Have some Madeira
Reid’s Palace on the European island of Madeira lies off the western shores of Africa, north of the Canary Islands, south of the Azores. In the morning we enjoy the stroll through the most scenic of gardens, overlooking nothing but the deep blue Atlantic Ocean, which at 24°C now in September tempts us to bathe. If hunger does not draw us to the table of Lucullus, we would sit here for hours. It’s only you, your armchair, the palm trees and the Atlantic Ocean, if you wish.
As we continue walking, the harbour of Funchal comes in sight. Reid’s
Palace Hotel is behind us now, the tea terrace visible through a
tropical bouquet of a thousand bushes, palm trees and flowers.
From here we reach the breakfast room, located above the two pools and –
you have guessed it – the ocean. Breakfast at Reid’s Palace is an
affair of hours. Food is of course the second most important thing at a
holiday resort. Executive chef Luis Pestana has been there for a very
long time, observing every inch of this daily race for highest quality.
You know you can trust his kitchen when you listen to him explaining,
for example, the legendary Reid’s foie-gras recipe in minute detail.
So reserve an hour for breakfast. Or two. There is never any rush, and even the most stressed engines slow to the speed of a sea turtle, the latest after 24 hours of Reid’s show.
Reid’s Palace offers a great show. To my mind hotel business is show business. Everybody performs on a little stage: the concierge desk, the breakfast buffet, the bar or the dining room. Finally, enter the general manager. Here the show comes with a relaxed composure. Everything flows with clockwork-like smoothness, so that you never hear a raised word at the hotel, there never ever seems the need to rush, mobile phones are rarely noticeable. One has a secretary, or at least a mailbox. Business is conducted upstairs, in the rooms, if at all. Even the two house-pigeons Rodriguez and Miss Sophie parade the grounds around the pools without haste, their wings folded like hands on their backs. Flying? What for?
Reid's in the 1920s
The few young people who had the opportunity to complete a trainee-programme this summer at Reid's had drawn the right card: they were working at the best island resort hotel in this part of the world: ‘I want to become a general manager at a hotel like this,’ Chris, a young Austrian trainee at the pool bar, forecasts with confidence. His idol might very well be Ulisses Marreiros, a general manager with flair.Marreiros’ eyes are where his interest is - and that is everywhere; numbers and facts spill effortlessly off the top of his head. He is a connoisseur of fine food and wines; has his occupancy figures, rates and guest history under control at his computer, and prides himself on accuracy in all his reports to the London based head office. With a boyish smile he confesses a certain portion of diligence: ‘I am almost German – or Swiss in this’. We forgive him. He speaks of course Portuguese, Spanish, French, English and, yes, German.
Marreiros is also fluent in guest relations, keeping up the tradition of the weekly guest cocktails when he presents his entire management team. From breakfast to dinner he cruises his restaurants for entertaining small-talk. He or a member of his management team also appears at the pool. They walk from sunbed to sunbed and greet their guests, getting their feedback first hand, reading every wish from the eyes and having it fulfilled before the guest can say ‘Madeira’. So much for the paper pushing, computer addicted and Blackberry fixed next generation of young hoteliers, reputably hiding in their offices.
Frangipani tree in full blossom (June–September)
Marreiros is the first Portuguese to run Reid’s, and he is young (born 1974). He was the number two under Sandro Fabris who was called to run Orient Express’s South African flagships. In March 2010, at the age of 36, Marreiros immediately accepted the challenge to manage the ‘Grand Dame’ of the company with a history dating back 120 years.
Reid's courtyard and entrance
Marreiros tried to open the hotel more to the locals from Funchal,
tackling their traditional threshold-reserve: ‘For the 120 years’
anniversary throughout the year 2011, we offer a weekend at Reid’s —
exclusively for Madeira residents — at EUR 120.00 per room per night.
Our standard rates are four times higher. It was a great success – we
have sold far over 100 nights, and got people introduced to the Reid’s
Palace experience. We have introduced “[email protected]’s”, a happy hour
every second Thursday. The incentive: the second drink is free. Over 50
locals appeared on the first night.’
Marreiros: ‘The biggest challenge is to merge the tradition of Reid’s with the requirements of today’s travellers!’
The hotel opened in 1891. One of its outstanding features was the seawater pool, automatically refilled by the Atlantic Ocean itself. One can and does spend hours watching this daily spectacle, in particular when the moon is new and the tide high. It is a smart proof of ingenious engineering.
The pool at sealevel (right)
The first famous guest was the Empress of Austria, Elizabeth ‘Sisi’, in
1893. Ever since Reid's has become a household name for the upper class.
London’s Tatler, the Illustrated News or Sphere Magazine reported about
the ‘Season at Madeira’, which was synonymous with Reid’s. When Lord
Birkenhead’s second daughter made her first dive at Reid’s seawater
pool, England knew about it. After George Bernhard Shaw took Tango
lessons from Reid’s famous dancing instructor, Ireland was aware of it.
G.B. Shaw's dancing lessons at Madeira
Christmas at Reid’s meant you arrive in time for the legendary New Year's Eve fireworks and departed in February. Some were less fortunate: when Winston Churchill landed in January 1951, he had to leave the island expressissimo nine days later — his political opponent had called the nation for elections. He has done his bit for Madeira, no doubt.
