Tango, tennis and tea time at Madeira palace

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FUNCHAL, Madeira -- For many travelers, the best of all hotel worlds is a historic property, rich in character and old-world charm, but boasts all the latest creature comforts.

To ensure it meets the above criteria, Reid's Palace, a 110-year-old property on the European island of Madeira, has undergone $22 million in renovations since its acquisition by Orient-Express Hotels in 1996.

The latest $4 million refurbishment included the addition of two executive suites and an elegant new look for the grand entrance to the Edwardian dining room. In addition, 15 guest rooms received a complete renovation.

Further renovations centered on outdoor improvements; updated conference facilities; an enhanced fitness center with two additional massage rooms; new pampering and rejuvenating spa treatments, and guest room refurbishment.

Shortly after the Orient-Express takeover, a redesign of the facade in the swimming pool area got under way, along with new sea level decking, a new elevator and a new rooftop, Atlantic-view restaurant. A year later, 36 rooms and seven suites in the main building were restructured and redecorated.

Traditional Portuguese azulejo tiles enhance guest bathrooms, while mirrors, lighting and marble vanities continue the style of grand pre-war resort hotels.

Reid's Palace opened in 1891 as a stopover point for passengers traveling on ocean liners to the far reaches of the British Empire. Royalty and luminaries in the fields of the arts, sciences, exploration, politics, sports and finance have chosen Reid's Palace, finding it the perfect "island on an island," as general manager Anton Kung phrased it.

Among the many famous guests, Winston Churchill, who visited in 1950, is remembered by the Churchill Suite, which features Churchill memorabilia, specially commissioned Venetian damask, silk curtains and Chinese wallcovering.

Another suite commemorates literary giant George Bernard Shaw, who referred to the resident tango instructor of the time as "the only man who ever taught me anything."

The tango tradition continues at Reid's Palace. While guests can enjoy a typical British afternoon tea every day, on Sundays, this popular pastime is enhanced by tango lessons.

Sports facilities include two heated seawater pools, one tidal seawater pool, two all-weather tennis courts and a fitness center. Two nearby golf courses guarantee Reid's guests tee times plus discounted greens fees.

Waterskiing, skydiving, volcano climbs, horseback riding and sports fishing for the likes of blue marlin and bluefin tuna are further possibilities.

With the increased interest in active vacations, Kung reported that the hotel's guided walks along the island's levadas have become quite popular. These water channels, once used for irrigation, run along the contours of the island, providing many scenic vistas.

Ensuring that young guests enjoy their stay to the fullest, the property has created the Fun at Reid's Club, which provides a full range of games, sports, excursions and other activities for children ages 3 to 13, under the supervision of a multilingual staff. The only charge is for meals and excursions.

With six restaurants from which to choose, clients can dine in settings to suit their mood.

The Main Dining Room is an elegant venue for lunch or dinner; Les Faunes, featuring French cuisine and a collection of Picasso lithographs, also presents a formal ambience; Trattoria Villa Cliff serves Italian fare in an informal setting; the Garden restaurant is another informal choice for lunch or dinner; the Poolside restaurant, open for lunch only, serves snacks, and in summer, the outdoor Breeze do Mar offers continental cuisine and sunset views.

All of Reid's 130 guest rooms and 32 suites have balconies or terraces with views of the Atlantic and Funchal harbor. Amenities include a minibar, satellite television and Internet access.

The property appears on Conde Nast Traveler's 2001 Gold List, ranked as the second-best hotel in Europe for activities and as having the second-best restaurant at a European hotel.

Wide range of packages

FUNCHAL, Madeira -- Reid's Palace offers honeymoon, anniversary, golf, fitness, gourmet, fishing and botanical packages. Regular rates run from $515.79 to $778.95 per person for four nights and from $878.95 to $1,342.11 per person for seven nights, depending on the season.

Higher prices apply during Christmas, Carnival (Feb. 23 through 28), the Flower Festival (April 26 through May 1) and the Wine Festival (Sept. 6 through 11).

For further information, call Leading Hotels of the World at (800) 223-6800, or visit the Web site at www.reidspalace.orient-express.com.

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