When an invitation to discover the Pearl of the Atlantic drops into your inbox on a cold and grey day in February, there isn’t really much persuasion required. And so, on 9 March, I found myself at Heathrow at the crack of dawn on an even greyer and wetter day with a bunch of event profs from agencies including Nteractive, First Event and BI WORLDWIDE, jetting off on a fam trip to discover what the Portuguese island of Madeira has to offer the events and incentives market.
Our hosts for the trip were Just The Letter B, VOQIN’, All About Flights and The Savoy Palace Hotel, and despite the early start, we were all thrilled to be escaping the miserable weather for some sunshine. I was the only one in the group who had visited Madeira before, but given that was around 20 years ago, I was excited to refresh my memory.
Madeira is simply stunning. Despite being in the same vicinity as the Canary Islands, the landscape and scenery is very different – think volcanic mountain slopes covered by lush green forest that make you feel like you are in Hawaii, rather than just a short flight from the UK.
On arrival, we headed straight for our home for the next three nights, the five-star Savoy Palace. I remember writing about the opening of this property back in 2019, which is located on the site of the former Savoy Hotel, just a short walk from the heart of Funchal’s charming Old Town, so I was looking forward to seeing it first-hand.
Designed by the award-winning team of RH+ and interior designer Nini Andrade Silva, the bold, curved structure is home to 352 chic guest rooms and suites, all featuring balconies from which to soak up the ocean views.
More sweeping panoramas can be enjoyed from the rooftop lounge, terraced gardens, and multiple pools. The expansive meeting facilities can accommodate up to 1,400 for a reception, and 680 for a seated dinner, making the hotel an ideal option for both meetings and incentives.
After a delicious lunch at the hotel, some much appreciated downtime and tour of the property, we headed out for dinner at the Vila da Carne. The restaurant continues the tradition of the Madeira Espetada, using specially selected meat grilled over the open fire embers and served on skewers, which was very tasty indeed.
The next morning, after taking in the sights and sounds of Funchal market and lunch in the city, we headed up the cable car to Monte to enjoy the stunning views over Funchal and the Atlantic Ocean.
From there, it was an exhilarating descent in the Monte toboggans, traditional basket sledges, which date back to early 19th century where they were used as a means of transport by residents who wanted to travel quickly from the village of Monte to the city of Funchal. The toboggans are ‘driven’ by two runners, dressed in white and wearing the straw boater hats, and the 2km ride is certainly a unique activity and not something you are likely to experience anywhere else.
A stroll through Funchal’s centre took us to the family owned Blandy’s Wine Lodge for a tour and tasting of the island’s famous Madeira wine. The lodge has six spaces with capacity for 8-250 people and can organise a variety of tours and tastings for groups.
Dinner that evening was at Nini Design Center, a fantastic space featuring the work of Nini, who designed the Savoy Palace where we were staying, and delicious food.
The final day, we headed out in Land Rovers to explore some of the rest of the island. After heading up to Pico do Arieiro, the third-highest peak on Madeira but the highest that can be reached by road, to soak up the views, a little off-road adventure, and hiking along one of Maderia’s many levadas (irrigation channels), we stopped for lunch at Quinta do Furão – a restaurant and boutique hotel with breath-taking views across the mountains and coastline.
Our final dinner as a group was at Galáxia Skyfood & Skybar at The Savoy Palace, and it didn’t disappoint. The delicious food and wine were a wonderful way to end our whistle stop tour of Madeira. Although we only scratched the surface of what can be done in Madeira with incentive and event groups, the trip gave us a good taster of what the island has to offer, and we headed off the next morning with everyone eager to return to see more.
So, what did the buyers on the trip think? We asked a couple to share their views…
The buyer verdict
“What isn’t to like about Madeira? Offering breath taking scenery, crystal clear waters, an abundance of culture and superb all year-round weather. This island is a great location for a small incentive group, with activities to suit all,” says Nicola Sanders, project director at BI WORLDWIDE. “From hiking, dolphin watching, exploring the Madeiran vineyards, or simply relaxing in the natural swimming pools. This would be an ideal location to pair with a few nights in Lisbon, bringing together the vibrance of the city and the calm serenity of Madeira.”
Alex Agertoft, freelancer and former proposal writer for Black Tomato Agency, says he thinks Madeira is a great winter/early spring alternative to the likes of the Canary Islands and even Dubai, though the clientele is likely to be quite different. “The scenery is spectacular, the food is great and if you like Madeira wine, the booze is good too. I know we didn’t do many of the more adrenaline-fuelled activity options but there’s amazing hiking, mountain biking, surfing and canyoning across the island, plus some more extreme off-roading. There’s also opportunity to get out on a catamaran cruise, and the island seems well equipped when it comes to venues for group dinners and events.”