The Forest Primeval

by Rona Berg

The Laurea Spa, at the new Savoy Palace in Madeira, is designed to conjure a still point in a deep primordial forest on the other side of the island 

The island of Madeira—700 miles west of Portugal, 500 miles north of Africa—has it all: mountains and sea, dramatic cliffs and six ecosystems, including a cloud forest. The charming “old town” in Funchal, the Madeiran capital, is studded with cobblestone streets, bars that feature traditional poncha and cozy restaurants with sidewalk seating that serve delicious renditions of local cuisine, heavy on fish. And, of course, endless versions of the island’s namesake wine: Madeira. 

There are many places to savor the world-renowned local favorite, and the new Savoy Palace is one of the most dazzling. A member of The Leading Hotels of the World, Savoy Palace was created by renowned Portuguese designer Nini Andrade Silva, who worked with RH+ Architects. The 352-room luxe hotel features four restaurants and four bars, including the stunning rooftop Galaxia Skyfood, overlooking the Atlantic, and the Alameda, grounded in delicious local and Mediterranean-inspired cuisine. Or you can dine al fresco on the terrace of your serenely plush suite, and enjoy nibbles at one of two gorgeous rooftop infinity pools, with endless views of the hills and the sea. 

The fantastical 33,000-square-foot Laurea Spa is inspired by the Laurisilva, a local primeval forest—and UNESCO World Heritage site—on the other side of the island. It is an enchanting place where you can lose yourself for hours, walking, hiking, picnicking and breathing in the lush and heady garrigue, while exploring miles of levadas, or water tunnels. 


The spa relaxation area features a beautiful circular rug, and knotty green living walls pop up in surprising places to interject notes of tree bark and greenery into the spa. The centerpiece of the circular room is a large light fixture with a gorgeous shade imprinted with images of local evergreens known as til. And the stunning pool—part of a huge and varied therme course with sauna, steam, color-therapy shower, ice grotto—is designed to conjure a still pool in the forest. Subtly iridescent mosaics, circular rooms and low lighting, all contribute to the sublimely relaxing, nature-immersive experience. Eleven treatment rooms are havens for transportive treatments like the Sodashi Luxury Anti-Aging Treatment and the signature Laurea Massage, with hot and cold local volcanic stones. 

Savoy Palace is perfectly situated for an easy 30-minute stroll into the Old Town, where you can visit Taberna Ruel, and dine on the superb catch of the day, or shop for the delicate, centuries-old traditional Madeiran embroidery at Bordal, where embroidering women sit outside and bask in the sun, while refining their handiwork. Ride the cable car from Old Town up the mountain to the beautiful Monte Palace Museum and Gardens. And, not for the faint of heart, take a quick and thrilling wicker toboggan ride back down on the Monte Toboggan, which dates back to the 1850s when it was the primary mode of downhill transport, powered by two men (“carreiros”) wearing special rubber shoes, who push and steer by hand. My father rode it down the same hill as I did, 40 years ago, though my mother did not. She did wave to him, though, from inside a taxi, as she sped by. Madeira offers paragliding, whale- and dolphin-watching year-round, and you can view a protected sea lion community an hour away, on a protected island. Like Portugal itself was, just a short time ago, Madeira is off the beaten path, but it’s about to become a road well-traveled. savoysignature.com 

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