Quinta da Casa Branca

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I have always felt a close personal connection to Madeira Island. Ever since I was a little girl, I heard stories of my great-grandfather, Edmund Leacock, who, I was told, lived in a grand house on this sunny Portuguese territory in the mid-Atlantic and spent his days making wine. 

So when a friend suggests we spend a few days there, I’m excited; this could be a chance to dig into my family history while exploring ‘the island of eternal spring,’ as it is often known.

Quinta da Casa Branca

My father tells me his grandfather’s house was called Quinta da Casa Branca, but he isn’t sure if it is still in the family. I am very surprised when I Google the house and find out it is now a beautiful five-star hotel that’s part of the Small World Hotel Group. I email the Quinta da Casa Branca hotel and ask them if the current owner is related somehow to Edmund Leacock, my great-grandfather, and if so, if I might be able to visit. I’m thrilled when the hotel replies to say that the hotel is indeed still owned by the family, and that I am welcome to stay with my young daughter. 

On arrival, I am stunned by the entrance to the hotel, a modern open glass reception surrounded by lush, tropical gardens. Underneath the reception are guest rooms with the same open design and glass doors. Another large modern building, the spa, and a restaurant are set further back tastefully down the driveway wedged between banana trees and a plush green lawn. The large white house where my great-grandfather lived is set further back among the trees, deeper among the banana trees and birds of Paradise.

Afonso, the friendly and knowledgeable CEO of the hotel, meets me in the main reception. On the tour of the grounds, he explains to me that he grew up on the estate as he is the stepson of my great-grandfather’s son, William. Afonso explains that it was him who had the initiative to have the modern parts of the hotel designed in 1998.

Afonso explains that William, his stepfather, was living in the main stately home until 2017 when he passed away, after which it was converted into the luxury hotel suites that exist today. I am disappointed that I hadn’t come earlier to the island to meet my great-grandfather’s son William.

Afonso walks us to the main house, where a large portrait of Edmund Leacock, looking dignified and handsome in a kilt, is hanging above the entrance of the stately home. We are shown where the original living room was, which is now a dining area for guests. Set several steps away through the bush is a private hotel pool, which Afonso explains is ‘child-free’ to allow older visitors the chance to relax in the beautiful gardens. 

Happily for myself and my daughter, children are welcome at the hotel’s other pool, just a few steps from our room. Afonso notes that while Madeira used to be known more as a place where retirees or older travellers might come, in the last decade, a lot of younger visitors come to enjoy the Island for its hiking and nature. “Madeira has reinvented itself to appeal to many types of generations now, not just cruise line or retired visitors,” he points out.

Further exploration of the gardens reveal every colour of plant life imaginable, named on elegant plaques.. Afonso proudly shares that the Quinta harbors over three hundred types of trees, tended to by a dedicated team of six full-time gardeners.

Inquiring about the family’s once-prominent wine business, I learn from Afonso that while the emphasis has shifted, Brandy’s – a renowned port house in Funchal – still produces a Leacock brand of Madeira Port Wine. I am pleased to learn that the legacy lives on, albeit in a different guise.

When we complete our tour, I stroll with my daughter from the Quinta to downtown Funchal where I am able to walk in and take a tour of the famous Brandy’s Port House. Once a hospital, then a jail, before becoming a world producer of port, the venue is steeped in history and charm (and most importantly, port). After the tour, I take a sampler of four local port wines and strike up a conversation with the barmaid who knows nothing much about my great-grandfather Edmund Leacock but insists the Leacocks are still part of the wine society on the island.

The next day we head off to the harbour, excited to take a boat cruise. We have the weather on our side; it’s a smooth journey, and we are even accompanied by a number of dolphins. With drinks on board and the glorious sea breeze in our hair, it’s a wonderful way to while away four hours. Many boats leave the Funchal Marina, but I really enjoyed the Seaborn Catamaran cruise we took. We even got to swim in the warm water, albeit briefly.

The Quinta and downtown Funchal are easy places to spend time relaxing, but it was also good to do some day trips to see other parts of the island. One of the most famous sites, the Monte Palace, did not disappoint. We took the number 2 bus up the winding roads to the top of the mountain and spent the day enjoying the otherworldly Palace and gardens before taking the funicular back down to the center of the town.

Another day, we went to the Ponta Gorda Lido where my daughter and I spent a whold day enjoying the water park and the warm pools carved into the cliff side.  

On our last day we took a “best of the west” coach tour, which was a fabulous way to visit destinations that it would have been time consuming to reach by ourselves.  We were ablet to enjoy the stunning views from Cabo Girao SkyWalk and to see the Porto do Moniz rock pools. Lunch at the rock pools was fabulous, especially the fresh-off-the-boat seafood. 
Check out some of our other stories on Portugal:
17 World Heritage sites in Portugal
Portugal River Beaches

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