History, review and photos of
the luxury hotel on the island of Madeira
Article added on February 1, 2011 at 00:16 Paris time [two details updated on
February 2, 2011]
A history of Reid's Palace -
the biography of William Reid
The island of Madeira offers a
mild climate throughout the year. It is the perfect holiday destination not
only for a winter break.
Madeira was discovered in 1418. The following year, the Portuguese João
Gonçalves Zarco, Tristão Vaz Teixeira and Bartolomeu Perestrelo set foot on
In 1836, the Scotsman William Reid arrived on Madeira's main city of Funchal,
which is named after the wild fennel the first settlers found on its shores.
Born in 1822 as one of twelve children to a Kilmarnock farmer, William Reid
was sent to Madeira on the advice of his family doctor. Because of his
fragile health, he had been advised to live in a warmer climate.
The fourteen year old cabin boy
was carrying five pounds from his father in his pocket, a respectable sum at
the time. By the age of 25, the Scotsman had managed to move into the
lucrative wine trade and to establish himself as a successful importer and
William Reid married Margaret Dewey, who had come to Madeira as a companion
for two years to a Lady Camden. William and Margaret had twelve children, a
number of whom died in infancy.
In the mid-19th century,
Madeira had established itself as a popular winter destination for visitors
who wanted to escape the cold and damp climate in Northern Europe. They
normally stayed for several months up to a year or two, mainly renting farm
houses, so called Quintas.
William and Margaret Reid were fully aware of the opportunity and rented
Quintas to wealthy travelers, offering their personal supervision and
In 1850, Tourism got a boost when the
Austrian Empress Elisabeth
“Sisi” spent five months on the island of Madeira. It was the time when
William Reid and his wife opened their first hotel, Quinta das Fontes.
With the blessing of HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, Alfred, the second son of Queen
Victoria, they renamed it the Royal Edinburg Hotel.
Subsequently, the Reid's established other hotels. For instance in Funchal
the Santa Clara Hotel and the Miles Carmo Hotel. They also opened an
accommodation in the
mountain village of Monte, overlooking Funchal, as well as one in St. Anne's
(in present-day Santana) on the north coast.
The Reid's themselves lived in one of the most prestigious Quintas, Quinta
do Bom Sucesso. Built in 1881, it is since 1960 part of the Botanical
Gardens of Madeira. Situated some three kilometers from the center of
Funchal, it offers over 35,000 square meters of luxuriant vegetation.
Birth of a legend - Reid's New Hotel aka Reid's Palace
Despite his economic success, William Reid still had one dream to fulfill: a
luxury hotel for the rich. Therefore, he purchased the Horse's Leap (Salto
do Cavalo), a rocky cliff point, from Dr. Michael Grabham.
The Scotsman secured the services of the architect George Somers Clarke, who
had completed work on the legendary Shepheard Hotel in Cairo, which had been
destroyed in a fire.
Incidentally, the original Shepheard Hotel dates back to 1841. A previous
building on the site even served as the quarters to Napoleon while he was
conquering Egypt. The hotel was destroyed in the Cairo fire of 1952 during
the war with the British and rebuilt in 1957 as a modern and faceless tower.
It currently operates as a four-star hotel. The more recommendable
accommodation is the five-star Intercontinental just next door. Both hotels are within
two minutes walk of the Egyptian Museum of Cairo, whose artworks
will be transferred to a new museum next to the Giza Pyramids in 2013,
Back to Reid's: Building of what was initially called Reid's New Hotel began
in 1887. Sadly, William Reid died the following year. He was buried in the
British cemetery in Funchal. It was up to his sons William and Alfred
to open Reid's New Hotel on November 1, 1891. It was a luxury retreat
combining Edwardian elegance with the latest comforts of the
Fame arrived early because, on December 24, 1893 the Austrian Empress
Elisabeth arrived at Reid's. She still had to recover from the
1889-suicide of her son, Crown Prince Rudolf, who had famously shot his
lover, Baroness Marie Vetsera, in the head and then killed himself in his
hunting lodge in Mayerling.
During Empress Elisabeth's stay at Reid's, British naval vessels calling at
the island did her the honor of firing a royal salute each morning and a
band played while the Austrian flag was hoisted. The Empress left the island
on February 5, 1894. Henceforth, Reid's was known as a harbor of seclusion
of history's great characters, as Andreas Augustin put it.
During the First World War, Reid's remained closed. The war changed Europe.
