The Last Savoy

Our stay in São Martinho has come to an end. Today we move to the Savoy Next hotel near Funchal harbour for 2 weeks that we hope will feel like a luxury holiday rather than a custodial sentence. It will turn out to be all of this, and yet less.

Our arrival is notable for the wrong reasons. Our taxi, overloaded with baggage reminiscent of some expedition from the Grand Tour era, is flagged down in the harbour by a police officer who explains that the final leg of our journey is closed due to a classic car event. Despite protestations we are dumped at the foot of a steep hill with 60kg of luggage and no alternative but to lug everything step by step up hill in the heat of the morning to the bemusement of baseball capped tourists.

Funchal Harbour

Our dishevelled arrival at the Savoy could only have been more humiliating were a piglet or hen to break free from one of the bags. Fortunately they stayed still and kept quiet during the check-in process. I should go easy on myself. It will turn out that our expectation of superior quality accommodation, sea views and access to a pool area will be tempered by a reality yet to reveal itself.

This looks promising

Our self-catering studio is a marvel of compact refinement, with the emphasis on compact. The balcony enjoys incredible views out over the pool area and to the sea. To our left we can see the end of the harbour with a glimpse of the latest docked behemoth. To the right the outline of Reids, a rapidly efficient way to dispose of your wealth for the sake of being able to tell friends you have spent a few nights in Madeira’s most famous hotel.

Spying on the visitors

We soon come to comprehend what the Savoy marketing team describe as “relaxed ambience”. It starts in reception with a loud loop of soulless muzak that needlessly imposes itself. The management team are slapping themselves on the back somewhere thinking they are creating appeal for a younger clientele. Meanwhile the large comfortable reception area that they have specifically marketed to young and/or affluent Digital Nomads remains empty because who wants to work in a noisy environment.

Great views from the balcony. Shame about the sounds.

The music continues to be piped loudly into corridors, most likely seeping into the rooms. We escape this Guantanamo level discomfort in our studio across the road but the hotel has found plenty of other ways to steal our peace. First there’s the hob extractor fan that does not turn off and disturbs our sleep. We keep complaining and they keep fixing it but the noise always returns. Then there’s the oh-so-clever lighting array controlled by an escape-room level of puzzle solving complexity. When you finally work out how to turn all the lights on you are still stumbling around in relaxed ambience x-files levels of gloom. On two occasions the lights just turn themselves on in the night and wake us up. Because reasons.

Beer out of a Saxophone – On brand for the Savoy

And there’s more. We specifically requested the top floor to minimise potential noise disruption from other guests – who were fine. Less fine was being kept awake half the night by a private karaoke party booked at the hotel poolside bar. Yes, the hotel management actively decided to prioritise a few hundred euros for a private event at the cost of annoying guests collectively spending thousands for their stays. They also, inexplicably, managed to ruin the poolside experience for guests during the daytime, by taking the relaxing ingredients of sun, fabulous sea views and comfortable chill-out beds and adding that same looped muzak all day long. Relaxed ambience. Also known as weapons grade incompetence. A lesson in how to trash your brand.

OK, thanks for bearing with me while I got that out of my system. It would be churlish not to mention some of the good points of the Savoy. One high point, literally, was the rooftop terrace bar. On Saturday nights it hosts the weekly Nomad meet-up where exotic creatures from around the world (albeit mostly Berlin) come to exchange stories of adventure, hope and fascination. I seemed to be the only one taking a second to enjoy the views.

Nomads – serve cocktails and they will come

Credit also to the pool terrace, at least the part furthest away from the bar muzak. We never actually swam in the pool, instead jumping into the sea because it was warmer. After emerging from the brine I baked myself dry on a sun bed and reminded myself it was December and I really shouldn’t be able to do any of this.

Not bad for a work week in December

The hotel does open up new possibilities for us due to its location. The tranquil beauty of Santa Catarina Park is just a short walk away. It becomes one of my favourite places. In a city of sights on an island made for instagram it stands out for its breathtaking views across the harbour, into the distant hills or simply across the pretty lake where you can sit in the shade a world away from the noise and pollution of Estrada Monumental.

Santa Catarina Park

The harbour provides a portal into another world as major cruise liners come and go like debutantes at the royal ball. Amidst the supersized hulls you can often see paddle boarders, kayakers or a flotilla of dinghies from the sailing club. This is a harbour for everyone. Especially if your name is Cristiano Ronaldo. His sprawling family home sits at the foot of the hill up to the Savoy. The inner harbour, a few hundred metres away, is defined by his CR7 museum where there is always a line of people queuing up for a photo next to his bronze statue.

Golden Balls, in a rare upright pose

When you are staying in central Funchal it is impossible not to become slightly obsessed with the comings and goings of the cruise ships. Arrival or departure is generally heralded with three long blasts on the ships horn. Most of the arrivals are regulars, like the TUI or German Mein Shiff fleets which shuttle in from the Canaries each week. A less regular boat like the Azamara Journey tends to cause a stir so you can imagine the excitement when the Queen Elizabeth floats into harbour after a 10 year absence. For all of her standing she really looks extremely dated when compared to some of the other ships in town.

Look who’s back

It can be easy to forget the extreme physical nature of Madeira when you are sat working or gazing out at the sea from the balcony. It is a volcanic sea mount situated 500 miles off the coast of Africa, rising an astonishing 4km up from the sea bed and then a further 2km to the mountain peaks. It depends heavily on outside goods and you are only ever a storm away from shortages.

No zoom background required for this meeting

In this case the weather prevents the Funchalese supply ship from mooring and some shops soon run short of a few supplies. I can at least be assured that, in the worst case, there will be no shortage of the home-produced oranges, honey and rum required to make the island’s signature Poncha cocktail. Panic over.

When the morning light comes, I’m back out watching the surf whump into the harbour walls. We can just about see the Porto Santo ferry moored up safely. All ship movements have been postponed today for obvious safety reasons and it is sobering to think that in previous years the waves have been known to throw surf right over those massive harbour walls.

Getting tasty out there

The winter squall hits us as our Savoy stay comes to an end. I have been secretly hoping for some rough weather and so it’s thrilling to be woken at night by flashes of lightning and the pelt of rain against the pool outside. We stand together in silence on our balcony at 3am in a dark salty mist just absorbing the energy of the storm.

A stormy send-off

Our two weeks are up. With pig and hen corralled into hand luggage we drag our wooden chests through the aural assault course of reception and await a taxi to our Christmas digs. The rain has abated and the sun is out. There’s no hint of the storm battering the other side of the building, just the ghostly wailings of a deceased ambient musician stuck in limbo between this world and the next for all eternity.

So long Savoy. We’ll be back once you grow up.

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