Meet SÉ Boutique Hotel in Madeira, Portugal, where tradition blends with modernity in the most natural way, leading to a 360º staying experience

It is a shared secret among the hospitality industry, that today’s hotels should always bring to the front their local identity, introducing their guests to a complete experience integrated with their destination. Hotels are actively trying to find new ways to achieve this, and not without a reason, since the direct contact with the local culture is something that more and more guests seem to look for nowadays.

Some hotels develop their Concept and design guidelines completely based on their destination’s character and features. Others, incorporate just a few elements in their overall modern design, most usually via their gastronomy. However, there is a handful of properties that somehow manage to find the perfect balance between tradition and modernity, and create hotels that are equally contemporary and traditional, minimal and maximal.

We recently came across an excellent example of this practice in Madeira, where SÉ Boutique Hotel makes a bold and clear statement. The hotel rooms are mostly white, minimal, and simple, while its rooftop is a magical place full of Portuguese flair, music, and ambiance! To tell us more about the idea behind their concept, we contacted Mr André Gonçalves, Sales Director at SÉ Boutique Hotel, who was kind enough to share with us the hotel’s fascinating story.

 

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Meet André Gonçalves, Sales Director at SÉ Boutique Hotel

  • André Gonçalves started collaborating with the Sé Boutique as an invited artist to decorate each room with his photography works
  • Soon, he identified himself as part of the Sé Boutique concept and project, and without a blink accepted to be the hotel’s Sales Director.

 

First of all, Andre, thank you for taking the time to talk to us about your hotel and congratulations on a truly eye-catching hospitality product! One does not need to have a second look at the hotel, in order to realize that here we talk about a new and alternative approach to hospitality and design. Tell us, who was behind the idea of creating such a unique blend of tradition with modernity?

The hotel owner worked as a banker for many years. About 3 years ago, he decided to quit and open a hotel with this kind of approach, as he felt this type of experience was missing from such a beautiful island full of history and traditions. So he is the one behind our concept! He also believes that the future comes from the past, hence our style and decor were inspired by our cultural heritage, as well as by the nearby Cathedral. He doesn’t want to offer only rooms; he wants to offer a peaceful experience between a cosmopolitan and urban hotel, in which the art and the singularity of the past coexist with today´s comfort.

What immediately caught my attention, was, with no doubt, your stunning terrace bar. This is definitely not a typical hotel rooftop, but a carefully developed common space area, where guests can literally spend an entire day! How important do you think it is for a hotel to have such a recognizable common space area and what is its effect on the overall guest experience?

I use to say that the terrace reminds me of my grandmother’s backyard. It is painted with the typical colours of Madeiran Mainor houses; we have flamingos there and a lot of flowers. Apart from that, it boasts a magnificent 360º view of the city and the Cathedral tower. So, how about not spending an entire day there? Naturally, there is something to come out of this, if you consider that we also have a bar up there; so, why not spending your whole day there, having a drink or two, eating our special sandwiches from the restaurant below or choosing one of our other specialities? We are sure that it is truly a lifetime experience for our guests!

As it is natural, most of the hotel’s tagged photos on Instagram (that is the ones uploaded by guests), have been captured on the rooftop. Are you doing any particular actions to support this, like creating new “instagrammable” corners? For example, this flamingo image passed several times in front of me while browsing your Instagram feed…

 

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You are absolutely right. In our days, with all the Social Media popularity and intense use in our everyday lives, we strongly believe in the importance of having several instagrammable spots to capture moments and attract more millennials to our hotel. After all, we were the first place in Funchal to adopt the Flamingo as our “pet”; so we want it to be, either smaller or bigger, in all of our hotel’s pictures you see online!

Since we are on the Social Media subject, I must tell you that I was not surprised to realize that nearly every single one of your TripAdvisor reviews, makes a reference to your rooftop bar. This is surely a success since it actively proves that you have managed to create a truly remarkable facility that wins every single one of your guests. Do you believe that the rooftop alone could be a reason for a traveller to choose to stay at your hotel?

