The two contrasting islands of Madeira

Belmond Reid’s Hotel

Roger St. Pierre reports on their MICE enhancements

Our choice of accommodation for a sampling of the Holiday Property Bond portfolio was the charming modern but characterful Encosta Cabo Girão, an estate set seven miles from Madeira’s bustling capital city, Funchal, right at the top of Europe’s highest sea cliffs – a dizzying 1,932 ft (over 600 metres) above the waves.

Our first drive there was an adventure in itself. First came a rollercoaster stretch of the motorway that now encircles the island, calling at times for second gear in our little Renault Clio rental car – so steep are some of the pitches – then the finale, slogging sinuously round endless bends, opening up ever more spectacular landscapes as we climbed higher and higher, until we reached the site, which boasts 120 properties, all with sea views and ranging from studio flats to four-bedroom villas with private pools.

Madeira as a whole is shaking off its Zimmer frame image. It’s still a wonderful place to retire to, but it’s also now attracting a younger set, thanks to world-class shopping, nightlife aplenty and superb sports and leisure facilities. These include spectacular championship golf courses designed by Robert Trent Jones and Seve Ballesteros, challenging hiking and mountain biking and all manner of watersports.

And the hospitality industry is waking up to its formidable meetings and incentives potential.

‘We have taken great strides in improving the product and now have 30,000 first-class guest beds across the island, while more and more of our hotels have dedicated meeting spaces,’ says Dr Bruno Freitas of the Madeira Promotion Bureau. Then he adds: ‘There have been massive infrastructure investments, including the motorway, which has opened the island up, and improvements at the airport. Also, our visitor demographic has changed and we are attracting more business groups as buyers come to realise the value we offer for such a high quality product.’

The iconic Belmond Reid’s Palace, one of the world’s great hotels, renowned among other things for its classic English afternoon high tea service and also as Sir Winston Churchill’s favourite holiday spot, offers the island’s most prestigious meeting spaces.

Here there are seven super-luxurious meeting rooms available, all with natural daylight. The largest room can cater for 200 theatre style.

Since opening in 1891, Reid’s has been a magnet for the jet-setting rich and famous, whose photos today line its corridor walls. They include the British, Spanish, Swedish, Danish and Austrian royal families, George Bernard Shaw, Ernest Shackleton, Lloyd George, Gregory Peck, Roger Moore, Nick Faldo, Frederick Forsyth and Princess Stephanie of Monaco.

Madeira is lush, green and densely wooded, with the UNESCO World Heritage protected laurel forest covering 20% of the island’s surface. With its wealth of colourful wild flowers, no wonder it is nicknamed ‘ God’s Garden’. In stark contrast, the much smaller neighbouring island of Porto Santo – just 20 minutes away by plane and once home to Christopher Columbus – is a barren, rocky desert but boasts nine fabulous kilometres of silky, soft, golden sand – one of the world’s great beaches. Moreover, that sand and the crystalline waters that wash over it are claimed to have therapeutic properties.

Porto Santo even has its own small but very modern dedicated conference centre in Vila Baleira, the island’s tiny capital, while several of the hotels have meeting rooms for groups of up to 50. However, it is as a true get-away-from-it-all incentive destination that it really scores, spending the time lazing about and enjoying the water in the year-round sunshine.

No litter, no graffiti, virtually no crime and a permanently favourable climate – what more could a group want?

ITCM correspondent Roger St Pierre was the guest of Holiday Property Bond. ‘Not to be confused with a timeshare organisation’, he writes, ‘Holiday Property Bond provides individual and corporate investors with a financial interest in more than 1,300 de luxe villas, cottages and apartments in 30 or more holiday destinations in 13 countries in Europe. It also has two hotels in England; one in the Lake District and the other in the Yorkshire Dales. Bondholders have the right to occupy any of these properties rent free, year after year.’