Monte was the summer retreat for wealthy families. In the C18th, the English Consul, Charles Murray, bought an estate to the south of the church. This was then bought by Alfredo Guilherme Rodrigues in 1897, who built a palatial house here. This later became the Monte Palace Hotel and was a popular place to stay for Portuguese and foreign visitors. After his death in 1943, the hotel closed.
The estate was bought in 1987 by José Manuel Rodrigues Berardo, a local tobacco magnate and one of Portugal’s leading arts benefactors. He donated the estate to a charitable foundation bearing his name and undertook extensive work to restore its architectural and environmental heritage. He fulfilled a dream of of taking a dilapidated garden and transforming it into a tropical garden with species from all over the world.
Today Monte Palace Gardens are a major tourist attraction and are one of the best gardens in Madeira. If you are expecting lots of flower beds like at “Palheira Gardens”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/otherholidays/madeira/palheira/index.html you may be disappointed. This is a woodland garden with trees and shrubs tumbling down a steep ravine with a lake, ponds and streams. There is a network of inter connecting footpaths with steps and bridges. Visitors are given a “map”:https://images.app.goo.gl/3mx4wnxHfX1VVtiU9 of the gardens and there are signposts. There is no set route and it is impossible to get lost. It can seem a long climb from the bottom of the garden back to the entrance and a golf buggy provides a shuttle service from the lake back to the entrance.
When Madeira was first colonised in 1420, forest was cleared by burning. Now much of the original native laurel forest has been destroyed by felling trees for export or to fuel sugar cane or other factories. Grazing by sheep and goats has prevented natural regeneration. Part of the garden has been replanted with native trees, giving an impression of what the pre colonisation habitat was like.
Berardo introduced rare Cycads (tree ferns) from South Africa, which were planted above the house and are one of the largest collections in the world.
The oriental gardens are the highlight of the gardens and were influenced by Berardo’s trip to Japan and China. He became enchanted by their history, culture and way of life and tried to reflect these in this garden. Fo dogs guard the entrance to the gardens and red walkways span the ravine.
The lower oriental gardens have a red pagoda with the seated figure of a large gilded Buddha. This is the only place to find flower beds.
The central lake by the house with its small islands reached by bridges is enchanting. This was a popular attraction to early guests at the Monte Palace Hotel who enjoyed boating trips on it. The area is landscaped with a belvedere and water features.
The gardens contain one of the largest collections of C16th azulejo tiles collected from churches and private residences as well as C20th panels specially commissioned by Berado.
Azulejo is derived from an Arabic word which can be translated as ‘polished stone’. The azulejo tiles are a legacy of Portugal’s Moorish ancestry as ceramic tiles were used to cover the outside of mosques. The tiles were decorative and also helped insulate the buildings.
The tiles were brought by the Portuguese to Madeira and were used to decorate houses, churches and other public buildings and can still be seen in a many churches. Traditionally the tiles were blue and white, although some may be yellow, blue and white. Initially the tiles were simple geometrical designs, but later picture panels became popular.
There are terra cotta pots and other architectural features and statues around the gardens. By the lake is what is described as the tallest vase in the world in the Guinness Book of Records in 1992. My favourite was the lovely bronze statue of a girl skipping is in front of the palace.
The Museum near the entrance has a collection of contemporary African carved stones and semi precious gem stones. I gave this a miss.
The terrace cafe is at the bottom of the gardens and free glass of (not very inspiring) madeira at the cafe is included in the ticket price.
The gardens are open 9.30-6 all year except for Christmas Day. They do get busy in the mornings with coach tours. Allow plenty of time to explore. The gardens are wonderful and do need several hours to do them full justice.
There are lots more pictures “here.”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/otherholidays/madeira/monte/index.html