To be honest, I don´t really like calling it a ‘Rooftop’ — this is a term that is normally associated with modern spaces and contemporary deck floors. As we are a small and independent boutique hotel, it is a perfect location for those who seek a familiar atmosphere – a home away from home. So we want travellers to choose our hotel not only because of the terrace (which is, indeed, one of our strongest characteristics), but because of the whole experience we offer.

As you have already mentioned, your guests can literally spend their entire days up here. Starting with a coffee in the morning, a light meal throughout the day, an afternoon cocktail, or even an open theatre movie later in the evening. And all these, accompanied with music by a live violinist. Honestly, I can’t imagine anyone who would not want to spend at least a few hours every day here. Is my feeling correct? Does the success of your terrace reflect on your hotel’s revenue through sales that are achieved here?

As a city hotel whose guests normally spend their days exploring the city and its surroundings, it is very important for us to offer such a lovely facility as our terrace, where the guests can find a peaceful place to relax after a long day. We have guests who also choose to go up to the terrace just for reading a book or chilling. Honestly, the feeling you get here is as if you were in your own home. During summer we even promote some events that take place on the terrace. The one that I like the most is a non-commercial short movie festival, which our guests are always invited to attend. So yes, our terrace is a very important and integral part of our hotel’s operation — and revenue.

We came across several videos online, that show a really crowded terrace. Does this mean that you are also open to non-residents at your hotel or do you organize events and gatherings that bring more people to the bar? How important do you think it is for a hotel to be open to the city residents, either as a bar or as an events venue?

SunSet Tender from Se Boutique Hotel on Vimeo.

Yes, we are open for locals as well. It is actually part of our concept to have locals among our guests! And this is because we strongly believe that this way, you can really offer an authentic experience. We want our travellers to feel like locals and not tourists, and of course to mingle with the people living in the city, and, why not, making new friends!

And to answer the second part of your question, indeed, we are open to private events too, which are always very successful and memorable both for the hosts as well as their guests.

Of course, the terrace bar is not the only common space or F&B department at your hotel. Your two other restaurants as well as your lobby café, also have a strong personality that reflects elements of the local culture and tradition. Are these facilities equally popular among your guests? What is each one of them mainly known for?

As you said, at SÉ Boutique Hotel we have two restaurants; O Calhau serves pure Mediterranean food while the second option, Cosi Scoozi, offers Italian food and pizza. We also have a Lobster Champagne Bar which is rather popular among our guests.

On the other hand, our hotel also hosts a lovely Boutique with local and Portuguese’s Brands. Actually, we have launched our own brand “Made In Madeira” focused on the wicker (Madeiran tradition), and we sell beautiful wicker bags and jewellery.

Now let’s talk a bit more about food. Apart from your lavish breakfast (which has excellent references in your reviews as well), what other aspects of your gastronomy are you particularly proud of? What would be the three things that we should definitely try during our stay with you?

As you said, we have paid particular attention to our breakfast, offering homemade cakes, freshly baked bread, and local seasonal fruits every day. Soon, we will also offer brunch to our Lobster Bar.

The truth is that it is difficult for me to choose a specific dish from our restaurants. I strongly believe that our entire menu is fantastic. However, if I had to mention one specific ‘speciality’, that would be our tuna fish, which we serve in various delicious variations.

I would like to end our discussion by talking about your rooms. Here, we have a completely different image: modern, minimal, white-washed rooms bring us back to our days and promise a fresh and contemporary accommodation experience. As a matter of fact, the only reference to Portuguese tradition I was able to identify, was the light blue tiles on the beds’ headboards. How do your guests react to this contradiction between their rooms and the hotel’s common spaces? Is it something that adds more to their experience?

The rooms were inspired by the Cathedral of Funchal, wherein the headboards reproduced the image of the tiles that can be found inside the Cathedral, dating from the year 1493. Our designers created a beautiful patchwork that combines the different varieties of tiles placed there. Our rooms have been decorated with sober colours, in order to offer a very pleasant and relaxing stay. And yes, we intentionally tried to keep the rooms clean and simple and invested a quirky atmosphere for the common areas. Our guests are usually very pleased with this contradiction as it gives them maximum comfort together with a strong and intense feeling of the past — always in a fresh and modern way.