Funchal, Madeira. Spa-Testing and Madeira Wine Tasting:
Much of my recent trip to Madeira was taken up by exploring and trying some of the spas in Funchal. Having just spent a week on a boot-camp in Spain I was really rather thrilled to be invited to spend a few days being pampered. And to make things even better the trip was to somewhere where the weather is never wintery and where even in December for the most part the temperature was around 25c.
We arrived at one of Funchal’s shopping centres. A slightly unusual location for a Spa Hotel, particularly one that has just won ‘the World’s Leading Design’ award. But once inside, it was clear that we were somewhere quite special. And we were treated to a delicious and healthy lunch on the terrace looking out over the roofs of Funchal, after a quick tour of The Vine Hotel, an award winning and rather beautiful, modern boutique hotel, with a programme of spa treatments which include a Madeira Wine Massage and a Crystals wine bath!
For me, the curious thing about Funchal was the wealth of different style spa hotels. We were staying in the nearby Qunintinha de Sao Joao, a traditional Quintas (Manor House) on the outskirts of Funchal. A traditionally styled hotel, it’s somewhere you can enjoy a relaxed, family atmosphere.
There’s an indoor pool, a small gym and an outdoor pool and bar area. And, hidden away in the pretty gardens is a well equipped modern spa. You can just indulge yourself and relax in the Sauna, Jacuzzi and Hamman. But there are also a fabulous range of treatments starting at around 35 to 40 euros for massage. I spent a lot of time in the quiet and peaceful indoor pool and also enjoyed one of the best facials I’ve ever had at the spa. The helpful hotel manager told us that a lot of visitors come back every year and regard Qunintinha de Sao Joao as a home from home. With large, well equipped bedrooms, balconies in almost every room and friendly staff on hand to assist in every way possible, that seems quite understandable.
In complete contrast to the traditional Quintinha was our excursion to Melia Madeira in the Lido area of Funchal. The modern hotel is home to The Malo Clinic and Spa and has some wonderful spa facilities, a large indoor swimming pool, hairdressing and beauty salon and a dental clinic providing specialist dental aesthetic treatments.
We spent some time relaxing in the spa before, in my case, indulging in a hot stone massage. Personally I hope I never need to visit the Dental Aesthetics clinic, but if I was looking for that kind of treatment I can’t think of a better way to relax and convalesce than staying at this modern hotel, facing out to the sea.
The fourth spa we visited on this whistle-stop trip around Madeira offered an Ayurvedic retreat, complete with yoga lessons, a detoxifying Ayurvedic diet and consultation with their own Ayurvedic doctor.
The hotel Alpino Atlantico is on the outskirts of Funchal in what seemed like a residential area. Views from the restaurant terrace and from the Yoga room are, in themselves, worth visiting for – although I’m not sure yoga meditation is meant to lapse quite so seamlessly into looking out to sea and daydreaming.
The hot oil massage was not really something I’d want to try again because for me, the effect of lying on a plastic treatment table and having warm oil poured over me was closer to medieval torture than relaxation, although my skin did feel incredibly soft afterwards. By comparison, I loved our Ayurvedic lunch – a real contrast to the rich food that I often eat, this lunch left me feeling full but not bloated.
Of course, having spent some time trying the spas on a mission to health and well being, a little fortified wine was definitely in order. If the spas were special, the wine of Madeira is unique.
The history of how Madeira wine was first created is intrinsically connected with the history of the island. The Portuguese settlement put Madeira on the trading routes to Asia and the New World – and as the settlers started to produce wine, sailors stocked up on their supplies as they travelled. Perversely it was the unsuitability of the ships to preserve the wine correctly that created Madeira wine.
Although the islanders tried to stabilise the wine by fortifying it, the heat of the hold ‘spoilt’ the wine. And so, Madeira wine was born – a fortified drink like no other. We spent a few hours visiting Blandy’s Wine Lodges and learning a little more about how the islanders developed their own way to recreate the unique drink with vats stored and aged on different levels of the building to provide the high temperatures necessary to synthesize the wine.
A couple of days is not really enough time to get a proper insight into this colourful island. I would have liked to visit Reids Palace – another Spa Hotel that holds a special place in the history of Funchal and Madeira and to have travelled a little more around the Island and to the outlying islands of Porto Santo and the Desertas Islands. It’s close enough though to make travelling easy – just three hours from London. So I’m sure I’ll be back to find out more on another occasion.
I was a guest of the Madeira Promotion Bureau and the Portuguese Tourist Board
For more information about Madeira please check the Visit Madeira website
I stayed at Quintinha de Sao Joao
The Spa Hotels I visited on this trip included Melia Madeira Mare, The Vine Hotel and Hotel Alpine Atlantico
TAP Portugal has a daily flight from London Heathrow to Madeira, prices start at £169 return including all taxes. For further information, visit www.flytap.com or call 0845 601 0932.