Madeira, Portugal’s subtropical archipelago off the coast of Africa, has long shed its mistakenly held reputation as a destination only for the blue-rinse brigade. Whilst those of a, how shall we say, ‘sedentary inclination’ will still find plenty of relaxing pursuits to enjoy without burning too many of the calories they’ve put on at the island’s many award-winning and Michelin-starred restaurants, there now exists a wealth of more energetic and adventurous options. Hiking, rock climbing and mountain biking are some of the activities that are tempting new generations of holidaymakers who wouldn’t have previously even considered Madeira.
Its tourism industry is also being given a welcome boost by the island’s excellent handling of the Covid-19 crisis, with remarkably few cases and zero deaths, meaning that it is one of the safest destinations in the world and one of the few constants on the British government’s safe travel list, requiring no self-isolation on return to the UK (as at the time of writing).
Savoy Palace, a Leading Hotels of the World property situated close to the capital Funchal’s historic old town centre and picturesque harbour, has been welcoming many of these first-timers to Madeira with its blend of luxury grand hotel service and eye-catching contemporary design. Think lots of exposed bare metal contrasted with natural accents and leafy green living walls. This ultra-modern five-star hotel boasts sixteen floors of luxury, containing 352 rooms and suites, several swimming pools including two on the rooftop, an enormous state-of-the art spa (more on that in a minute), and five restaurants.
On my visit, I dined at Galáxia Skyfood, located on the hotel’s very top floor with stunning 360° views across the ocean and inland to the cloud-scraping mountains behind Funchal.
Opting for the five-course tasting menu (there’s also a seven-course one available as well as a la carte), I began with tacos made from traditional Portugese cozido panela, kale and chorizo mayonnaise. This highly auspicious start was followed by ussuzukuri (thin slices) of the catch of the day, in this case, pargo, which came with a playful yet delicate mango, avocado and ponzu sauce scented with chilli and lemon grass.
So far, so delicious. But both of these courses were surpassed by the third starter of Santo da Serra cottage cheese tortellini, veal sauce and mint emulsion; a dish so wonderfully decadent it had me literally speechless with prandial pleasure. Main was an excellent guinea fowl breast served with corn and a gastrique sauce, but it couldn’t hold a candle to the grand finale.
A dessert of avocado and lime mousse, banana ice cream and peanut streusel, all constructed to appear in the shape of that favourite old-school appetizer prawn and avocado cocktail. Pure seventies decadence but with a ‘molecular gastronomy’ twist, it was what I imagine Heston Blumenthal would have brought to Abigail’s Party if he’d been invited. And boy, was it good.
The indulgence continued the following day with an afternoon booked into the Savoy Palace’s Laurea Spa, the largest in Portugal and inspired by Madeira’s Laurissilva Forest, a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site. The vivid greens and striking floral palette of the world’s largest surviving laurel forest are reflected in the design of this 3,100 sqm temple to bodily pampering.
There’s a large heated swimming pool, a sauna, Turkish bath, Jacuzzi, Kniepp water path and walk-through sensory showers, a halo-therapy room plus eleven private treatment rooms offering ‘rituals’ using products from Sodashi, Linda Meredith, Aromatherapy Associates, Vitaman and Gentleman’s Tonic.
Having hurled my aching body around several of Madeira’s many great cycling and hiking routes over the previous few days, I decided to treat myself to a ‘Hiker’s/Biker’s/Golfer’s Special Retreat’ ritual with warm soothing oils and a massage so firm that at one point it almost constituted corrective punishment. It may have nearly brought a tear to my eye at the time, but it was totally restorative and exactly what I needed. Afterwards I felt blissfully relaxed and ready to contemplate another hack through the famous levadas up in the green hills at the north of the island.
In a nutshell
If you’ve been looking for somewhere to go that is as safe as can be from the pandemic right now, yet still offers opportunities for fun and activities for all age groups, Madeira should be at the top of your list. And the Savoy Palace is certainly top too when it comes to accommodation and dining in Madeira, both in its commanding position on the island and with its impressive levels of high-end luxury and 21st century style.
Address: Avenida do Infante 25, 9004-542 Funchal, Madeira (Portugal)
Phone: +351 291 213 000