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Casa Velha
The history of the Relais & Chateaux luxury hotel Quinta Casa Velha do Palheiro on the island of Madeira; photos and restaurant review of the golf hotel.
Article added on April 6, 2012

History of the Blandy family and Quinta Casa Velha do Palheiro

In 1801, João José Xavier de Carvalhal Esmeraldo Bettencourt Vasconcelos Sá Machado da Câmara Leme (1778-1837; sorry for the short name!) was on a hunting trip with friends when they saw a beautiful spot on a hill owned by a blacksmith. Mr. Carvalhal spontaneously bought out the blacksmith and decided to build Casa Velha do Palheiro Ferreiro (the blacksmith's thatched, old cottage).

In 1804, a Quinta with a farm and a garden was laid out with the help of a French landscape architect. At that early time already, many rare trees and plants where brought to the garden by sailing ships, notably from Brazil. Casa Velha mainly served as a summer house and hunting lodge. Mr. Carvalhal employed over 200 men to maintain his property.

In 1811, John Blandy, the first member of the British Blandy family to set foot on the island of Madeira. He arrived in Funchal as a quartermaster with the British garrison during the Napoleonic wars. He later returned and established a flourishing wine trade. At the time, the Blandys had no connection to Casa Velha.

In 1817, the owner of Casa Velha, Mr. Carvalhal, entertained the Archduchess Leopoldina of Austria, who was on her way to Brazil to marry the countries first king, Dom Pedro ), the son of the Portuguese King João VI. During this period, frogs and deer were brought to Madeira. Casa Velha subsequently mainly became a hunting lodge. In the 1820s, two additional wings were added. The entrance was painted with frescos of acorn branches, the Conde's emblem. An octagonal, neo-classical temple was built on a hill above the Quinta; a stylized version of the building serves as today's Palheiro Estate emblem. The Conde also built a chapel in a simple baroque style. The camellias with their strong scent became the garden's signature feature.

In 1828, João Carvalhal left the island during the Miguelite wars and took exile in London; his sympathies were on the liberal side. He returned in 1834 and, a year later, received the title 1st Condé de Carvalhal da Lombada from the King of Portugal. The following year, he was made Mayor or Civil Governor of Funchal.

After his death in 1837, the title and the property of the unmarried man fell to his nephew António Leandro (1831-1888; we skip the rest of his name), who was only 6 at the time. The 2nd Count of Carvalhal did not only have a wife, to children and a French mistress for whom he built a house nearby, he enjoyed life in Paris (with a racing stable), Madrid and London, bought a yacht and held wild parties at Casa Velha; at one occasion, ladies were invited on the condition that they would wear nothing but high heels and jewelry. Among his many guests was the Infante, later Dom Luis of Portugal. Unfortunately, the 2nd Count of Carvalhal dilapidated the family's fortune and died in 1888. For a brief time, Casa Velha, already in a poor state, was used as a hotel.

John Burden Blandy aka JBB (1841-1912), the head of the Blandy wine lodges in Funchal, bought the Palheiro property at public auction in 1885 and, in 1891, built the present family residence North of Palheiro Gardens; at JBB's time, the house was used as a summer residence. The new owner further developed the gardens.

In 1901, John Burden Blandy received the Portuguese King Dom Carlos and his wife Queen Donna Maria Amélia at Palheiro Estate for a picnic banquet with many guests. In the afternoon, King Carlos and John Blandy played tennis together with friends, immortalized on a photograph hanging in the hotel entrance.

Unfortunately, Dom Carlos was incompetent and extremely extravagant and wasteful, which contributed to Portugal's bankruptcy during his reign from 1892 to 1902. Incidentally, Dom Carlos was shot dead together with his heir, Prince Luis Filipe, while riding back to their Lisbon Palace in open carriage in 1908, an event similar to the one which led to World War I in 1914.

After JBB's death, the property passed to John Ernest Blandy (1866-1930), who was married to the American Elinor. They continued to run the estate and improve the gardens. Palheiro then passed to Graham Blandy (1904-1972) and his wife Mildred (1905-1984). However, from 1910 onwards, Casa Velha itself remained mainly empty and virtually abandoned. Only the back rooms were inhabited and the cellars continued to store fruit and other farm items.

Elsewhere, the life of the Blandy's continued to flourish. In 1950, they received Winston Churchill at Reid's Palace, which they owned for some 40 years until after the first Gulf War. At Reid's, Churchill wrote the fourth volume of his war memoirs, The Hinge of Fate (available from and Because Churchill liked to sleep in a double bed and Reid's had none, John Reeder Blandy lent the former wartime leader his own! Churchill occupied the ground-floor suite once occupied by First World War leader Lloyd George.