The last Austrian Emperor, Charles I (1916-18), spent the last months of his
life on the island of Madeira. The exiled former monarch arrived on November
19, 1921 together with his wife Zita. First, they stayed at Villa Victoria,
an annex of Reid's New Hotel. The horrendous cost made them accept the offer
of a wealthy banker to stay at his villa near Monte, where the emperor died
on April 1, 1922 (not an April Fools' joke). The ex-Empress Zita continued
visiting her husband's grave until she died, always staying at Reid's.
One of the most famous guests in the inter-war period was the Irish
playwright and co-founder of the London School of Economics, George Bernard
Shaw. He stayed a the luxury hotel for six weeks in 1924. At Reid's, the
winner of both the 1925-Nobel Prize in Literature and the 1938-Oscar for
Pygmalion (an adaption of his play) wanted to sunbath and master the Tango. Shaw
famously left Max Rinder, the resident Tango instructor, a photograph with
“The only man who ever taught me anything” (books by George Bernard Shaw from Amazon.co.uk
The Earl of Birkenhead, the former Secretary of State for India and Lord
Chancellor between 1919 and 1922, was a frequent guest at Reid's. When he read the
inscription on Shaw's photograph, he added:
“Could Birkenhead teach you no law? Do let us have a little less of your
perfection, My Dear G.B.S.”
Despite prominent hotel guests and an education received in England, William
and Alfred Reid encountered financial difficulties. In 1925, they were forced
to sell their iconic hotel to the British company Reid's Palace Hotel
In 1937, another famous Madeiran family took over the hotel. The Blandy
family, who had established a leading wine company in 1811, took over the
hotel. The Blandy's introduced the first major changes to the hotel
the opening in 1891. They built the East Wing and invested some £35,000.
Sir Winston Churchill
In 1950, another world-famous guest arrived at Reid's: Sir Winston
Churchill. He had already seen the island in 1899 when he had been on his way to cover the
Boer War in South Africa.
arrived again on the island in January 1950 on board the Union-Castle liner Durban Castle. He
stayed for roughly ten nights. On the island, he wrote the fourth
volume of his war memoirs, The Hinge of Fate (order if from Amazon.com
Churchill also dedicated himself to his passion - painting - in the nearby
fishing village of Câmara de Lobos. During his stay, he used a grey Rolls-Royce
belonging to the Leacock family, including their chauffeur.
Churchill was treated like royalty. When he and his wife made their entry to
the dining room at Reid's, they were given a standing ovation. He had also
received a great welcome by the people of Madeira. Churchill noted:
“I've been greeted by many people in the world for whom I have done something
but never in my whole life been greeted with such enthusiasm by people for
whom I have never done anything.”
The Churchill's occupied a suite on the first floor, today's Churchill
Suite, decorated with photographs of the statesman. To
return to England, the Churchill's took the flying boat from Funchal to
More famous guests
Among the notable post-war guests at Reid's Palace one also has to mention the
visit of the former Italian King Umberto II in 1965. He was baptized
“The King of May” (“Re di maggio”), because he only ruled one month in 1946
before he had to abdicate.
A famous long-term staying guest was Cuba's ex-dictator General Fulgencio Batista.
He had been ousted by Fidel Castro in the Cuban Revolution of 1959. Batista did
not arrive as a poor man. He and his family spent two full years at Reid's
occupying the second floor.
In 1966/67, the Garden Wing was built. The works were completed on December
24, 1967; all its rooms were occupied that night. The following year, the
two pools were opened. In 1970, Reid's joined The Leading Hotels of the
In 1990, Reid's closed down for further improvements in preparation of the
centenary of its opening. Six suites were added above the restaurant. A new
restaurant, the Villa Cliff was added.
An Orient-Express Hotel
In 1996, Orient-Express Hotels bought Reid's from the Blandy's. Another
extensive restoration and renovation program followed. The designer involved
was Graham Viney. In 2002 and 2003, the
Villa Cliff changed its name to Villa Cipriani; at present, it is still the
hotel's Italian restaurant.
In 2006, Reid's Palace was shut down for three months for the last big refurbishment of
the rooms and suites. A new spa and gym were added, where I worked off my
excess kilos. Each spa treatment room features its own private terrace and
For an entire week in 2010, the contestants for Miss Switzerland stayed at
Reid's. They had for instance a photo shooting around the historic changing
rooms near the sea level pool.
