By Emma Marshall
Things to do in Funchal, Madeira
Funchal is the capital of the Portuguese island of Madeira. It is a city with a beautiful old town, a rugged coastline, and a stunning background of hills and mountains. There are lots of things to do in Funchal – however, one thing not to be missed is a trip up to the Monte Palace Tropical Garden.
If you’re planning a trip to Funchal in Madeira, there is a range of things you can do. Click here for some ideas of things you may want to. And read on for more information on visiting the Monte Palace Tropical Garden…
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Monte is a small village set high up in the mountains above Funchal, Madeira. It is a magical place that was originally designed as a retreat for the Madeiran wealthy to escape the heat of summer. It is a must on a short trip to Madeira.
It’s easy to do in a day, with time still left in the evening to feast on a leisurely seafood meal on one of Funchal’s beautiful tree lined boulevards.
The Funchal cable car
We reached Monte via gondola lift. This runs from the waterfront in Funchal old town. It takes around 15 minutes.
The hair-raising ride allowed us to take in the breathtaking views of the island as the gondola ascended. The lift starts with a lazy climb out of the town towards the mountains.
It climbs over buildings and cobbled streets, seeming (sometimes alarmingly so) to just miss skimming the rustic terracotta tiles on roofs. Its progress is slow and puttering. This means that at times you seem to be hanging between the buildings on either side of the street, flapping like the washing that can be seen strewn from windows.
After passing over the old town, however, the gondola starts its climb up the side of steep mountains. When we visited (September) we were above largely green but sparse vegetation. There was an amazing view of the sea though and the steep rocky cliffs behind.
The Funchal cable car to Monte is open every day, except Christmas Day. It runs from 9am until 5.45pm.
You can buy tickets at the cable car station or by clicking here.
When you arrive in Monte, Funchal, it is immediately obvious why this was chosen as a summer time retreat.
The air is cooler and crisper and pathways are enveloped by large leafy trees that offer protection from the scorching heat. The more secluded and shaded pathways cast a shadow over the ground. It easy to forget that far below the town is bathed in sunshine and busy with the thousands of tourists that visit the island every year.
The Monte Palace Tropical Garden
You can take in several attractions on your stop in Monte. However, the one not to miss is the Monte Jardim Tropical Palace. This is a large tropical garden covering 70,000 square metres.
The garden is set around a number of Quintas (traditional Portuguese country manor houses and villas). It showcases an eclectic mix of exotic plants, flowers and trees.
Nossa Senhora do Monte
You can find the garden via a short visit to Nossa Senhora do Monte. This is a beautiful black and white church perched at top of a series of steps. It has a floating canapé roof made of strips of red, yellow and green flowers.
This bright and colourful touch gives a welcoming and festive feel. It is best viewed from the vantage point open at the top of the church.
The Madeira toboggan
Monte is also famous for its toboggan rides. Originating in the late 1900s, this was a way of reaching Funchal town from Monte. It is now a tourist attraction.
Variously called a toboggan ride, sledge ride, or basket ride, it is basically a basket on runners. You’re pushed off from the start by traditionally dressed men who then steer the basket on its journey.
You travel around 2km downhill to a nearby village. You then need to walk the rest of the way to Funchal or catch a taxi or bus.
This is undoubtedly something fun to do while you’re in Monte. I, however, wasn’t brave enough!
You can book a trip on the Madeira toboggan nearby to the Nossa Senhora do Monte church. You could also experience this as part of a wider tour around Madeira island. Click here for more information.
The Monte tropical garden
When you reach the garden, you need to pay an entrance fee and follow a steep path downwards.
You’ll pass walls adorned with Portuguese and Moorish style mosaics. These lead to a suspended walkway which provides a path through overhanging plants and trees.
Large plants and a small stream with koi carp surround more pathways with red railings.
A red Japanese torii gate and temple appear amongst them. This is the oriental part of the park, and in true Japanese zen style, it offers a relaxing environment to sit down and take in the world.
As you move further into the park, you cross more pathways and bridges. You see the beautiful plants and flowers that Madeira is so famed for are everywhere. There’s a reason why the island is described as the “floating garden of the Atlantic”.
Swan Lake in the Monte Palace Tropical Garden
Descending further, you reach a small platform that overlooks perhaps the highlight of the garden. This is a large lake – aptly named Swan Lake given the swans gracefully adorning it.
It is surrounded with Italian villa-style white structures. There are waterfalls flowing into it and small statues and islands are docked at various points within it.
Climbing down to the lakeside, you can see that one such island is actually a duck house. This gives the opportunity to sit on the waterside benches watching the birds going in and out of the water. If you’re lucky like us, you may even get to see baby ducklings!
Monte Palace in the Monte Palace Tropical Garden
Continuing on, you discover Monte Palace. This a large imposing building surrounded by palm trees.
It looks less like a traditional palace than a Caribbean style farmhouse. In the early part of the twentieth century, it was apparently a hotel, Swan Lake and the fountains being used by the guests for recreation.
This is just one of several houses in the park that you’ll be able to view if you have the time. There is also a museum housing sculptures and minerals and housed in a modern structure nestled between the trees.
Why did I like the Monte Palace Tropical Garden?
Reluctantly I had to leave the gardens after a few hours. I really wished I could have seen more. However, my short time here was enough to leave a lasting impression on me. For me, the garden was just magical.
I liked a number of things about the Monte Palace Tropical Garden. I liked the sheer size of the park, where you can spend a large amount of time and get lost wandering around.
And I absolutely loved the outstanding mix of plants and artefacts within the garden. However, it was the overriding sense of calm and peace that struck me most.
Everything was incredibly quiet. The only sounds were those of birds and animals rustling in the trees and bushes, and the waterfalls plunging into lakes and streams.
So if you’re looking for a trip that’s a world away from the hustle and bustle of your everyday busy life, then you’ve found it. This park is wonderful. Magical may be a cliché, but that’s really what this is.
The Monte Palace Tropical Garden is open every day, except Christmas Day. It is open from 9.30am until 6pm.
Entrance fees are 12,50 Euros for adults. Children younger than 15 years old can go into the gardens for free (but need to visit with an adult).
If you like short trips, Portugal, or European breaks, you may find some of my other posts of interest: