The Crowne Plaza
Resort Madeira and its Crown Jewel: The Wild Orchid
It was a busy Saturday night in Funchal, the capital of Madeira, and
the boulevard lined with
oceanfront hotels was clogged with vehicles. We were in a taxi,
despairing of getting through the traffic to make a dinner reservation
on time when it suddenly veered into a big parking lot and let us off in
front of a big white hotel that looked like something out of Miami
Beach. Oh well, we sighed.
We had hopes of something more exotic having traveled from Newark
Airport almost to the shores of Africa.
But But once inside, our jaws fell: it was as if we had stepped from dry land into the middle of the sea. Hundreds of tiny pinpoint lights in a ceiling maybe 40' high were reflected in a floor of great, gray marble rectangles like so many stars, while beyond a huge wall of glass framed the southern Atlantic. We could as easily have been on the deck of a great ocean liner as in the lobby of the Crowne Plaza Resort Madeira, the spectacular, spacious property that opened the last month of the last year of the last century in anticipation of the new millennium.
Aside from a huge horizontal abstract that
hangs behind the reception desk, the look of the Crowne Plaza is
minimalist, spare and streamlined. Smooth marble walls and floors run for
long distances without interruption to be punctuated only by an occasional
sitting area of starkly modern furnishings. The hotel’s entrance is on
its fourth floor. Above, the hallway of the fifth floor is a balcony that
cuts a sharp diagonal line half way up one of the lobby walls. Its walls
are painted azure blue and studded with little porthole-like windows.
There are 300 rooms and suites in the Crowne Plaza Resort Madeira, all of
which face the ocean. But standing in the vastness of the lobby, one
has the overwhelming sense of the sea in its limitless expanse.
Later on we would learn this neo-modern
hotel was designed by a pair of Madeirian architects, Ricardo Nogueira and
Duarte Caldeira e Silva, whose credits include tennis courts, art
galleries, social-housing, town and apartment houses, and scientific
laboratories, and the furnishings in its public rooms and balconies are
creations of Philippe Starck, the French designer whose whimsy and
inventiveness define such signature American hotels as the Delano in Miami
Beach (there was a connection between Miami Beach and the Crowne Plaza
after all) and the Grand Hotel in Tribeca. We would also learn we had
entered only half of the resort complex, the one geared to vacationers. An
adjacent mirror- image property, geared to the business traveler, has its
own check-in as well as a range of conference rooms.
Public area in the streamlined, minimalist
Crowne Plaza Resort Madeira
Photo by Harvey Frommer
wings share luxurious oceanfront facilities accessed by a pair of
panoramic elevators that descend from the hotel lobbies to a
sea-level platform as large as the deck of a Navy cruiser. There,
amidst lush tropical landscaping are four swimming pools and a
diving center, a driving range and putting green, and five
restaurants. There is a lively Irish-style bar pub, a continental
brasserie, a cozy café, an informal Portuguese seafood restaurant,
and our destination this evening, the crown jewel of the Crowne
Plaza - the Wild Orchid.
Descending to sea
level, we had noticed the contrast between the glassy- smooth interior
surfaces and the rugged rocky cliff that is the hotel’s seafront
exterior. The Wild Orchid,
named for the abundance and variety of orchids that grow in a state of
nature all over the island, combines both themes in its brightly lit
spaciousness and dramatic oceanfront setting.
It adds a third: the sunny, happy mood of Madeira which emerges in
tables covered with bright yellow cloths, and barrel-shaped chairs made of
wicker, a material typical of Madeira handicrafts, with cushions of
colorful tropical design.
A man in a tuxedo was playing “Smoke Gets
in Your Eyes” on the grand piano as the young maitre d’, who looked
like a 1940’s matinee idol, handed us an extensive menu and list of
wines dominated by Portuguese vintages with a few French champagnes. Since
joining the European Union in 1986, Portugal has been improving the
quality and range of its wines; there was far more to choose from than
Lancers and Mateus Rose. Upon the recommendation of the handsome maitre
d’, we decided on a Morgado de Sta. Catherina, a white from Bucelas, the
small grape-growing region northwest of Lisbon. Something like a Chablis,
the perfectly chilled Bucelas was an excellent choice, dry and exquisite.
The Wild Orchid’s menu features an international
array of dishes from boullibaise to salmon lasagna to what it calls
“beggars bundles” which are won-tons stuffed with seafood and served
with a sweet and sour sauce, to Chateaubriand with Bearnaise sauce. But
its focus is on fresh fish and produce, and we were determined to focus on
local specialties. Our first course was a smoked fish platter that
included mussels, salmon, whitefish – and surprisingly, tuna. We’d had
grilled, canned, even raw tuna before, but this was the first time we
encountered a smoked version which was recognizable nevertheless and
something we’ll be on the lookout for from now on.
Codfish, which regularly appears on Portuguese
menus, is native neither to the waters of the mainland nor Madeira. Dried
and salted, it can be kept for long periods of time, but before
preparation it must be soaked in water for two days, with the water
changed every so often, to get all the salt out.
One of us decided on the Wild Orchid’s version of this typical
dish which was baked with a sauce of peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic and
olive oil. Served smothered with the vegetables, it was one memorable
codfish. The other chose to have sea bass which is a local fish.
A second wise choice, it was roasted in an oyster sauce with fried
garlic. A crisply fried
cereal product that looks like a cross between French fries and onion
rings accompanied both selections.
The Wild Orchid has every claim to being a
multi-starred restaurant. Beyond the comfort and aesthetics of its setting
and the delectability of its dishes, the service was attentive,
professional, and unobtrusive. Main courses arrived simultaneously covered
with silver domes which were removed in unison. The kitchen is presided
over by an internationally trained chef who has worked in well known
restaurants in Paris and Cancun as well as with the legendary Paul Bocuse
in Lyon. But like the architects of the Crowne Plaza, he is a native
Madeirian, and – the maitre d’ told us – happy to be home.
We concluded this excellent dinner with a dessert of creamy passion-fruit pudding and began to leave. On our way out, we smiled gratefully at the pianist who had so enhanced the entire dining experience with his rendition of some of our favorite songs. In response, he began a
bouncy version of "New York, New York." How did he know? Outside the surf of the south Atlantic, so close to the shores of Africa, was beating against the shore. Yet suddenly, it felt like home.
Crowne Plaza Resort Madeira
Estrada Monumental 175-177
Phone: 351 (291) 71 77 00; Fax 351 (291) 71 77 01
Photos by Harvey Frommer
About the Authors: Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband
team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional
scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories
It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in
America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in
Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.
They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining
as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United
States, Europe, and the Caribbean.
about these authors.
You can contact the Frommers at:
This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer. All rights