Serene Setting And Antiques Distinguish Madeira’s Quinta Da Bela Vista

Culture

Columbia Hillen

Gazing at groves of beech and oak and garden paths ablaze with flowers while water trickled melodiously in a nearby fountain and pigeons swept after breadcrumbs I’d tossed them created one of my many memorable moments on Madeira’s Quinta da Bela Vista.

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Nestled quietly in a historic setting on two acres of verdant land overlooking the island’s capital, Funchal, and the vast stretches of the Atlantic, this centuries-old quinta (Portuguese word for ‘country estate’) is a captivating paradise, far removed from the hurly-burly of city life.

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So exotic are the hotel’s botanical gardens, they feature species from Australia, China, Japan and South America, including paulownia and hibiscus, while the largest tree is a kapok from Brazil.

Built in 1844 as a sugar cane farm and still in the same family, it is elegantly decorated, with one of the largest collections of English antique furniture, including a Regency brass-mounted mahogany clock and a Spanish Louis XV-style guiltwood Trumeau mirror, outside the UK, many dating from the 16th century and which officials from Sotheby’s have come to evaluate. Rugs lining the corridors, floral chintz fabrics, comfy armchairs, fresh flowers such as birds of paradise and bookcases filled with novels and travel guides throughout the property in various languages including German, English, French and Portuguese help one feel right at home.

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And, like many historic properties, Quinta da Bela Vista, the first five-star hotel in a Madeiran Quinta, has its own benign ghost story: the genteel ‘Lady in White’ who reputedly is attired in a wedding dress and frequents one of the suites in the Manor House on the grounds. While an entrancing story, it’s possible the delicious cocktail of the same name that staff member, Hilario, made us, added spice to our imagination.

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Quinta da Bela Vista has 89 rooms, including a penthouse suite with two huge bedrooms and a living room, five junior suites, twenty deluxe rooms, twenty-two superior rooms and forty garden view rooms, with panoramas over the gardens, the Bay of Funchal and the mountains. 

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Our suite, 452, like many others, had a door leading to a large railed verandah, complete with two whicker chairs and a glass-topped table at which my companion and I enjoyed leisurely breakfasts. Interior furnishings included a vintage polished wood coffee table with two soft cosy red armchairs. The bathroom was marble with tub and shower, a double sink and Prija toiletries. Clothes cupboard space was abundant. 

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A tall standing lamp in one corner, a wall fixture and bedside lamps provided plenty of light without being overly harsh on the eye. Ornate antique furniture being an outstanding characteristic of the entire property, our room was no exception with not one but two impressive polished walnut furnishings – a writing bureau with five drawers and a matching chair and a dressing table with small and large compartments. The floor was of sanded wood and carpeting. Reflecting the splendid rustic nature of the hotel setting, framed drawings of herbs and exotic flowering plants adorned the walls.

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Amenities are plentiful at Quinta da Bela Vista with a tennis court, swimming pool, whirlpool tub and gym, as well as a games room with a billiard table. Staff are respectful, efficient, helpful and friendly, with a well-developed sense of intelligence, perceptive humor that we enjoyed immensely.

Ricardo and Paula welcome guests with a seventeenth century tapestry behind them. Photo Columbia Hillen

A sumptuous breakfast buffet with local hams and fruits and à la carte items is served in the Avista Navios restaurant, a spacious and charming ground-floor room near the reception desk with views onto the gardens through large windows. A poolside snack-bar also provides light meals and a variety of cocktails with a nearby grassy terrace offering views of the mountain and bay of Funchal. A five-course menu is also served here. 

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A sumptuous breakfast buffet with local hams and fruits and à la carte items is served in the Avista Navios restaurant, a spacious and charming ground-floor room near the reception desk with views onto the gardens through large windows. A poolside snack-bar also provides light meals and a variety of cocktails with a nearby grassy terrace offering views of the mountain and bay of Funchal. A five-course menu is also served here. 

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My companion and I enjoyed a fine-dining evening at Bela Vista Restaurant in the Manor House (no, sadly, the ghost didn’t grace us with her presence but the quality of the food certainly made up for her absence). 

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Here with portraits of family members adorning the walls, our gourmet evening began with two starters, one being crab and shrimp duet with avocado and the other sautéed scallops with pleurotus mushrooms and green asparagus, all decorated with cosmos and verbena petals. 

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A creamy smooth soup of yellow pumpkin with generous shreds of shrimp and chives followed, reminding us both of carving aforesaid fruit with our grandmothers. 

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For our mains, we were offered a wide choice of fish and meat dishes, ranging from grilled king prawns with risotto, flambéed mango and leeks to duck magret with orange sauce and black rice. Decisions proved difficult. In the end, it being a warm evening, we opted for light fare, grilled turbot fillet with potato puree and herbs olive oil and grilled octopus tentacles, the flesh buttery and the skin crusty, accompanied by soft, salty potato, all washed down with a glass of Herdade do Rocim from Alentejo. 

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As for desserts, their tantalizing descriptions meant they were unavoidable, mine being berries with lemon sorbet and custard and my companion’s, crème brûlée with the pride of the island grape, Madeira wine.

Gonçalo d’Ornellas Monteiro, owner and general manager. Photo Columbia Hillen

Adding an interesting dimension to my stay, I had the pleasure of spending an hour in conversation with the hotel’s owner, Gonçalo d’Ornellas Monteiro, in the privacy of an upstairs suite. An erudite man with a Doctorate in tourism management from London,  Gonçalo is very involved in the island’s economic development and has carried on the family tradition of hospitality for several decades, since his mid-20s. From him, I learned much about the history of his quinta and the intriguing history of Madeira and the evolution of tourism on the island.

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As location is so important, it must also be mentioned that though quietly located on the outskirts of Funchal, in the neighborhood of São Martinho near the botanical gardens, the hotel is convenient to the center of the capital city, it being just over a mile away. The main international airport is a 20-minute drive.



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