I asked a hotel lifeguard whom he had had to save. He answered, unfortunately
not a single Swiss Miss, but mostly men, because they tend to underestimate
the sea more than the women.
In November 2011, Reid's Palace will celebrate its 120th birthday.
My stay in January 2011
In January 2011, I stayed in one of my favorite rooms at Reid's Palace, the Junior Suite 666,
situated between the concierge and the reception, in the original part of
the hotel. One highlight of room 666 is the large balcony with sea
and garden view, enough room for two chairs and a table as well as two deck
chairs. The other highlight is the elegant and spacious
bathroom (check the bathroom photo above on the right). It does not get better than
Even if you are on a
tighter budget, don't worry. All rooms come with sea and/or garden view and at least with a small balcony or
a small terrace. For instance the Charming Room 730, one of the smallest
category, has a small bathroom, but a large terrace.
At Reid's Palace, the welcome treat in my room were a bottle of Blandy's -
wine company is still owned by descendants of the former owners of Reid's - as well as two typical Madeiran cakes: Queijadinha, a homemade cheesecake produced with fresh cheese from
Santo da Serra, and a Bolo de mel, a homemade cookie with sugarcane honey,
spices and nuts (a bit on the dry side for my taste).
Among the many complementary amenities of the hotel are the deck chairs all
around the property and the park with a fantastic sea view, several pools,
the direct access to the sea, two tennis courts and table tennis tables,
one kids club called Fun@Reid's Kids for
children from three to nine, plus a teenager club called Fun@Reid's
Teenagers, Minibars in the rooms with free
soft drinks, including tomato, orange and apple juice, soda and tonic water,
coca cola, ginger ale, etc. The hotel offers its DVD collection with some 80 classic DVDs free of charge. In my favorite Junior Suite 666, I watched All
About Eve with Bette Davis.
An afternoon tea on the terrace of Reid's Palace
Tea at Reid's is an institution that you should not miss.
Excellent Italian teas by the Italian company La Via del Tè are served. I
counted six black teas, six green teas and twelve different infusions to
When in Madeira, do as the Madeirans do.
As an aperitif, I chose a Blandy's Sercial Dry aged ten years with fresh
fruit flavors and a dry tangy finish. For tea, my option fell on a mild and excellent Japanese Sencha.
The Afternoon Tea was served served on Wedgwood porcelain and on a classic
three-tier stand. As in
the scones with clotted cream, butter and jam will remain forever a British
mystery to me. I liked my selection of vegetarian finger sandwiches,
including avocado, zucchini and tofu, to mention a few. The bottom with the
sweets included a raspberry macaron, a chocolate cake, a delicate mango,
coconut and chocolate semifreddo with a strong mango flavor as well as my
favorite, a fruit tart with guava, kiwi, tangerine and a grape.
Many tourists from other hotels flock to Reid's to enjoy the view, the
pianist and an unforgettable afternoon on the splendid terrace.
Incidentally, old photos show that the signs on the terrace balustrade
originally read “Reid's New Hotel”, since the hotelier had owned other
hotels before. Today, just the “New” sign at the center is missing.
A concierge's tales
The head concierge, José Manuel Aguiar Nunes, is currently the longest
serving staff member. He began his career at Reid's Palace in 1965 as a
12-year old pool boy. The first of his family members started working for
Reid's in 1894, just three years after the opening of the hotel. Among the
many stories he remembers are the one about the occasional naked sleepwalker that turns up
at the concierge's desk or the lovely lady from outside the hotel who had
had a drink too many and did not want to leave the bar anymore. She had to
be accompanied outside with the help of four gentle hotel staff members,
while she was claiming to be the
“Queen of the Sahara.” Mister Aguiar has seen many famous guests stay at the
hotel, among them, in 2010, the King and Queen of Spain. Roger Moore is a
regular guest. One time, his luggage did not arrive at the airport with him;
it had to be brought to the hotel later. The concierge still keeps the
former James Bond's luggage claim receipt. The concierge fondly remembers
the night, at 3am, when the singer Sandie Shaw (e.g.
“Puppet on a string”) insisted that he had to join her and her friends in her
suite to share some champagne with them. As a concierge, you witness a lot.
Privacy of course provides that the juicier stories remain within the walls
of Reid's Palace.