During a famous dinner at Reid's, Churchill opened the best Madeira on the wine list, a 1792 Blandy Solera, which had sailed to Napoleon's exile in St. Helena. Never opened and never paid for by the former emperor, the bottles returned to Blandy's in Madeira, much to the delight of Sir Winston Churchill.

Michael Blandy grew up at Quinta da Achada, today's Quinta Jardins do Lago. He was a partner in the building of the Cliff Bay Hotel, together with Antonio Trinidade, the Bianchi family of Ocean group and others. Together with Thomas Cook, the formed Porto Bay in 2000, an important hotel group which owns for instance the famous Cliff Bay Hotel.

In the summer of 1984, a good century after John Burden Blandy had acquired the Palheiro Estate, Adam and Christina Blandy moved to the manor house built by their ancestor. They thought about a possible future for the farmland property. Finally, they came up with the idea of a golf course, designed by the American Cabell Robinson on the former farm and wood land. With the help of public funds, the golf course opened in 1993.

A year later, the former Portuguese president Mario Soares visited the dilapidated Casa Velha and drew attention to the possibility of funds to restore the historic patrimony of Portugal. With the help of subsidies, the old hunting lodge and former cottage of the blacksmith was restored in 1996 and was opened as a country house hotel on April 18, 1997 by the President of the Regional Government of Madeira, Dr. Alberto João Jardim.

The five-star country house and golf hotel Quinta Casa Velha do Palheiro

On May 1, 1997 the first hotel guests arrived at
Casa Velha do Pahlheiro, situated some 1500 feet above sea level. The Superior rooms and the Senior Suites were built in 1999. The following year, Casa Velha became the only Relais & Chateaux hotel on the island of Madeira.

In 2009, the Palheira Spa
opened. It features an indoor and an outdoor pool, a Finnish sauna, a Turkish steam bath, massage and treatment rooms, a gym, a table tennis table, a badminton grass space and a tennis court.

The Old House features public areas, including the restaurant, the bar and a billiard room, as well as 3 Main House Junior Suites and 7 Double Main House Rooms. The Garden Wing offers 14 Double Garden Wing Rooms. The Golf Wing is a new, small construction added in 1999, with 3 Senior Golf Wing Suites and 10 Double Golf wing Rooms as well as a sitting room with a public computer for hotel guests. The largest rooms are the 3 front lawn Main House Junior Suites with 52 square meters each and the Golf Wing Senior Suites with 57 square meters each.

With its 37 rooms in three buildings, Casa Velha is an intimate, five-star hotel with a club atmosphere. General Manager Celeste Monteiro
Ringertz told me that some 90% of the guests are golfers who use the 18-hole Palheiro Golf Course, which is just two minutes away on foot if your start in the middle. Hourly courtesy buses bring you within three minutes to the club house, if you prefer to tee-off at the club house.

Between the second and the third tee of the Palheiro Golf Course, just ten minutes on foot from the hotel, you can get a perfect view of Funchal and its port. The same applies to the Golf Club House.

Situated some 7 km from the city center of Funchal, Casa Velha offers a courtesy shuttle service to Madeira's capital several times a day. Public buses as well as taxis are available too.

Adam Blandy's (and Rita Fletcher's) oldest son, Jonathan, took over as chairman of Palheiro Golf and Casa Velha in 2004/05 and of Palheiro Real Estate in 2008. Adam Blandy remains the chairman of the holding company.

The larger Palheiro complex includes several dozens of villas, the golf course and the Palheiro Gardens with plants and trees from around the world, including double camellias with red and white flowers. Overlooking the gardens is the imposing manor house by the 1st Count of Carvalhal, which remains until today the residence of Adam and Christina Blandy. The manor house was built by the architect George Somers Clarke, who also constructed Reid's Palace. A baroque chapel - which I could see from my hotel room - is nearby and part of the Palheiro property.

Palheiro Gardens attract many tourists. Oak, beech, chestnut and cedar grow besides exotic trees and plants such as Californian redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, eucalyptus, araucaria pines, a candelabra tree from Brazil, an Australian jasmine tree as well as grass trees from down-under, a handkerchief tree (Davidia involucrata) and a tulip tree (Liriodendron tulifera), to mention just a few. Another part of Palheiro Gardens is situated below the hotel, stretching until the golf course, famous for its 200-year old Camellia trees.

My welcome package included a Versátil Tinto 2010 from the Alentejo region with 13.5% alcohol by the producer Casa de Santa Vitoria. This came as a surprise since the name Blandy's is associated with some of Madeira's most famous wines, which made the family's initial fortune. General Manager Celeste Monteiro Ringertz assured me that, sometimes, Blandy wines are of course part of the welcome at Casa Velha.

