I was staying at the premier hotel in town, Belmond Reid’s Palace.
This is the Gleneagles of Madeira, the Ritz, Raffles and the Waldorf Astoria all rolled into one. The thing I liked most though was having UK electrical points alongside standard European fittings. Now, that's going to make certain customers very happy!
It was in 1836 that a Scottish lad, 14-year old William Reid arrived on the Island, the sickly son of a Kilmarnock farmer advised by his doctor to seek a better climate. He travelled as a cabin boy with only £5 in his pouch, not an insignificant sum in those days and soon the industrious young Reid had built a small fortune in the wine business as an importer and exporter.
Things went very well for young William. He married and together, he and his wife turned their attention to the growing impression tourism was making on the island. Madeira was becoming popular as a winter destination and hotel accommodation was in short supply. Being a canny Scot, Reid and his wife moved into the cottage-rental business.
By 1850, the Reid’s were opening their first hotel, Quinta das Fontes. Royalty was now arriving on the island and Alfred, the second son of Queen Victoria renamed Reid's hotel, the Royal Edinburgh. The lad was on a roll!
He soon established other hotels in Funchal along with accommodation in the mountain village of Monte, and St. Anne's (now Santana) on the north coast. It’s interesting how Scotsmen around the world are often linked to the development of an area. I’m thinking about the likes of William Jardine and James Matheson in Hong Kong, or George Simpson of the Hudson’s Bay Company in Canada. The list is long.
The entrepreneurial Reid had thus far been impeccable in his timing and the need for luxury accommodation for the growing cavalcade of wealthy visitors was patent. This was La Belle Époque, a period of growing confidence and stability from the late 1800s to the outbreak of World War I where first-class travel, glamour and refined comforts were the order of the day. With this in mind Reid purchased The Horse's Leap (Salto do Cavalo), a rocky prominence overlooking the Bay of Funchal and the ideal spot to build a palatial hotel. Construction of Reid's 'New Hotel' began in 1887 but only a year into the project, William Reid died. It seems his timing wasn't so good after all.
It was his sons, William and Alfred that opened Reid's New Hotel on November 1, 1891 and it was an immediate success. Later it was renamed the New Palace Hotel then Reid's Palace but colloquially known to everyone as Reid’s and it soon became established as one of the world’s best-loved retreats.
The list of famous names to favour Reid’s is impressive; Sir Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden, David Lloyd George, Roger Moore when he wasn't filming James Bond, Gregory Peck when he was filming Moby Dick and dramatist George Bernard Shaw.
Churchill particularly favoured the place as a retreat from the rigours of politics and it was here that he developed his skill as a painter. There’s an iconic picture of Sir Winston cheerfully painting - or as cheerful as he could ever be. Was he any good as an artist? Apparently so!
He was 40 years old before he discovered his talent for oils and took to it with gusto, probably giving him respite from the post-war stresses of WWII. For the next half century Churchill churned out more than 500 paintings. Along the coast to the west is the village of Câmara de Lobos and this was Churchill’s favourite spot - or at least this is where the photographer famously captured him painting.
Staying at Reid's
Staying at Reid's is an experience of dignified detachment. The staff are not overly fussy but you do get a sense they're keeping a keen eye on things and should you fancy or game of crochet, or a quick Pimm's, they'd be right on it.
Afternoon Tea is still a phenomena - but since none of us do sugary cakes these days, I'm afraid we could only admire it from afar.
However, we did do New Year and all that entails and had the great good fortune of sampling Hogmany as only William Reid would have wished. I thought I'd be among fellow Clansmen and wore the kilt at this black tie affair but it turned out I was the only true Scot. I nearly had a stroke.