We love small, semi-rural hotels in historic buildings, especially ones set in a vineyard overlooking the ocean. Quinta das Vinhas in Estreito da Calheta, a workaday village on the Madeiran hillside, ticked many boxes. With rooms either in cottages or in the 17th century former farmhouse, we looked forward to our stay in a hotel The Telegraph described as ‘the very model of a rustic vineyard residence.’ Yet within 30 minutes of arrival our bubble of expectation was popped.
For unexpected reasons – a road closure preventing us from passing time at the coastal town of Jardim do Mar – we turned up at Quinta das Vinhas early, to find the reception was shut for lunch.
It’s a small hotel, it’s unreasonable to expect the same levels of staffing as in larger hotels, and we had arrived early. A member of the kitchen staff, who didn’t want to commit to saying we could leave our bags, sought out the hotel’s owner, and he checked us in … after a brief scare when there was no record of us having booked (and paid).
One of the things we like about small hotels is their flexibility. Despite turning up early, we were shown to our room inside the old farmhouse. First impressions were favourable. It was spacy, bright, tastefully and minimally furnished in rustic farmhouse style, with two windows – one overlooking a small garden, the other the pool (on a lower level). When the first flush of new hotel room love had dissipated, we started to notice some flaws.
No air conditioning
We’re used to old houses with no aircon in Portugal, we stayed in one for four years. Open the windows at night and stick screens up to keep the mossies out. However, there was only one screen for two windows. The path to the farmhouse’s lower level was right outside one of the windows. Not a problem during the night, but early evening when we were getting dressed for dinner, it was a choice of closing the shutters and doing it in a sauna or putting on a show for other guests.
For accommodation costing just under £150 a night, I’d expect a mini fridge, especially in hot temperatures. Instead, we had to make do with tepid drinking water for the duration; not ideal when your main reason for being there is walking the levadas.
At first, I searched the room over and over, looking for a ‘secret’ compartment for hanging clothes. There wasn’t one. The ‘wardrobe’ consisted of three coat hangers on hooks on the wall beside the door.
Ghosts in the machine
As expected, sultry nights made sleeping a hot and sweaty affair. Then the weather changed, and the wind swept through the old farmhouse, rattling our bedroom door like an agitated poltergeist.
The wine bar that isn’t
Fancying a glass of vinho overlooking the vines, we popped up to the Wine Bar mid afternoon and were told it didn’t open till 7 pm, when dinner was served there. Having nowhere to have a drink after a day’s hiking was a wee bit of a disappointment. At least there was a local bar/mini supermarket directly across the road. But that’s not quite the same as the hotel advertising it has a wine bar.
The ‘local produce’ menu
A select (not many dishes on it) menu consisting of dishes using local produce sounded enticing, and the food was good, if more expensive than comparable meals elsewhere on Madeira. I asked how often the menu was changed. Because of the ‘local’ ingredients angle, I expected it to be adjusted every so often to reflect seasonal produce. Nope, staff told me it didn’t change throughout the whole year. Even the fish of the day remained the same during our stay.
It’s a vineyard, so we looked forward to trying some local vinhos. Having lived in a wine-producing area, we know the price of good wines in Portugal. At the previous hotel (similar standard) we stayed, bottles of wine started from €16.50. Having a wine list featuring bottles averaging €28 put the Quinta das Vinhas more on a level with Germany and Austria than Portugal. If you’re going to charge luxury prices, then standards elsewhere should justify this.
Reception at Quinta das Vinhas doesn’t open till 9 am, the time we wanted to check out to ensure we got to the airport in time for our flight. And the receptionist wasn’t always on the button. We primed her the previous evening, and she opened up at a couple of minutes after the hour, so we considered that a result. But 9 am is late for a hotel reception to open.
There’s much to like about Quinta das Vinhas – the vineyard setting, the charm of the old buildings, the friendliness of the staff, great gardens, nice pools, loads of al fresco places to relax, good breakfasts. But, compared to comparable small hotels we’ve stayed in around Europe, there were areas where it didn’t come up to scratch, not for the prices charged.
Our lasting impression was of a hotel with bags of potential where it felt as though a few corners were cut, maybe because of the pandemic. Nearly all were things that could be rectified relatively easily.