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.
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
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
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
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 Amazon.com
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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 Quinal 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
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 Amazon.co.uk.
Books about Madeira from Amazon.de,
Today's deals at Amazon.com
Special offers on new releases from Amazon.co.uk
Alle Aktionen bei Amazon.de.
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
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,
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.