For over one hundred years Reid’s Palace has enjoyed the pleasure and privilege of having one of the finest locations on Madeira, offering fine hospitality to the discerning leisure traveler.
Today Reid’s has a strong contender – Choupana Hills Resort and Spa – to take over this role in the 21st century as the most luxurious, and certainly the most romantic hotel on the island.
The small group of distinctive landmark buildings with red pantile roofs can be seen from Funchal, partially concealed by trees high up in the Choupana hills. Coincidentally, the land on which the hotel is now built used to belong to William Reid, founder of Reid’s.
As a member of the prestigious and exclusive collection, Design Hotels, we are talking about serious, sophisticated contemporary architecture. Not so much a hotel, it is an aesthetic concept, created with bold confidence and imaginative vision.
Designed three years ago by French architects Michel de Camaret and Didier Lefort, Choupana Hills is reminiscent of a luxury Malaysian resort. Not surprising, as de Cameret and Lefort are renowned for designing sumptuous, secluded properties in exotic places including The Datai, Malaysia and Meridien, Bora Bora.
From the moment the Guide arrived in the lobby with a picture window offering an ocean view, it reminded us immediately of Fregate Island Private, the exclusive resort in Seychelles. The two main hotel buildings – featuring artistic interior décor and contemporary furnishings – house the reception lobby, bar, restaurant, lounge, and library as well as the Spa complex featuring a superb indoor and outdoor swimming pool and state of the art health and fitness facilities.
Completely separate, located in terraces along the hillside, is the guest accommodation: 34 wood and stone bungalows built on stilts with private verandas. And all around the natural woodland landscape, former 19th-century estate gardens, tropical flowers, Eucalyptus trees, and volcanic rock provide a lush and exotic setting.
Choupana Hills was recently voted “Europe’s Leading Boutique Hotel” and “Portugal’s Leading Spa Resort” at the World Travel awards. It has also been awarded 3rd Best Spa in Europe in the Conde Nast Readers’ Spa Award 2004
As this is certainly no typical Madeira hotel, don’t expect a standard hotel bedroom. The 34 villas are within easy walking distance from reception and restaurant, but there is always the offer of a golf buggy ride to your front door, rather welcome late at night after dinner.
30 ochre bungalow villas are divided into two separate, spacious guest rooms with ample sitting area, extra large canopied 4 poster bed (twin queen size beds put together) with French windows leading out on to your own private veranda. For families or friends, you may reserve a villa with communicating doors to join the two guest rooms together.
It’s all very contemporary and oriental in style. Everywhere natural polished dark and light- wood for doors, bed frame, tables, and flooring is high quality. The bare floors are scattered here and there with rattan woven mats and the bed with cushions. The overall color-scheme revolves around ebony black, tobacco brown, terracotta and ivory cream.
Full-length windows run the extent of the bungalow allowing sunlight to flood the space, or shade with blinds, while at night pyramid-shaped lamps offer soft lighting. The long, slim bathroom and dressing area are exquisitely and practically designed with huge bath tub, shower, separate toilet closet, surrounded by slabs of cool, grey marble and gleaming chrome.
As well as rails of white towels, bathrobes and slippers, the choice of toiletries is top quality – Pascal Morabito of Paris. All rooms have satellite television, DVD, internet access, coffee and tea making facilities, and a carefully stocked mini bar which wisely includes a half bottle of bubbly. At Choupana Hills, they certainly know what the discerning guest may prefer.
Each room has a sophisticated heating and air conditioning system so that you can set your own temperature. For a little extra indulgence, you may also reserve one of the four fabulous Suites where guests have the entire bungalow, featuring a separate lounge and a more spacious bedroom.
Suites offer the ultimate in privacy and romantic ambiance with a rather decadent outdoor Jacuzzi on the veranda. As for in-house entertainment, there is the extra luxury of a DVD /CD player. This is a place for lovers. Order room service and you would never need to leave your suite!.
Continuing the Asian style and mood the Xopana Restaurant, under Executive Chef Gilles Galli, serves an exquisite Fusion menu combining Thai/Far Eastern cuisine with the finest local Madeiran produce.
The introduction to eating states, “ A trail of sensations in an innovative kitchen. Above the restaurant is the Basalt Bar for pre-dinner cocktails and after-dinner drinks, this is a wonderfully comfortable place to relax, with rainbow-colored armchairs and huge sofas and open fires for the cooler winter months. Breakfast – This is also served in Xopana featuring a very extensive buffet of cold and hot dishes.
