There’s a sign to Palheiro about fifteen minutes’ drive from the airport along the Via Rapida, heading towards Funchal. Blink and you’ll miss it – but take this reviewer’s advice and keep your eyes peeled! This is a very special country house-cum-golf hotel neatly tucked away in the Madeiran Hills at around 1500 feet, located between Palheiro Gardens and Palheiro golf course. To reach the hotel, you head up into the hills, down an impressive tree-lined driveway and finally into the mosaic-styled courtyard, where two hundred years of history begin.
History About The Place
The construction of Casa Velha or Old House began in 1804, and the Quinta or Farm was laid out simultaneously with the aid of a French landscape gardener. The rare specimen trees brought to the garden thereafter by visiting ships from all over the world are still very much in evidence today. On a baser note, while ladies in Victorian England were minding their p’s and q’s, the ladies in Madeira were whooping it up at wild parties at the Casa Velha.
On one such occasion ladies were invited on the condition that they came wearing nothing but high-heeled shoes. One must have been highly amused … The second Count Carvahal overdid things on the extravagant living stakes, and eventually had to sell Casa Velha in 1885. John Burden Blandy bought it at public auction and has remained with the Blandy Family to this day. Following an 85 year period of decay, the present owners, Adam and Christina Blandy gave the Old House an overhaul and a new lease of life, and out of the ashes has arisen Casa Velha do Palheiro.
About The Hotel
The doors opened on 1 May 1997, with 25 original rooms. Two years later the creation of the garden wing extension provided an additional 10 rooms and two suites. You enter the Casa through elegant French doors. Once inside, you can look straight through another set of French doors at the opposite end of the hallway to the stunning garden.
Gloriously coloured and scented flowers from this garden are used abundantly throughout the hotel. Attention to detail is excellent. Look out for the oak tree – the first count’s coat-of-arms. In addition, the history of the house is beautifully presented and narrated by an exhibition and picture gallery in the basement. The soft furnishings and tasteful, pastel interior design throughout the hotel have been developed under the guidance of Christina Blandy. It is a calm and elegant space.
Each bedroom is individual, and special, and how special it was for the Guide as we were allocated room number 8. Not everyone has the pleasure of having a century-old Conde mural on their bedroom wall as a companion! Soft furnishings are country-house-floral, furniture is traditional and there is generally a feeling of space and light. Waking up in the morning is bliss.
From the comfort of the king-sized, four-poster, you can look out on one side over an avenue of magnificent blue agapanthus towards the Baroque Chapel, and on the other you can see the main Casa garden. Apparently if you visit in June, you can view the prolific red blossom of the 200-year-old Metrosideros.
Sadly, the reviewer (who has swallowed a horticultural dictionary) visited in November. Little touches of luxury include a complimentary bottle of Evel Douro 2001, a fruit bowl perched on the sofa table and a fully-stocked mini bar. There are friendly touches, too – there’s a notice in the bathroom to reassure those poor, unseasoned travellers who always leave home without the essentials. Whatever it is you’ve forgotten, help is at hand down in reception. However, from what we could gather, they’d thought of everything anyway!
Breakfast is buffet style and includes six different cereals, fruit native to the island, all manner of bread and homemade rolls, smoked salmon, and even a glass of Portuguese fizz to kick start the day – how civilized! If you prefer the traditional cooked breakfast then you can order bacon, sausage, tomato and eggs cooked to order.
If you have room for lunch, you can choose from the light meal menu served in the Bar, the Morning Room or in the privacy of your own room. Alternatively, you may wish to try Casa Velha’s bistro restaurant in the Palheiro Golf Clubhouse, overlooking stunning views of Funchal Bay. With Kenneth Suter’s revamped menu it should be seriously considered. Casa de Cha is at the hub of everything. Stop there for tea (including home-made pastries, cakes and ice-creams) and enjoy views of Palheiro Gardens, Palheiro Golf, and Casa Velha.
The resident chef is one Kenneth Suter, who has a much-vaunted reputation as the only foreigner in French history to hold the title of Professeur de Cuisine Francaise. He has tutored many rising stars in his time.
The Roast Baby Turbot Filet crowned with Red Tapenande, with Orange and Fennel Beurre Blanc and Saffron New Potatoes was the very best we’ve experienced here at HotelReview, and that’s saying something. Purely in the interests of the reader, of course, we sampled dessert (the things we do for our profession!).
The Passion Fruit Mousse under a Caramel Dome with Cinnamon Caramel Ice Cream and Kiwi Fruit Coulis was a fabulous way to end a truly memorable dinner. Our thoughts on the meal were echoed by the neighbouring table (from England), who judged it “just about the best meal we have ever eaten”.
Clearly Kenneth Suter is right up there with the very best and it’s no surprise to this reviewer that someone of his calibre is resident chef at a Relais & Chateaux establishment. Our Gold Plate Award therefore goes to Kenneth and his team of five, and indeed to the staff, too, for their fine service.
Enjoy! It’s all here on your doorstep. All guests at the Casa have the privilege of starting a round of golf from the 10th tee – literally at the bottom of the garden – (this is apparently called millionaire’s golf!) and in our view one of the best holes on the course.
Needless to say, we played the 10th and the rest! It’s a spectacular course, filled with deep ridges and valleys and bounded by some of the most magnificent trees you’re ever likely to see on any golf course in the world, with views to match. If golf’s not your bag, then you can cruise on the hotel’s private yacht Balancal or even try a spot of deep sea fishing.
On the other hand, you may never wish to leave the estate! The 30-acre garden is truly memorable and worth walking around. Within the hotel you can play on an all-weather floodlit tennis court. Badminton and croquet are also available. If you are into serious pampering, then relax in the sauna and steam room, or try massage, aromatherapy or lymphatic drainage treatments
Receptions / Events
What a splendiferous and unique venue for business or social gatherings! Small groups up to 12 are catered for in the Boardroom, and the meeting room will take up to 20. TV, Video, overhead projector and other types of equipment are available upon request.