Estalagem da Ponta do Sol, Madeira

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This year we had a lively debate about where to go for some winter sun. I wanted to go to Mexico but my partner was set on Madeira. In the end, price and practicality won out and we went for Madeira on the condition that he accepted full responsibility should it not live up to my expectations. My reservations were grounded in Madeira’s reputation as a destination for pensioners and fortified wine. His counter argument uncovered an island with beautiful gardens and dramatic architecture. The real selling point however, was the Hotel Estalagem da Ponta do Sol; a clifftop work of acclaimed architectural merit that in an alternative destination would probably cost triple the price.

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The entrance to the hotel is an imposing brutalist lift shaft which takes you up to an open sided bridge to the main reception and restaurant. A further lift and bridge combination scales the cliff to the rooms and infinity pool which look out over the Atlantic. The hotel’s layout incorporates the original quinta building within the garden and lounge spaces. The architect Tiago Oliveira has carefully framed the views within each space, from the restaurant which appears to cantilever out from the cliff, to the bridges overlooking the valley, or the yoga terrace with a panoramic sea view.

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The island itself may not have any decent beaches but it is home to one of the world’s most beautiful botanical gardens at Funchal, a cliffside modern art centre built in volcanic brick which appears almost subterranean as you approach it from above, and, while it may not come close to the Estalagem da Ponta do Sol in the interior style stakes, there is an impressive hotel and volanco-shaped casino by the eminent architect Oscar Niemeyer in Funchal.

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So while it may not have been my first choice Madeira exceeded my stylistic expectations on many fronts. Was it frequented by pensioners? Yes, but those of a Scandinavian and northern European design persuasion who definitely doubled as hipsters.

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The best way to define the concept that lies behind the Estalagem da Ponta do Sol is the idea of an escape hotel. It is set on the top of a cliff - a more spectacular location is difficult to imagine. The hotel is the result of the renovation of an old "quinta", and the goal was simple: to integrate the original buildings in a distinct, contemporary style. The architecture enhances the beauty of an already beautiful place and the atmosphere is simple and relaxed, yet sophisticated.

Architect: Tiago Oliveira

Rooms/Restauarant furniture designer: Carvalho Arauja

Open date: 2001

Images courtesy of Design Hotels

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Francesca Muston has spent the last 10 years travelling the globe for the fashion trend forecasting business WGSN.com. A regular in the world's fashion capitals her role demands an eye for the quirky and the unusual, from cafes and hotels to shops and street fashion, always watching for the beginnings of the next big thing.