Reid’s Palace, the all-star hotel in Funchal

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Churchill and Sissi, Empress of Austria, are on its honor roll, but Reid’s Palace doesn’t live on past glories. It remains a luxury classic, blending tradition and contemporaneity.

The dining room at Reid’s Palace was once called the House of Lords, as many British parliamentarians gathered here to find the calm and warmth they lacked at Westminster. Built on a cliff overlooking the town of Funchal and its harbour, Reid’s Palace is more than a 5-star hotel, it is today (at 132 years old) a legend, doing everything it can to retain that status.

That’s how it was conceived at the end of the 19th century by its founder, William Reid, a Scotsman whose weak lungs led him to settle in Madeira at an early age. Although he didn’t live to see his work inaugurated in 1891, his vision of business was honored by subsequent generations, with such refinement that by Christmas 1893, the hotel was already being coveted by Empress Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary, known worldwide as Sissi, followed over the decades by Umberto, the last King of Italy, Empress Zita, Sissi’s successor, the Duke of Windsor and various members of the Spanish royal family, as well as international personalities such as filmmaker John Huston, actor Gregory Peck, aviation pioneer Amy Johnson, Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw (who learned to tango here) and, as we’ve seen, many British politicians.

Reid's Palace, the all-star hotel in Funchal

Among them, former Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who disembarked in Funchal on January 1, 1950, accompanied by his wife Lady Clementine, Colonel William Deakin (his literary assistant) and two secretaries, is remembered with particular affection, both in the hotel and on the island. The event, which drew a crowd to the harbor, was the result of the determination of Reid’s management to recapture the clientele lost during the Second World War. It was a sure-fire hit. Even today, more than 50 years after Churchill’s death, the suite where he stayed for several weeks is one of the hotel’s most sought-after, especially by the British clientele, still in the majority, even though Reid’s is now part of the French luxury group LVMH. The cozy chic appreciated by the Churchills remains intact, reproducing, in a much less harsh climate, the atmosphere of the family home in Chartwell, Kent.

Reid’s does not, however, live in the shadow of past glories, although they are one of the assets that distinguish it from all the other hotels on the island. Increasingly geared towards couples with or without young children, it aims to offer exceptional experiences, including, for example, gastronomy. In addition to the excellent breakfasts served by the freshwater pools (with a wide variety of tropical fruits from the island), the William restaurant is run by Michelin-starred chef Luís Pestana. On June 16 and 17, in its new decor, the William will host The Art of Flavours festival, bringing together a group of Michelin-starred chefs from Portugal and abroad, as well as young gastronomes.

Reid's Palace, the all-star hotel in Funchal

More informal, the Ristorante Villa Cipriani, specializing in Italian cuisine, offers homemade pasta and other regional dishes, in a space where the “star” is, once again, the breathtaking view of the Atlantic Ocean. But what guests at the Reid can’t miss is afternoon tea on the terrace, in the best English tradition, with sweet and savory sandwiches and scones, with or without crème fraîche, accompanied by a wide range of teas. All served on the magnificent service that Vista Alegre designed exclusively for Reid’s and which reproduces one of the most prized species in the hotel’s garden, the Philippine jade flower.

In addition to gastronomic experiences, you can also take part in activities such as Sunrise above the clouds, where you can watch the sunrise over Pico do Arieiro, a cruise to the Desertas islands, a picnic under the palm trees, guided tours of the hotel garden (a veritable showcase of world botany, where cherry trees blossom all year round) or candle-making and botanical art workshops. Not forgetting the indispensable spa with its four therapy rooms, Jacuzzi and sauna, tennis (with the option of taking lessons) and plenty of swimming in the three pools, two heated and one with saltwater waves. For golf enthusiasts, Reid’s provides transport to Madeira’s two professional golf courses.

When you return, you’ll always be greeted with a smile, a glass of champagne (courtesy of Moët & Chandon, also part of the LVMH group) and a song played on the piano in the great hall, which opens out onto the Atlantic. If, in this perfect moment, we’re told we’re in a period English soap opera, we believe it. True elegance needs no means of transport to travel back in time.

The Diaro de noticias journalist was invited by Reid’s Hotel to share this article with you.

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