The selection of fresh fruit is very impressive – kiwi, cantaloupe melon, strawberries and (courteously) chopped banana. Otherwise, pastries, cheese board, cold meats as well as heated containers of scrambled eggs and bacon. The eggs were fresh and soft enough and large pots of coffee and tea are brought to the table and placed in neat wicker baskets.
The colourful, culinary descriptions of each dish get the tastebuds going: “Red Tuna, cooked just pink, served with Japanese Noodles, advocate, and ginger sauce”, or “Beef fillet with sweet potato puree and truffle” and for something rather different, “Roasted Wild Pig with vegetable tian and sweet and sour sauce”.
A specialty starter is crispy Wontons with vegetables served with pine nuts and chilli sauce. Delicately, rather than deep, fried, these tasty stuffed pastries are the typical dim sum, which translated from the Cantonese, literally means “dot-hearts,” small treats that touch the heart. What a perfect way to start an exotic meal.
Elsewhere on the menu, foie gras, veal, chicken and fresh seafood. Simply grilled lobster, pan fried scallops, or fillet of sole, cooked in tea, with potatoes and asparagus. The home-made pasta such as Shellfish Ravioli with crab sauce was a light and tasty lunchtime dish. The a la carte menu is served for lunch and dinner, although at night there is a daily choice of special set menus – Brazilian, Tuna, Lobster and Madeiran or a six-course Discovery tasting banquet.
I sampled the fantastic Brazilian dinner, which began with an ice-cold Caipirinha cocktail and featured scallops, prawns and passion fruit.
The Choupana Hills Spa is your ultimate Chill Out Zone. Relaxation, light swimming, sunbathing, reading, with health and beauty treatments on the side, is the name of the game. Perfect the art of doing nothing in this haven of tranquility. The Spa is inspired by nature and a North African oasis, focusing on the therapeutic value of fresh water, mineral salts, steam and heat.
Outdoors is a beautiful infinity pool, surrounded by tiny waterfalls, rockeries, ferns and palm trees. Loungers with sun shades and also a charming pagoda are placed around the pool terrace for a quiet snooze. Inside is a full-length swimming pool which also doubles as a large Jacuzzi tub with a series of strong water jets which can be activated to pummel the muscles and relieve stress.
The Spa is complemented by the hydrotherapy benefits of the Hammam Turkish steam room and a sauna. Around the indoor pool are rows of very comfortable day beds, laid with rolled towels, perfect for a peaceful nap.
In addition, Spa treatments are based around the professional experts, Sothys Paris, whose skincare products contain pure plant and marine proteins, enzymes and aromatic extracts providing a superior range of face and body treatments for men and women. Try for instance an intensive facial using the new Sothys product, Lift-Defense, an anti-aging and firming treatment. This is no ordinary facial and consists of a special toning massage, eye serum, and two separate masks.
Also recommended is a full body Aroma-Sothys massage, which can either be energizing or relaxing depending on the aromatherapy oil selected. First I spent five minutes in the Hammam steam bath to open the pores then the body is briskly exfoliated to tone and buff the skin. After a shower, the body is fully moisturized.
The next stage is most unusual and certainly very therapeutic in its physicality. Uncovering the left half of my body, the therapist drizzled warm aromatherapy oil all the way from shoulder to toes, which is then rubbed in vigorously up and down, up and down – a most amazing sensation. This was repeated on the right side, and altogether three times with very deep muscle massage.
But despite this, it was all very relaxing. I lay there, drifting away while listening to a soundtrack of pan pipes, bird song, and tropical rainforest. There is a full Spa menu of facial and body treatments to nurture and re-balance the skin cells and restore energy. From peelings to pedicures, choose from a range of anti-stress massage, reflexology, Japanese Shiatsu, and hot stone therapies.
The Choupana Hills estate is within the territory of a Levada providing an accessible one hour hill walk over to Monte starting just a few steps from your bungalow. The hotel will also be happy to arrange golf tee times at the Palheiro or Santa de Serra clubs. Above the Spa are other leisure facilities for all guests.
The library offers a superb range of fiction and general books in a choice of languages. Here there is also a PC for guests to use the internet or check emails. Next door is a most comfortable lounge where traditional afternoon tea is served. Outside around the pool, there are attractive patio and decking areas to sit and read. The pool bar is open for daytime drinks and snacks.
Receptions / Events There are functions rooms for private parties and corporate events. Up to 40 delegates can be catered for at a conference or 100 guests at a cocktail party, with a range of menus and buffet meals available.