We know because we’ve been: “Out There” is a series of inspiring travel spotlights from AAA travel advisors and employees.
If you follow travel industry trends, you’ve surely heard of the Madeira Islands, an archipelago located 320 miles west of Morocco in the North Atlantic Ocean. One of two autonomous regions of Portugal, its popularity has trailed that of its sister region, the Azores, until recently.
Madeira has received the distinction of World’s Leading Island Destination from the World Travel Awards consecutively from 2015 to 2022. Consisting of four islands, only two are inhabited: Madeira Island and Porto Santo, which was recognized by European Best Destinations as the Best Beach in Europe in 2022.
After a week exploring the dynamic, post-volcanic landscape of Madeira, I understand and agree with the accolades. I’m left wondering what took the world so long to discover this idyllic, adventure-packed paradise.
Whether you’re in search of a romantic escape (honeymooners), an alternative to the Caribbean or adventure, Madeira delivers in a big way. From off-roading through eucalyptus trees and paragliding from the tops of rugged cliffs, to sipping a glass of the world-renowned Madeiran dessert wine on your balcony as you take in a show-stopping sunset – Madeira needs to be on your bucket list.
The island longs to draw you in, away from the walls of your resort. It beckons you to explore its vast botanical gardens or share a Poncha (Madeira’s signature rum punch cocktail) at a pub down the street. The locals are friendly, warm and inviting, and as a solo female traveler, I felt comfortable venturing out by myself, even late at night. Madeirans pride themselves on their hospitality, a quality that’s quickly evident, regardless of where you stay.
Your hotel in Madeira is just as important as what you do while you’re there. It’s a choice that can make or break your trip. So, where should you stay? From country estates, or quintas, as locals refer to them, to modern city-center skyscrapers with rooftop infinity pools and luxurious seaside resorts, these are my picks for the top hotels in Madeira.
For the Wine Enthusiast
Nestled in the heart of Funchal, this modern hotel constructed in 2008 boasts the work of local interior designer, Nini Andrade Silva, who channeled Madeira’s ties to fortified wines throughout the decor. From the rich purple hues found in the lobby, to the deep velvet textures and furniture shaped like twisted vines, this property is meant to be experienced wholly, as you would a full-bodied wine.
Each floor of The Vine features decor inspired by the different seasons and stages of grape growth, with guest rooms that reflect the ambiance of a wine cellar – dark, mysterious, intriguing and secretive. On the rooftop you’ll find an infinity pool with views that overlook both the terraced hills of the island and the calm waters of the bay. The hotel is also located above a popular shopping center, so be sure to venture downstairs to explore the various shops and restaurants located on the lower floors of the building.
For the Luxury Lover
Reid’s Palace, a Belmond Hotel
The oldest hotel on the island, Reid’s Palace opened in 1891 and is an iconic property with a storied history. Its character and charm are palpable, endearing this property as beloved among locals and guests alike. A favorite of the late English prime minister Winston Churchill, it’s rumored that the ballrooms of Reid’s hosted a few military strategy sessions during World War II. In fact, the politician spent so much time here, his connection to Reid’s and Madeira lives on in The Churchill Suite, one of the hotel’s most popular rooms overlooks the gardens Churchill spent many afternoons painting. It’s also said that George Bernard Shaw first learned to tango at Reid’s.
Celebrated for its commitment and service to its guests and noted for its world-class pampering, Reid’s Palace continues to draw the attention of international celebrities, influencers and A-listers. Home to the William Restaurant, one of two Michelin-star restaurants on the island, and equally sumptuous Italian cuisine at the Ristorante Villa Cipriani (where engagements along their moonlit terrace are a nightly occurrence), guests come here to enjoy elevated dining experiences. The hotel also boasts a renowned afternoon tea, heated outdoor pools, a natural tidal pool, spa, sauna, tennis court and seven different venues for larger celebrations and meetings. With over 126 rooms and suites, Reid’s Palace is the definition of luxury.