A vegetarian dinner at the restaurant at Quinta Casa Velha do Palheiro

The wooden floors and mahogany furniture in the restaurant give it a plantation touch. Portuguese colonial architecture was an important influences on the country house hotel.

An à la carte menu, a daily menu, a light menu, vegetarian menus as well as a seven-course gourmet menu are available. The restaurant offers international cuisine with French and Mediterranean cooking techniques.

The kitchen is jointly run by the Portuguese sous-chef Francisco Quintal (born in Madeira in 1967) and the French sous-chef Eric Wiedman (born in Nice in 1982). The supervising consultant is one-Michelin-star chef Benoît Sinthon of the restaurant Gallo d'Oro.

Francisco Quintal was the chef for my dinner. He has been working at the restaurant since its opening in 1987. He told me that he has learned a lot from the French chef Benoît Sinthon, his main influence.

My evening started with a glass of a 10-yeard old Sercial from Blandy's. Four types of bred rolls were offered. The amuse bouche from the chef consisted of an excellent warm coliflower soup and a moist guinao with tomatos and peppers.

The first course was a traditional Caldo Verde, a cabbage and potato soup with some parsley and olive oil, a typical winter dish of Madeira.

The restaurant offers exclusively Portuguese wines. With my dinner, I only tried local, Madeiran wines. To accompany, my Caldo Verde, restaurant manager Luís had suggested a Barbusano Rosé from 2009 by Quinta da Barbusano for Adega de São Vicente made of Argones grapes. To my surprise, the soup and the rosé harmonized well together.

My second course were very recommendable ravioli filled with wild mushrooms, served with halved cherry tomatoes and other fresh vegetables such as a baby carrot and leek.

Together with this dish as well as with the following one, I was served a 2009 Barbusano made of Verdelho grapes, also from Quinta da Barbusano, a fresh white wine with a refreshing acidity.

My third course was composed of green asparagus from mainland Portugal with some green bean seeds and other vegetables, some of which come from the hotel garden. A nice dish of the season!

After a promising pre-dessert with fresh strawberries and a yoghurt sorbet, I chose a brilliant mango bavaroise, cool but not frozen, with some sweet mango coulis on top. The desserts ended with a selection of Madeiran pastries, which turned out to be entire cake slices, a bit too much for me. I was not a great fan of the banana cake, but the moist apple cake as well as the fresh cheese cake were perfect.

The dessert wine served with the pastries had to by a sweet Madeiran Blandy, in my case a 1994 Colheita Malmsey with 19% alcohol, which meant that I needed a long gym session the following day.

It was obvious that the two sous-chefs have profited from their collaboration with a gourmet chef. The restaurant at Casa Velha is a recommendable address, as is the entire hotel!

Further reading, literature, sources:
Marcus Binney: The Blandys of Madeira 1811-2011. Frances Lincoln Limited, Publishers, 2011, 184 pages. Purchase the book from - Books about Madeira from, - Today's deals at - Special offers on new releases from - Alle Aktionen bei

Sunset on the main, historic building of Casa Velha. Photos copyright © Casa Velha do Palheira, Madeira.

A Double Garden Wing Room (most rooms have now new LG flat screen TVs). Photos copyright © Casa Velha do Palheira, Madeira.

A Double Golf Wing Room. Photos copyright © Casa Velha do Palheira, Madeira.

A Double Main House Room. Photos copyright © Casa Velha do Palheira, Madeira.

The bar. Photos copyright © Casa Velha do Palheira, Madeira.

The terrace in front of the Main House. Photos copyright © Casa Velha do Palheira, Madeira.

View from the Palheiro Golf Course towards Funchal and its harbor. Some 90% of the guests at Casa Velha are golfers. Photos copyright © Casa Velha do Palheira, Madeira.

A part of the Palheiro Gardens with the Blandy's Manor House in the back. Photos copyright © Casa Velha do Palheira, Madeira.

The outdoor pool. Photos copyright © Casa Velha do Palheira, Madeira.

A Main House Junior Suite. Photos copyright © Casa Velha do Palheira, Madeira.

A Golf Wing Senior Suite. Photos copyright © Casa Velha do Palheira, Madeira.

A Golf Wing Senior Suite bathroom with traditional azulejos. Photos copyright © Casa Velha do Palheira, Madeira.

Casa Velha seen from the garden, with the Golf Wing on the left. The fabulous part of the garden starts just below the lawn seen here. Photos copyright © Casa Velha do Palheira, Madeira.

Deutsch Politik Geschichte Kunst Film Musik Lebensart Reisen
English Politics History Art Film Music Lifestyle Travel
Français Politique Histoire Arts Film Musique Artdevivre Voyages

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© Copyright  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.