What better activity to do in the pouring rain than visit the exquisite gardens of Monte!?
I had these gardens on my list for 3 weeks prior to visiting them and I was so excited, regardless of the terrible weather, that we didn’t postpone the trip.
With a history dating back to the 18th century, 70 thousand square metres of gardens and over 100,000 varieties of plants, I knew we were in for a treat. We love exploring parks and we always have fun but here was different, we had a LOT of fun.
Finding the gardens & parking
Like everywhere in Madeira, the signposts for the gardens are poor. Basically, you’ll need to follow the signs for either the Botanical Gardens or the Teleferico Cable Cars and THEN, once you’re past the botanical gardens, you’ll find the Monte Gardens.
Parking is in a small car park about 100m down the steep road. It is a bit of a trek back up to the gardens but parking is free. I think there might be disabled parking closure but I am not sure.
All children are free to enter and adults are €12.50. Umbrellas can be purchased for €5.
The gardens only accept CASH. Even the cafe is CASH ONLY. This was a bit of a problem for us as we only had a €20 note and I’d maybe promised the kids a drink in the cafe. Woops.
Despite only accepting cash, the woman on the desk provided us with a smile and a wonderful service. She gave us two maps which were wonderfully detailed and gave us general directions.
This was such a difference in comparison to our trip to the botanical gardens.
In the 18th century the land was owned by a wealthy Brit called Murray who transformed it into an estate called “Quinta do Prazer” (The Pleasure Estate). Sold to a Spaniard in 1897, he built a French inspired palace in the middle which was later converted into a hotel and named “Monte Palace Hotel”.
The hotel was closed pre WWII and was taken over by a financial instituion, the “Caixa Económia do Funchal”.
Re-sold again in the 1980’s the gardens were donated to a self-started foundation and the “Monte Palace Tropical Gardens” were originated and opened in 1991.
The monte palace museum
A museum has been built on the north part of the garden consisting of 3 floors, one for the exhibition, “Mother Nature’s Secrets”, displaying minerals and semi-precious stones and the other two are home to a collection of contemporary Zimbabwe stone sculptures entitled “African Passion”.
The semi precious stones were a particular delight for our son who loves geology. The signs were easy enough for him to read and although you’re not supposed to touch the stones, you can get very close to them.
Back in the 1960’s in a town in northern Zimbabwe, stone sculpturing became popular. It has since dominated the town of Tengenenge which is now home to artists and sculptures from around the world.
The stone sculptures here occupy an enormous room and there are literally hundreds of statues varying in shapes and sizes.
The tile collection
Walking through the garden, you can see collections of ceramic tiles (dating from 15th – 20th centuries), a panel of 166 terracotta glazed tiles entitled “The adventures of the Portuguese in Japan” and a group of 40 panels portraying the History of Portugal.
These tiles are still really popular in Madeira and still made. You can frequently see collages of tiles, usually portraying religious themes, outside people’s houses.
The entrance to the oriental gardens
The gardens are wonderful but it was here in the oriental gardens that we really had the most fun! There is so much to see and do.
At the entrance to the Oriental garden there are two marble Fo dogs, mythical animals from the Orient usually found at the entrance to temples, acting as guards. There is a moveable ball in their half-open mouths which, according to the Chinese belief, brings good luck to those who give it one complete turn.
The oriental gardens
The oriental gardens are stunning and they seem to never end – which is a good thing! It was here we spent the longest time.
Despite the terrible weather, the greens of the fern plants and the reds of the buildings and railings contrasted wonderfully and each area seemed to lead to a better area!
There are shaded areas where you’re encouraged to sit and take in the tranquility, as well as areas where you’re encouraged to jump and explore.
looking for fish
The oriental garden has a number of pools full of fish. I am guessing from their size they are Koi Carpe. You can walk over on bridges and even look through viewing glass to spot them.
archways & cobbled pathways
There are lots of little areas to discover and explore. All of the pathways are cobbled and in some instances steep.
Walking with a pushchair would be relatively easy but there would be some limitations if had a wheelchair. Mobility issues would be challenging here but not impossible. There are many areas to sit and recharge the batteries!
The palace is centrally located in the park. The hotel, as it was then, was built in 1897. I am not sure if you can enter it although it was closed the day we went.
The lake is located next to the palace and is frequented by swans of all colours. I didn’t see the black swans from Australia however I did see a white one!
The central lake has a large cascade flowing into it which you can walk up to and straddle. It is fed by sea water.
The cascade over the lake is fed by this sea water, stepped attraction.
palheiros in the corner
There are two palheiros houses in the far corner of the park which lead to spectacular views over the bay of Funchal. The weather we had was terrible and the sea and the rain clouds merge here which doesn’t give a spectacular view lol but it really is a good view over Funchal Bay.
There are some strange cave type areas which provided us with relative dryness during the rain. One of these has a natural waterfall in it and some bells. The others house various crosses.
monte garden flowers
Even though it was winter the park is a show of exotic colours and flowers. Apparently there are a few thousand species of different plants. These are just some that we saw.
As we were leaving the park at the top end, we seemed to emerge across another oriental section with statues, ponds, stepping stones and fountains.
Maybe we had re-entered the oriental garden unknowingly as this was an welcomed surprise to the end of our visit.
just as we left
Just as we decided to leave, the clouds and rain passed and the blue skies returned. This is the garden bed which is opposite the main gardens.
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