I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Madeira many times and, to me, the botanical gardens and wild-growing flora are truly among the most beautiful in the world, as I’ve mentioned in my previous post on Fantasy Gardens. But the real beauty of visiting the island to experience its stunning natural and manicured gardens is that you never have to go too far, because the island really is a garden. In some cases, you only have to step outside of your door to find yourself in the midst of inspiration…
Green Fingered Paradise in Madeira
The small but perfectly formed island of Madeira is an absolute Mecca for nature lovers. It’s not for nothing that the island is known as the “Isle of Flowers”, and everywhere you walk, hike or simply turn your head, your senses are overwhelmed with beauty. For avid gardeners, there couldn’t be a more ideal destination for a getaway.
Discover the Beauty of the Floating Garden
The rich volcanic soil and mild climate of the island provide the perfect habitat for a host of species, which are most often at home in sub-tropical parts of the planet. But Madeira is a world unto itself, and this veritable “floating garden” is bursting at its beautiful seams with orchids, protea, lilies, wisteria, bougainvillea and countless other blooms.
It’s not only flowers that thrive in the fertile conditions, and the local markets are filled with homegrown papaya, strawberries, bananas and chestnuts. Even small private gardens often include a selection of single fruit trees, and it’s not uncommon to see these species growing wild on the side of the road.
The comments that I hear most often from our guests who visit Madeira are about the sheer accessibility of the island’s plant life. It truly is a gardener’s dream destination, with no real beginning or end to the magnificent botanical displays – whether on the side of the road, in deep valleys and ravines or in the carefully tended public spaces and botanical gardens.
The Old and the New
High above the town of Funchal, Madeira’s first Botanical Gardens were created in the 1960s and still exist in mostly original form today – although they are much easier to reach by modern cable car than by having to traipse up the two-mile slope, which was the case back in the day. The gardens contain a dizzying array of species, with everything from Tasmanian tree ferns and ancient laurel trees to cacti, orchids, strelizia and the endemic (and rather strange) Dragon Trees, which produce the famed and magically healing Dragon’s Blood.
Older still are the Palheiro Gardens in the grounds of the Quinta do Palheiro. Created by the infamously party-loving Conde de Carvalhal, the gardens are filled with oaks, beeches and other English plantings. More than a century later, the South African Mildred Blandy developed the gardens further by importing plants and flowers from her native land (including the striking protea), along with planting agapanthus, magnolias, lilies, mimosa and more.
The Modern Pioneers
What I admire so much about the Madeirans is their dedication to their botanical culture. In recent times several modern “pioneers” have blended tradition with innovation and transformed parts of the island into lush contemporary gardens. Wealthy entrepreneur Joe Berado returned to his beloved homeland with a pocketful of cash and a desire to create the Monte Palace Tropical Garden, which he has done with aplomb. The former derelict palace and its terraced gardens have evolved into a site of tremendous beauty, filled with thousand-year-old olive trees, tree ferns, orchids and indigenous species.
Top Tip: I recommend that you visit the simply delightful Oriental Garden within the Monte Place Tropical Gardens, complete with a Koi pool, Buddhas and the world’s biggest vase.
Another more recent addition to the island is the work of the current Mayor of Funchal. Miguel Albuquerque has established the beautiful Quinto do Arco Rosearium, which, with more than 1,000 kinds of roses, is one of the most magnificent rose gardens in Europe. The aroma as you stroll through the gardens is intoxicating, and the rosearium’s vantage, set on the edge of a steep slope, is unique and unexpected.
Our hotel collection on Madeira includes several that are outstanding for their appeal to gardeners and plant lovers, placing you right in the midst of lush loveliness.
Jardins do Lago
This delightful Quinta (a large country house) is nestled into the hillside that overlooks Funchal, boasting views out to the ocean. Jardins do Lago is a truly idyllic rural retreat, with six acres of lush botanical gardens that are situated right on your doorstep. The more than 500 species of plants incorporate rare endemics, vibrant florals and centenary trees from places as diverse as Australia and South America. Along with immersing yourself in the tranquil gardens, you’ll enjoy the authentic hospitality and facilities, including a pool, two restaurants, a Jacuzzi and elegant rooms and suites.
Casa Velha do Palheiro
This luxury country house in Palheiro, set amidst exquisite gardens, puts guests right in the middle of a botanical paradise. The gardens surrounding Casa Velha do Palheiro
were created more than 200 years ago and are visited by many thousands of gardening enthusiasts every year. The sheer size of some of the plantings is what first takes one aback, and the ancient oaks, chestnuts, redwoods and beech trees are interspersed with the vivid blooms of perennials. The accommodation is sublime, with charming classic décor, serene spaces and its own gourmet restaurant. I’m hard pressed to think of a more peaceful place to stay and appreciate the magnificent gardens of the island.
Belmond Reid’s Palace
With stunning views over Funchal Bay, Belmond Reid’s Palace is located in ten acres of lush, sub-tropical gardens. With the backing of this renowned brand, you know you’re in for an experience of luxurious proportions, but its magical natural setting takes it to a whole new level. For avid gardeners, simply strolling around the estate is inspirational, to say the least, with established trees and bursting floral blooms lining the pathways. Hotel guests enjoy a superior level of service and facilities, which include several restaurants, pools, an onsite spa and wellness centre and a selection of accommodation options, such as sumptuous suites and elevated rooms.
Top Tip: Every Wednesday and Sunday afternoons, the hotel runs tours of the gardens, which are led by a horticulturalist. Not only will you learn about local species, but you’ll also be able to get some tips on cultivating your own garden. Highly recommended!