24-Hour Room Service: Hotel Savoy, Madeira

It is one thing for a hotel to maintain an image of a time when guests arrived by horse and carriage.

It is one thing for a hotel to maintain an image of a time when guests arrived by horse and carriage. It is another to demonstrate that it is on intimate terms with the 21st century. Yet the Hotel Savoy in Funchal, capital of Madeira, does both.

The Portuguese island specialises in fortified wines, delicious cakes, mountain walks, and some of the most sophisticated shopping in its part of the world. It is enjoyed by people on the cruise ships that are seemingly never out of the harbour, and by those staying at one of the ever-expanding breed of five-star hotels. But the Savoy guests have the edge. This is a hotel of two halves, and you should start in the older, "Classic" building.

When you drive into the hotel's vast courtyard, you are greeted by a gentleman in a smart blue uniform. The courtyard leads into one of those lobbies that look as if they have been transported wholesale from the nearest stately home: the marble floors and chandeliers show this is somewhere special. Were it not for the giant reception desk staffed by men and women newly out of charm school, you would feel as though you were at a house party.

The lounge, its ceilings supported by magnificent pillars, is regularly stocked with the latest British papers, and the couches are comfortable enough for you to be tempted to loll for hours. The staff at the 100-year-old hotel are efficient and friendly: at the end of my stay, the chamber maid insisted on giving me a farewell kiss.

LOCATION

It's the imposing building at Rua Carvalho Araujo, a 20-minute uphill walk - or five-minute cab ride - from the centre of Funchal (00 291 213 000; www.savoyresort.com).

Time from international airport: A cab costs €50 (£35) for the half-hour ride from Funchal airport, but a week's car hire costs just €150 (£105).

COMFORTABLE?

The rooms in the original hotel are spacious and the view from the balconies, over the harbour and wave-battered rocks, is stupendous. A lift takes you down to the breakfast room (which doubles as the main restaurant later in the day). Madeira specialises in winter holidays; the Christmas lights and the New Year fireworks are impressive, and even in midwinter it is not too cold to eat outside. Cross a bridge close to the patio and you reach the "Royal Savoy", a recent addition with restaurants and rooms that are newer and cheaper but still huge and comfortable. Each has a balcony that is even closer to the sea. If you stay at the "old" hotel, you are still able to use the facilities of the new. Here, there are four pools, with pool-side bars and restaurants in both.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The cheapest of the 357 double rooms in the original hotel costs €280 (£200), including a generous breakfast buffet. In the Royal, the lowest denominator are the Junior suites, which start at €174 (£125). Half-board costs an extra €35 (£25), full-board €60 (£42) more.

I'm not paying that:

Look online for "Summit Exclusives" that often cut rack rates by 15 per cent. Or head for the Pension Casa do Caseiro (00 291 740 550), north of the city centre, where doubles with breakfast start at €60 (£42).

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