As you approach the hotel along the driveway lined with blue agapanthus, it is clear that you are entering a special place. Below us in the distance could see Funchal with a cruise ship pulling into port: beside us, the picturesque and challenging Palheiro golf course spread out and down the hillside in a series of terraces bordered by lofty pine and cedar trees with the sparkling blue Atlantic as its backdrop.
I immediately felt at home as we entered Reception and received a warm welcome. After a tour of the house – library with good range of novels available for loan, bar, restaurant, exhibition room, billiard room – we were swept up the flight of stairs to the extremely grand Rei Dom Carlos suite, named after the King of Portugal, Carlos de Braganca, who stayed there in 1901.
Double entrance doors opened onto a vestibule containing a table and chair, large cupboard with safe and space to store our cases, and a chest of drawers. Our bedroom was tastefully furnished in 19th century style with modern facilities including flat screen TV, a Nespresso machine with choice of pods, tea making facilities and a mini bar. Large dark wood wardrobes and chests provided ample hanging and storage space. The super-king sized bed was extremely comfortable. Two Juliet balconies accessed by French windows overlooked the terrace, croquet lawns and gardens.
The spacious bathroom with a shower over the bath, toilet and bidet, offered further storage space in cupboards beneath the double sink. Bath robes and slipper were a welcome touch and there was an ample supply of toiletries face cloths and fluffy towels. The nightly “turn down service” from housekeeping ensured wet floor mats in the bathroom, were replaced and the suite’s seven pairs of curtains were closed! The hotel’s commitment to its environment is exercised in its policies for changing sheets and towels.
Across from the main building is the well-maintained outdoor swimming pool with sunbeds, sun umbrellas and pool towels. Throughout our week-long stay there were rarely more than two or three sun seekers using the sunbeds. Fellow guests were presumably: playing golf or tennis; enjoying the hotel’s big game fishing boat, The Balancal, also used for dolphin and whale watching cruises; taking the hotel shuttle bus into Funchal; swimming or diving in the nearby Marine Reserve of the Lido Galomar Beach in Canico De Baixo; or out touring the Island. It was lovely to be able to sit around a pool in perfect peace with no animation team exhorting us to join in fun and games, and no loud Europop: just the song of the birds and the occasional gentle thwack of a tennis racket.
There is a small, well-equipped gym with a vibration plate, treadmill, exercise bike, rowing machine and weights; and a table tennis table all in the block overlooking the pool. A well-screened all weather tennis court adjoins the pool area. The pool bar did not appear to be manned during our stay but drinks and food could be ordered via the bar’s telephone.
Behind the pool is the Palheiro Spa with its indoor heated hydro pool, Finnish sauna, Turkish steam bath and treatment rooms. Massages included the Weary Wanderer’s Massage “designed to put back the bounce into weariest, post Levada walks”; massages for golfers, and a “Blue Marlin” post deep sea fishing. There was a wide range of treatments, facials, pedicures and manicures.
Hotel guests have free entry into the neighbouring Palheiro Gardens where shady paths meander past trees, palms and exotic flowers from around the world and frogs make a chorus from the lily pads in the tranquil ponds. There are also Levada walks that can be taken direct from the estate grounds. Although there are several steps and staircases, management assured me that they can accommodate wheelchair users if notified in advance (they have ground floor rooms and can erect ramps to provide access throughout the main buildings and rooms of the hotel.)
All hotel staff were polite, efficient and keen to ensure that guests’ needs were anticipated and met. The restaurant provided delicious gourmet food via a choice of set menu of the day; a la carte; vegetarian menu, and a light lunch/room service menu. My favourite meal was an amuse bouche of “confit of rabbit”, followed by a starter, “Caesar salad with prawn, quail’s egg and tomato confit Casa Velha style”, sprinkled with fresh edible flowers; a main course of “roll of traditional Madeiran black scabbard fish filet with herb crust, jardinière vegetables and gnocchi with cuttlefish ink and seafood foam”; dessert of “mandarin parfait with a light lemon cream, raspberry jelly and white and dark chocolate”. My partner’s main course choice was melt-in-the-mouth “Iberian black pork confit, stuffed cabbage with chorizo, polenta and red onion marmalade”. All cooked to perfection and accompanied by an excellent chilled white wine followed by a glass of Blandy Madeira, as recommended by the excellent Maitre D – Louis.
We enjoyed a fabulous week at this delightful country house hotel and hope to return soon.