaurant ranks very highly on trip advisor etc, but I found the food a bit forgettable – we were pleasantly surprised though, with live music.
Out & About
We took the cable car up to the top of the mountain on one day – not one for the faint hearted or anyone particularly nervous of heights. As you make the slow and majestic ascent to the top of the mountain, you are really very high above the ground, with huge voids opening up beneath you. If you are OK with that, then it’s a must-do – also the views are spectacular, and the gardens and crisp, clean air that awaits you is worth the journey. The slight disappointment though, is that no one has made any particular effort to create a fabulous little eatery at the top of the mountain – it’s all a little ‘National Trust’ for my taste – but nevertheless, worth while.
Who is Madeira ‘for’?
Who is Madeira for? I’d say couples, looking for a relaxing short break (I’m not sure I’d want to do 7 nights +) enjoying great food, good service, and some really top notch hotels. It doesn’t strike me as family destination so much, and everything is quite expensive, it’s worth noting.
We love it though, and have returned again in 2015 and have another visit planned in 2016.
The Vine Hotel: http://hotelthevine.com/
Villa Cipriani: http://www.belmond.com/reids-palace-madeira/