The sea is just a stone’s throw away!
Two century-old houses have been made into a single contemporary-style building. The result is Les Suites at The Cliff Bay, a PortoBay hotel on the island of Madeira, set in a ravine above the sea where nothing has been left to chance
2.00 pm – Check-in
At the entrance it feels like we are getting ready to visit a friend’s house. Stepping through the entrance which dates back more than 100 years, you enter a welcoming lounge area, with the reception desk in one corner. We are in one of the houses that comprises Les Suites at The Cliff Bay which has been transformed into public areas and two suites. But this area is above all the main access, the first point of contact.
Sunlight streams in through the glass doors leading to a terrace. The surviving floor tiles, in a chessboard pattern, testify to a bygone era.
We are welcomed with smiles and a glass of sparkling wine before being taken to suite 43. To get there we don’t go upstairs. We go down. Les Suites is a hotel that has gained in area without increasing in volume; it has not expanded upwards. This apparent paradox is easy to understand when you realise that it was built by excavating part of the ravine upon which the entire building was constructed. The hotel is in fact a single structure that embraces the landscape.
Like the others, suite 43 makes use of ample spaces and its relationship with the light coming from outside. The soft tones of the décor give it a classic feel. From the brown leather sofa I observe the tranquil surroundings.
In the living room a basket of fruit, canapés and a bottle of sparkling wine await us. This is another way to welcome you, because the trip may have been a long one and you need to start enjoying your stay.
And there is plenty of attention to detail. The king-size bed, the dressing room, the spacious bathroom with shower and tub, the warm lighting and a generous selection of Bvlgary toiletries.
2.30 pm – Relaxing and planning
The suite has a small private courtyard, which leads into the hotel gardens. I can't resist the lounger and soak up the sun for a while. The sea down below acts like the stage of a large theatre, with the bay of Funchal as the backdrop. It's December, but for a moment it feels like August!
3.00 pm – Body treatments
I decide to explore the hotel. The corridor leads through to The Cliff Bay, which completes Les Suites. There I could have enjoyed a swim in the indoor pool, or a treatment at the Spa. But I head back to Les Suites where the gym awaits me. Next door is a Pilates room and also a meditation area.
3.30 pm – Continuing to explore
One of the hallmarks of Les Suites is the infinity pool, which seems like an extension of the ocean. There is a jacuzzi next to it, which acts as a kind of box seat overlooking the city. This is where I linger a while in the warmth of the bubbling water.
From here I survey the hotel’s beautiful gardens and architecture, where every feature is true to its time. The two houses dating from the early twentieth century are connected by a contemporary building artfully blending into the landscape, with just hints of concrete apparent. It all creates a harmonious whole.
5.00 pm – Afternoon tea
It's tea time. While for many this may be an institution that has not adapted to the times, for others it is an indispensable component of everyday life.
This gives you the chance to explore another area of the hotel, the extensions built around Les Suites’ two century-old houses. This is where you’ll find the Avista, the restaurant that almost never sleeps: breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks and of course afternoon tea are all served here.
A table has been reserved on the terrace, which is in fact a garden. Down below you can hear the sound of the waves and almost touch the foam in the small cove.
The sea breeze whets the appetite. I devour the sandwiches and cakes, washed down with tea. The choice of infusions was generous, but I chose one with the evocative name of Morning Star, a mixture of Lemon Grass, Mint, and Hibiscus.
When night falls the temperature drops a little. I take the opportunity to watch some television to keep track of what is going on in the world. I make myself snug in a traditional woollen quilt from Serra da Estrela, one of the small details that make a big difference in this hotel.
8.00 pm – Cocktails
Meanwhile, night falls. I return to the Avista, one of the main stages for this day at Les Suites. As at the theatre, the scenery has changed. Act Two, as it were. The lights accentuate the contours of the garden. Shadows cast by the flame of a pyre flicker in the hidden corners of the garden. The chatter of diners, punctuated with laughter, warms the atmosphere. In the background, the cityscape has also changed. Now it is dominated by the colourful lights of the festive season; after all, it is December and Madeira is known worldwide for its Christmas lights.
Cocktails are one of the options available. The drinks list is extensive and you are spoilt for choice. I opt for the Cucumber Basil Salad, a combination of gin, cucumber, basil, lemon juice, egg white and sugar.
Then I am offered something not on the list, on the initiative of barman Manuel Alves, a Madeira Ale, a mixture of Ginger Ale and Madeira wine.
9.00 pm – Dinner
I could have stayed at the same table. Dinner would have been served there on the seafront terrace. This is one of the characteristics of the Avista; despite having separate areas for each meal, it is versatile enough to bring the service to the customer. So you can enjoy Asian cuisine in the Mediterranean dining area, and Mediterranean cooking either on the terrace or in the Asian food area.
With a tinge of regret at not sampling Chef Luísa Castro's Japanese specialities, I choose a Mediterranean dinner prepared by Chef João Luz's team: squid, scallops, a steak... dinner accompanied by wines selected by sommelier Roberto Drummond.
The Josper charcoal oven is the basis of his culinary creations. It helps preserve the taste of the food, whether it’s meat or fish fresh from the market.
8.30 am – Wake-up call
Sleeping in the morning is a waste at Les Suites, even on holiday. It is worth opening the curtains to let the sun in - which swiftly appears on the horizon from behind the mountains. The winter light is an intense gold - a wonderful sight.
Then comes breakfast, with a whole range of à la carte options and a buffet. I head once more for the Avista, which has been transformed from the night before.
9.30 am – Farewells
The stay is almost over, but there are still a few hours left. The warmth in the air calls for a dip. I walk through the garden into The Cliff Bay. I go down to the sea where there is hardly a ripple on the surface. It looks more like a lake! I enter at once ... with a dive to purify to the soul.
Before check-out at 12.00 noon, and a feeling of longing that will no doubt bring me back, there is still the icing on the cake. I decide to return to Les Suites and the heated water of the infinity pool. There is nothing between my eyes and the horizon, just the sparkling sea, the bay of Funchal, the deserted islands…
I lean over the edge of the pool to admire the Atlantic below. I keep having to remind myself that it is December and think: This is the life!