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For Good Manors, go to Madeira

WHEN you stay in one of Madeira's lovely quintas, it's all about calm, cuisine and courtesy. Imagine being invited to stay at a wealthy friend's house and you're getting the idea.

The beautiful botanical gardens of the Quinta Jardins do Lago in the island's capital, Funchal, contain plants from Australia, Brazil and Mexico and the hotel building has a distinctive colonial vibe. It's an intimate hotel with 40 rooms and plenty of sunbeds to relax on around the pool.

The elegant Beresford Dining Room serves terrific food using many ingredients grown in the hotel's gardens. Try the black scabbard fish with fried banana (a local speciality) and the delicious desserts -- my favourite was Champagne custard, almond macaroon, carrot and ginger tart with homemade sorbet.



Dramatic

For a completely different perspective, head to the Quinta do Furao. With just 45 rooms, it is situated on a cliff top, near the historic town of Santana. The restaurant (try the tuna salad) has spectacular views of the dramatic coastline (imagine eating at the Cliffs of Moher) and the hotel is surrounded by its own vineyard.

This is the ideal place to stay if you want to walk some of Madeira's 2,000km of levadas -- the irrigation channels that cover the island. Walking along the water channels is a relaxing way of enjoying the island's very special fauna and flora.

Back in a suburb of Funchal, the Quinta da Bela Vista is all about the view. The pool terrace is a great spot for an after-dinner drink and overlooks the bay of Funchal. This gracious manor house has a fine collection of antiques and over 80 luxurious bedrooms overlooking the gardens.

During the day, the only sound is the whisper of the breeze through the pink-blossomed trees and the occasional church bell. Someone doing the front crawl in the pool is enough to break the silence.

After a hard day's sightseeing in the bustling city of Funchal (don't miss the cable car to Monte, the magnificent Botanical Gardens or a boat trip to see dolphins), you'll be delighted to return here. I know I was. >Orla Timmins


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