For the Flora and Fauna Fan
Quinta Jardins do Lago
When staying in a city, there’s a certain expectation of skyscrapers, traffic, noise and crowds, which is why it was so refreshing to escape to the Quinta Jardins do Lago. Despite its proximity to downtown Funchal, upon ascending the long driveway, you’re immediately transported into a tranquil oasis, leaving the hustle of urban life behind. This small luxury hotel was once a family country estate, whose roots date back to the 18th century and once served as the official residence of General Bersford, Commander of the English forces during the Napoleonic Wars. The property, with its 31 rooms, four junior suites and five premier suites is stunning in its own right, with period furniture and historic pieces decorating the hallways and walls. But the true beauty here, undoubtedly, are its the nearly 6 acres of lush gardens vibrantly painted with more than 500 different plant species set against the backdrop of verdant green hills speckled with porcelain red roofs. While strolling through the garden, look for the hotel’s longest-staying resident, Colombo, a giant tortoise who’s called these gardens home for more than 47 years.
Enjoy breakfast alfresco on the patio or sip a cocktail beneath the palm trees, providing shade from the heat of the midday sun, before dipping into the azure blue pool. Whether you want to get lost in the serenity of the gardens or venture out to explore the city’s attractions, this quinta is a lovely escape to return to each evening.
For the Serenity Seeker
Saccharum Resort & Spa
Roughly 20 minutes from the capital city of Funchal, tucked into a small cove in the south of the island and carved into the mountainside, you’ll find the town of Calheta and the Saccharum Resort & Spa, a serene retreat with nods to the island’s sugarcane heritage. The word Saccharum literally means “the house of sugar water,” a theme you’ll find prevalent throughout the hotel’s decor, from the earth tones to the once-used sugarcane pot located at their Alambique Restaurant. The building itself mimics the terraces of Madeira’s countryside, sloping toward the sea. In fact, much of the resort’s design is intentional.
Another Nini Andrade Silva project, the interior of Saccharum Resort touts rugs that resemble factory floors, a copper pool akin to a tank of honey and restaurant walls adorned with industrial tubes and appliances. The resort offers respite to the weary traveler looking for all the comforts of a four-star property while being slightly more off-grid.
Believe me, there is no shortage of amenities at the Saccharum. Take a tai chi and chi kung class at the Fly Lounge Bar to find focus and achieve balance. Or, perhaps, you’d like to continue your journey toward balance as you search for the perfect combination of ingredients in the Art of Mixology class at the Grog Bar. Spend a Sunday morning at the farmers market before partaking in a lunch workshop with Saccharum’s chef, where you’ll learn the secrets to Madeira’s cuisine. Or enjoy seasonal entertainment, like an interactive evening of folkloric dancing or traditional Fado music at the Alambique Restaurant. For a truly unforgettable experience, grab a cocktail and capture the most breathtaking sunset from a lounge chair on the infinity pool deck, overlooking the cliffs and cove.
For the Best of Both Worlds
Savoy Palace Hotel
Madeira’s hotel selections are not one size fits all. But if you value incomparable service, attention to detail, ostentatious luxury, delectable delicacies and stunning sunrises, then rest assured the Savoy Palace is a worthwhile booking. Whether solo, with family, friends or celebrating a romantic occasion, the Palace’s varied offerings and boutique services promise to leave guests more than satisfied. This property rivals that of all-inclusive counterparts in the Caribbean, with seven restaurants (feast on the octopus at Pau de Lume or electrify your tastebuds with chef Miguel Bertolo’s sushi skills at Nikkei), five distinct pools (including an indoor heated pool, a children’s pool and the Galaxia Skypool), waterfront access from the maritime platform, a well-stocked library and a children’s playroom.
Booking an ocean-view room here is a must – the watercolor skies you’ll awake to are ethereal and worthy of an early alarm. Care to upgrade your stay? When booking selected suites or premium accommodations, enroll in the Savoy Premium Experience and your Guest Experience Personal Assistant (available to you 24/7) will work tirelessly to elevate your stay, with inclusions like exclusive access to the Jacaranda Lounge & Club, the infinity pool and jet solarium, and other in-room treats. Utilize the hotel’s private transfer services to arrive and/or depart from Madeira in style. Roughly a 10-minute walk from Funchal’s center, guests have the choice of exploring the numerous monuments, museums and gardens downtown or retreating to the Laurea Spa for a massage before taking a relaxing sauna.
Start planning your Madeira experience with a AAA travel advisor. Book these properties and check out our other offerings here.
All photos by Nicole Ekholm.