This was not our first visit to the Island of Madeira. It is an island of astounding beauty and well worth the visit.
The island is made up of spectacular mountains all arising from the volcanic lava flows around thirty-five million years ago, which is now covered with dense forest and luxuriant vegetation hence its name Llha da Madeira (The Wooded Isle).
Getting around the island which can be achieved easily in a day can be done by one of the many tour operators, bus or privately by taxi. There are many different things to see and do to suite all ages and ability’s a week’s holiday will keep you busy or if staying longer you can spread your actives out. What I would say is that Madeira is very hilly. Weather can be quiet hot and humid so best check where you are going to stay has air conditioning or you might be quiet uncomfortable especially at night. The people of Madeira are friendly and helpful English is spoken in most places on the island. Staying on the island the hotels vary but if you want to stay in a traditional hotel then choose one of the “Quintas da Madeira” old estates which are authentic treasures restored permitting a journey into the past.
Our first two visits to the island we stayed in Quintas which were five star and were small between 85 to 100 beds. Quintinha de Sao Joao and Quinta Bela Vista both I would highly recommend. However this trip we decided to try a hotel from the Pestana group of hotels of which there are many on the island and especially Funchal which is the capital of the island and where most of the hotels are. We choose the Pestana Calton 285 beds five star hotel (this is a big hotel for us to stay at we normally choose smaller). Before booking I guess I did what everyone seems to do and check Tripadvisor to see how people had rated the hotel. All seemed quite reasonable reports so I went ahead and booked. I choose this hotel as it was near to Funchal about fifteen to twenty minutes’ walk and it also had access to the beach.
On arrival I cannot say I was impressed it was dated and showing signs of wear and tear being built in 1972. We were given our key told what floor we were on and that we needed to book at reception every day for dinner and what time we would like to eat, we were then told our luggage would be brought up to our room (no one showed us our room which I would have expected for a five star). We were on the 10th floor and dated deco followed us up on to our floor in fact the entrance doors to the rooms looked more like medieval castle doors. However we were pleasantly surprised when we entered the room which had been refurbished in light modern colors was a good size with plenty of hanging and storage space The bathroom had also been refurbished and again was a good size and everything worked, the only down side was it had a shower curtain and not a screen but that is being picky. The balcony was also a good size and had two decent size wicker chairs and a table.
We had asked for a sea view which we were given, but on the side of the hotel overlooking the harbour which at first I was a bit disappointed with, but as the days went on I was glad we had the room we had as the sun was so hot you really could not sit out on the balcony too long. But by about mid-day we were in the shade and it was lovely then to sit and watch the activities in the harbour especially when the huge cruise ships came in. If we had had a room directly overlooking the sea and swimming pool then it would have been far too hot on the balcony and in the room. Our room and bathroom were cleaned daily with fresh towels if asked for by leaving soiled ones in the bath. However there is one thing that was annoying, there is a tea & coffee making tray in the room which you will need to pay 6 euros to have replenished.
The first evening we were there we were told that we would be dining in the Tavern restaurant which again was a bit dated. We were asked if we would like to sit in or outside we sat in and were given a menu which had one choice except for the main course which was either a fish course or a meat course just one choice. The food was nicely presented but nothing spectacular. The following day after breakfast which was a buffet, and the normal run of things to eat but again very mundane, we went to reception and booked our evening meal. We were told that we would need to use another restaurant which was on the same floor as the previous evening but opposite and we were to use this restaurant for the rest of our stay. The whole thing about staying in a five star hotel is the service and if staying half board the dining experience being able to dress for dinner and be served your fine wine and excellent food by good waiting staff in wonderful surroundings.
When we went for our meal on the second evening it was in a huge dining room and it was full and worst still it was buffet. It was a bun fight as everyone was trying to find what they wanted or queue at the hot food counter. A gentleman came to our table and asked if we were enjoying the meal and informed us the apartment share people were joining the half board guests this evening. After he left I said to my husband “What apartment share?” – he reminded me then of the meeting we had attended that morning by our tour operator (which we found out was owned by Pestana Group) was also promoting the time share of the apartments which there are many within the hotel and also a new hotel which had just recently been built. Each night dinner was a buffet although not shared with so many, the food was plentiful but quiet often the same thing as the previous evening and nothing special.
There were a lot of people staying at this hotel and indeed if you sat in reception for any length of time it resembled a departure lounge of an airport. But let us get back to the amenities of this hotel there are two large outdoor swimming pools one of which is down at beach level there is a lift down to the beach, when I say beach it is a boulder beach and I don’t think you could access it, but a large area had been laid out to accommodate many sun loungers, large pool a bar for snacks and the diving school. There was crazy golf, outside tennis courts and a special games room with pool table and table tennis. The usual shops, hairdresser, fitness and well-being areas everything you could want really but it was all quite costly. There is a large pool in the garden area which also has a snack-bar/bar, which people seemed to use quiet frequently to eat as it overlooked the sea it was a lovely view. There was a large terrace with a pergola to shade you from the sun which had wicker chairs and a quite space to sit and read. This was situated about three floors above the garden/pool and overlooking the sea.
I have to say that having experienced such a large hotel I think if my husband and I wish to visit Madeira again I will stay at one of the smaller five start Quintas where you are treated as a guest and that you matter and not just another name on a sheet of paper. Every ones expectations are different and as many that did not like the experience of staying at the Pestana Calton there will be as many who will have enjoyed every minute. But I would not rate Pestana Calton five star when it comes to service, presentation, exclusivity or ambience it just is not there.