Orient-Express and Reid's Palace
The Orient-Express company has thirty-nine hotels and six
luxury trains in its portfolio. Since 1996, Reid's Palace is owned and
managed by Orient-Express, which completely renovated the five-star
property with its 163 rooms and suites. Currently, for the first time since its opening some 120 years ago, the
Old Lady of luxury hotels in Madeira is run by a Portuguese general manager, Ulises Marreiros.
The largest group of hotel guests at Reid's are the British, who account for some 40%
to 50% of the stays. The second largest group are the Germans with 10% to
15% market share. Swiss, Austrians, Scandinavians and many other nations compose the
rest. Americans are still rare to find.
A detailed hotel history by Andreas Augustin will be published in November
2011 for the 120th birthday of Reid's Palace. It may contain new insights
and may partly revise old stories. Some useful information can already be
found in I had Tea at Reid's Palace. An Afternoon Tea Companion by
Andreas Augustin. 2008, 87 pages.
The garden and sea view. Photos © Orient-Express / Genivs
Aerial view of Reid's Palace, Madeira.
Photos © Orient-Express / Genivs Loci.
A suite at Reid's Palace. Photos © Orient-Express / Genivs Loci.
View of a classic room in the main building. Photos © Orient-Express / Genivs
The perfect bathroom with traditional Portuguese tiles. This is a view of a bathroom similar to the one in my Junior Suite 666. At the center, the
bathtub with sea view. On the left, a separate shower. On the right a toilette.
In the foreground on the left and right two elegant sinks. In the (invisible)
back, a large wardrobe. The Portuguese tiles used throughout the hotel are
copies of 18th century Azulejos. This is as good as it gets. Photos © Orient-Express.
All hotel rooms have a balcony with garden or garden/sea view. A room breakfast
with a view! Photos © Orient-Express / Genivs
The afternoon tea on the terrace is an institution. Photo © Orient-Express /
View from the breakfast restaurant. The two pools are heated. The bigger one is
filled with sea water at 25 degrees centigrade, the smaller one is filled with
freshwater and heated at 30
degrees centigrade. Another sea water pool is at sea level. In the background,
you can admire a small part of the gorgeous garden surrounding the luxury hotel.
Photo © Orient-Express / Genivs Loci.
The executive chef Luis Pestana. Photo © Orient-Express / Genivs Loci.
For breakfast, “real tea” (tealeaves, not dreadful tea bags with broken tea
or tea dust) from the Italian company La Via del Tè is served. I enjoyed a
gunpowder green tea. The large breakfast buffet includes for instance Madeiran
fruits, including a local passion fruit variety shaped like a banana, small
Madeiran cherries, little plums of São João or the
“banana prata”, a local banana variety.
The five restaurants at Reid's Palace offer something for everyone. Well-known is the Italian
restaurant Villa Cipriani with cliff top sea view from an adjacent building.
I may test it on another visit. In January 2011, I enjoyed instead a dinner
at Les Faunes, named after the Picasso lithographs displayed on its
The executive chef responsible for all restaurant at Reid's Palace is Luis Pestana
(*1972), the son of a pastry chef. Luis Pestana told me that he had spent his
entire career at Reid's, including of course many shorter stays abroad. Among
his important influences, he named André Bertron at Reid's Palace at the time he
was a trainee, who taught him French cuisine. At the Four Seasons in Milan in
1999, he was introduced to Sergio Mei's own style of Italian cuisine. From the
French 3* Michelin chef Marc Meneau, he learned the highest standard of French
cuisine in 2008.
At Reid's Palace, Luis Pestana offers a regular cuisine, a mix of French,
Italian, local and international dishes. He focuses on organic produce. The menu
changes according to the season, with a daily special created by the chef
according to the best ingredients available. Les Faunes focuses a bit
more on local specialties. He is no adept of nouvelle cuisine and
chichi. He wants his clients to remember what they have eaten and not
confuse them with exotic combinations and flavors.
The restaurant is well suited for vegetarians. I counted five starters, four
soups and six main courses on the vegetarian menu. My courses were low in salt
and spices, which the chef explained with the clientele in January, rather
elderly people with no children who can travel in January. Tell him if you like
it spicy. He will adapt to any guest's wishes.
A particularity at Reid's is live music throughout the hotel. Pianists and
sometimes Fado singers entertain the guests. At Les Faunes in January,
the Fado singer Eugenia Andrade made an excellent impression.
At Reid's Palace you have direct and private access to the sea. Deck chairs
and a small sea water pool are also available on the sea level, in addition
to the pools and many deck chairs around the fabulous property. Photos © Orient-Express / Genivs