Churchills at Reid's – a perfect marketing operation
Reid’s, one should know, was in its distant past so very much a
caricature of what the world thinks is British that once upon a time its
elegant Dining Room was divided into a House of Lords and a House of
Indeed, Lords and ladies arrived and stayed for a greater part of the winter, thus saving the enormous cost of heating the palace back home. With the decline of the empire, an abdicated king married to a Boston divorcee managing a corral reef in the Caribbean, the followers of the gentry entered the stage of Reid’s. No more Royalty, but the Kings of the industry, tycoons and their money came through the revolving door, sipping champagne at the bar.
Finally followed you and me, the travelers, the rest-seekers, the admirers of exclusivity. We all flocked to the tea terrace and had high tea. Today Reid’s Afternoon Tea is on the schedule of every visiting cruise ship. They do some 26,000 covers per year. High tea only. At €29,00 per nose.
Tea at Reid's
The general managers, however, were Italian, Swiss and German, and now the house is in the hands of this highly trained Portuguese professional with his almost 100% Portuguese executive team, except the Italian director of sales & marketing and the lady of the house (Executive housekeeper), who arrived from Chile, besides some other members of the staff from Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Latvia, Ukraine and Brazil.
BOAC flying boat
‘I remember these flying boats,’ tells me Rose, who comes here since 1931; ‘but we never took one. They all fell down sooner or later. We always came by ship. The liners went to South America or to South Africa. We always got off at Madeira. Sometimes the luggage of some guests didn’t. Came back from the Cape two weeks later. We were always lucky.”
Gone are the days when you would not be allowed to enter the bar without black tie. Under Swiss general manager Anton Küng the first steps were taken to loosen the dress code. Italian general manager Sandro Fabris finally killed the sacred cow. Today a smart casual dress code is implemented. Only in the main dining room (at the dinner dance with a lavish champagne dinner buffet) black tie or jacket and tie is compulsory. It is nice to spot the occasional white dinner jacket in that painting of a very special evening.
Fine Dininig Restaurant
At the restaurant Gaddie’s in Hong Kong’s Peninsula Hotel, maître
d’hôtel Rolf Heiniger has his staff trained in catching the right moment
when you wanted to light a cigarette. We often tried to trick them and
to be quicker than they were, but with little success. At Reid’s a
similar game takes place at the pools. The attendants monitor every of
your moves. Once you try to turn your sunbed another 13° westwards to
follow the sun, they are at your side like a shot to give you a hand.
The large tree at the pools has given shade to many famous people.
The only music you occasionally hear at the pools of Reid’s is the horn solo of a student of the Funchal music academy in a distance. There is a praiseworthy absence of piped music all over the hotel (no! don’t think it! I love designer hotels and lounge music and was the first to fall in love with Buddha Bar in Paris). For all general managers of resorts who are thinking about the right music for their public areas: try none!
Dolphines - never missed to see some
Sorry to be so ignorant about the dolphine and whale watching, Levade walks and hiking, Madeira wine and Funchal Tonics, but I rather go for Billiards after dinner, while our grand mother is with her friends at the bridge room. My wife is singing along with the children at [email protected]’s. She is playing the electric guitar there. In the end we all meet on the terrace to gaze over the Bay of Funchal, and sometimes, when the moon parades over the waters of the Atlantic, we think ‘one day, while at Reid’s, we could actually visit it and have some more of Madeira.’
Reid's Palace by Andreas Augustin is available here.
It is the summary of brownie points that make a great hotel. This list is not complete, by all means, but it highlights some essentials from the world of a resort, which ticks definitely differently than a city hotel:
1. Front office: from porter to reception most competent, efficient and with a smile.
2. All house spotless clean. Abundance of dashing flower arrangements.
3. Beds huge and comfortable – courtesy to special Orient Express mattresses. Large supplies of exquisite shampoos, body cream and the likes.
4. Gardens generous, grounds vast. You never feel disturbed by another guest.
5. Pools immaculate, 26°C (28ºC in the winter) salt water, 28°C (30ºC in the winter) sweet water and one at the level of the Atlantic Ocean with fresh seawater.
6. Sunbeds plenty, not claustrophobic, comfortable and with head cushions. Plenty of cosy towels (2.40 m length blue, and 1.70 m white ones to dry ourselves). Lifeguards on duty.
7. Six F&B outlets. Food ranges from the complete encyclopaedia of a breakfast buffet to the Mediterranean lunch market buffet, renowned afternoon highteas on the terrace, dinners at Villa Cipriani (casual), Le Faunes in winters and Brisa do Mar in summers (Smart casual), Dining Room (formal).
8. Test of generations passed: the longest returning guest just arrived; Rose from the UK keeps coming back since 1931. The longest staying guest in-house is here since ten years. The number of couples spending their honeymoon is rising. [email protected]’s is dedicated to the youngest generation, from Kid’s menus (restaurant opens at 6 o’clock for a kid’s serving, kids taken care of by staff), playground with their own house and pool (and a nanny) to Playstation, Nintendo, Wii and iMacs in a special suite.
Macs at [email protected]'s
Most photographs on this page were taken by Wolfgang Kalny.