“I am off to Madeira.” I announced to the Hedgie. "There are two lovely hotels the PR people want me to review.” “I’ll pack my casual clothes,” he replied. “You’re not coming." “Why?” “Because you’re no fun anymore," I answered.
"You whinge about 50% tax rates, bore me with Eurozone patter, and let’s not start on the problems with buttons on your suits. Frankly I may as well be standing at the bar at 1 Lombard St.”
“Is it that bad?”
Frankly it was.
Overflowing with five-star hotels, Madeira has the bonus of a sub-tropical environment to rival North Queensland. The island is lush with an astonishing array of trees, plants and flowers. This alone brings regular visitors back two or three times a year. Then, of course, you have the sea, sailing and whale and dolphin watching. And those yummy Portuguese custard tarts at breakfast.
This is the antithesis of a place like Dubai. There are no loud, sunburned Brits with gold chains around their necks and Louis ‘Voo-ton’ bags by the pool. Instead it’s a place for well-heeled and charming Brits, some bookish Germans, and a fair few fit Swissies going for short eight-hour hikes.
Choupana Hills Resort and Spa overlooks Funchal with dazzling views of the sea. Accommodation is in secluded, spacious Asian-inspired bungalows, with lots of dark wood and elegant furnishings, not surprising when you consider the interior designer also worked on the famous Le Meridien in Bora Bora.
It’s all very Zen and ultra cool, and the addition of an Elemis spa and two pools - one indoor and one outdoor - makes it a perfect hideaway destination. You could happily spend the whole time being loved up in your bungalow and have everything delivered to you except the swimming pool. (They’ll pick you up in the buggy and drive you there if you wish.) At night with the sun going down, the chirping of birds and a glass of something nice, the balcony is bliss.
I texted Hedgie to tell him the young man at the front desk looked like Christiano Ronaldo, possibly the island’s most famous export. From then on I received a never-ending stream of pathetic pleas.
“Can I come today? I promise to be delightful and charming company.”
“Have you been reading Jane Austen?”
Anyway, I had a tortoise to visit at my second hotel. Like Choupana Hills, Jardins Lago is not just a hotel for the night, but one you can happily spend the whole day with.
In contrast, it’s a classic 18th century mansion with a fine history and only 40 rooms, all south facing. A favourite with everyone from the odd German chancellor to Peter O’Toole, the hotel has the bearing of an aristocratic country house where you come and go as you wish. Amongst the gardens where lizards play hide and seek, and plants from all over the world have happily settled, there is a croquet lawn, a pond with swans, an aviary, and Colombo the tortoise who likes bananas.
But here’s the clever bit. They put a playground for kids in amongst the gardens, away from the adults. They put the kid’s pool away from the adult pool. And they converted a fair bit of the top floor into an area where children are looked after by qualified nannies, supplied by the hotel. According to the charming manager, parents are quite happy to leave their kids, go off for a day of golf, and come back knowing their children have worn themselves out with table football, painting, drawing and myriad of other things.
“Did you bring me anything?” asked Hedgie on my return.
“No, but I have found a whole floor in a hotel where you would be well looked after.”