The island slopes are covered with verdant trees and tropical fruits, and the Funchal gardens are full of brightly coloured flowers. So it comes as no surprise that Madeira is known as “the floating garden of the Atlantic”.
Madeira, The Floating Garden
Madeira has a unique climate, rich volcanic soil and steeply sloping hills and valleys. All of this gives rise to a stunning and varied landscape where all manner of trees, fruit and flowers can, and do, grow.
The capital city of Funchal rises sharply from the coast to the mountains. The whole town is a blaze of colour, with trees lining the main streets and gardens everywhere. I have picked out some of the main Funchal gardens and parks, but you will find many more, outside hotels, churches and anywhere else with a small patch of land.
Madeira Botanical Gardens
High up on a hill, its upper entrance more than 300m above sea level, and with steep paths winding downwards, the Madeira Botanical Gardens are quite spectacular. Dating from 1881, they are planted on different levels, with various sections including succulents, water gardens and an arboretum. The centrepiece of the garden is the large formal terrace with planted beds and views across the town and down to the sea.
When I visited in early spring the gardens were quiet and uncrowded, although I suspect it may be busier in the summer. I walked down to the bottom and back again, enjoying the peace and the chattering of the birds, and stopping at the many viewpoints.
Visiting The Botanical Gardens
- I chose to travel by the Funchal Cable Car, taking a car up to Monte, and then another one back down to the Botanical Gardens. This is sold as a round trip with cable car tickets in both directions and entrance to the gardens. I found it a great way to travel, and the views on the journey between Monte and the Botanical Gardens were particularly breathtaking, even on a misty day. However, there was a bit of a wait for tickets, and you are likely to have to queue for longer if visiting in high season.
- Alternatively you can travel to the gardens by bus or taxi. Guided tours with transport from Funchal are also possible.
- Note that the gardens may not be suitable for anyone with mobility issues, as the paths are steep and often uneven. There is no wheelchair access.
- There is an entrance charge to the Botanic Gardens.
Monte Palace Tropical Garden
At 570m above sea level, the Monte Palace Tropical Garden is even higher up than the Botanical Gardens. This garden is built on two sides of a ravine, and originally housed a hotel. Today it has the feeling of a fabulous folly, with artworks, water features, oriental gardens and surprises round every corner. According to Condé Nast this is one of the 14 top botanical gardens in the world (in company with Kew Gardens in London).
Walking around the Monte Palace Tropical Garden you can enjoy peaceful paths and a dazzling array of plants. A particular feature is the tiled panels, from the 16th to 21st centuries, illustrating historic and religious scenes. And a small museum has a display of contemporary sculpture from Zimbabwe. There is also a café and a wine tasting area.
Visiting The Monte Palace Tropical Garden
- Most visitors take the Funchal Cable Car to Monte, a few minutes’ walk from the Tropical Garden. It is theoretically possible to walk up the hill from Funchal, although you might prefer to take the cable car up and walk back down, rather than the other way around!
- Buses and guided tours are also available.
- There are lots of steep paths and uneven surfaces in the garden. However, a few paths are wheelchair friendly and it is possible to hire a golf buggy.
- There is an entrance charge for the Monte Palace Tropical Garden.
The gardens of the Quinta Magnolia came as a surprise. Forming the grounds of a grand 19th century house (now a hotel and restaurant) it seems at first a pleasant but unremarkable garden with the tropical and subtropical species that you come to expect in Funchal. However, at the end of the garden it descends into a ravine, its paths weaving through lush vegetation and past the hotel’s sporting facilities.
Quinta Magnolia is on the Rua Dr Pita, at the edge of Funchal’s hotel zone. Entrance to the garden is free, although you might choose to stop for a drink in the restaurant before you leave.
Gardens In The Centre Of Funchal
If you are staying in Funchal you will be bound to spend some time walking along the seafront promenade beside the Avenida do Mar. Here you will find trees, plants, restaurants and other tourist facilities.
At the western end of the promenade (opposite the Museu CR7) you can climb up to the beautiful Santa Catarina park. Walking trails up the cliff lead to an area with a lake, fountains and flower beds.
Returning to the centre of town you will come to the Municipal Gardens, a popular and well tended area. It manages to pack a lot into a small space, with a pond, auditorium, café and artworks. You will often find stalls selling local handicrafts here.
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