MADEIRA

Portugal

About ferns, ceramics, and drinks

A September morning. The sun is generous, the bay of Funchal sparkling in our backs. We've just passed in front of the Mercado dos Lavradores, heading towards the cablecar. Séb remains anxious, to be honest. His character makes him always foresee the worst, to start with; but what's worse, he's never taken a cablecar in his life. While we wait in the queue, his erring gaze finally falls on a big plate. Relief! This funicular is apparently a product "Made in Austria", which he takes for a sign of serious quality work. Yet, as soon as we climb into the cabin, he holds his backbag as if it were a lifebelt and keeps a vigilant eye on the cables. Anyone can see the questions swirling around in his head, particularly concerning the cables' fire-resistance… true enough, we are currently "floating" above the parts of Funchal that have been burnt down by the summer fires some days ago! Meanwhile Didi, unfazed, enjoys the view over the harbour, the bay, the streets and lanes as well as the red roofs of the houses. There's enough anxiety for two emanating from Séb, anyway.

We reach our destination unharmed and continue our adventure by foot. The gates of the Tropical Garden are right there, okay, but it's out of the question not to visit the white and dark grey Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Monte (Church of Our Lady of Monte) that stands a bit further uphill. The rather unpretentious church with its beautiful painted wooden ceiling offers a splendid view of Funchal and the ocean. Our visit is driven by a certain historical curiosity as the last Emperor of Austria, Charles I, is buried here. Beatified in 2004 by the Catholic Church, he attracts not only pilgrims but also those nostalgic of the ancient Habsburg empire. We notice that amongst them there must be quite a lot of Hungarians because there are countless wreaths sporting the red-white-green flag. It's true that Charles was also the last King of Hungary (Charles IV). Forced to go into exile in November 1918, he should never again mount on his throne, even if he tried it several times. FYI, officially Hungary remained a kingdom until 1944, however. The country was run by a Regent, the Admiral Horthy. A witty remark of that time claimed that Hungary was a kingdom without a king governed by an admiral without a sea.

At the gate of the Tropical Garden, the employee gives us excellent news: at the moment, they are celebrating a Wine Festival in Madeira; therefore, we're invited to sample some Madeira wine for free in the little bar at the other end of the park. After a succinct tour of the buildings near the entrance, we start our walk downhill. The day starts to drape us in humid heat. Luckily there are trees everywhere, luxurious palm trees and very impressive tree-like ferns. We walk in the shadows, trying to find the names of the exotic flowers that grow everywhere like weed, watching the goldfish frolic around in the little ponds, listening to the picturesque waterfalls' murmur, crossing the bridges hanging between the trees. Each turning of the path offers us a new, breathtaking view. We get the impression to be hiking down the slopes of a steep, steep mountain, an impression created by the ships floating on the Atlantic down below like as many tiny nutshells.

When we reach the bar at the other end of the park, we deserve a rest. We buy a "cerveja" and a sandwich each and accept very gracefully the free glass of Madeira wine we were promised. Afterwards, we continue our exploration of the park, discovering the orchid garden and the Asian garden with its statues, water features, bamboo, bridges and pagodas. In the middle of this downhill part rises the Monte Palace that has given the park its full name (it is called "Jardim Tropical Monte Palace") and looks like a smallish Rhine-valley castle. We regret that it can't be visited. While we're walking around it several times, we discover an aviary with loads of tropical birds.

When it's time to climb back uphill, the air is heavy, the sun strikes the bay, and a huge, stubborn cloud is bulging on top of the mountain. The park is like a steam room. We walk very carefully. The narrow paths is meandering up, and we're glad to notice countless "azuléjos" brighten our slow progress, those ceramic plates that are so typically Portuguese. Passing from plate to plate makes us forget the steep rise and the long march. Anyway, we agree fondly: the Jardim Tropical is worth the effort as there are so many different things to be seen…

GOOD TO KNOW

  • More information about the Jardim Tropical Monte Palace on their official website – EN, PT
  • The cablecar of Funchal – FR, EN, DE, RU, ES, PT
  • The entrance fee for the Tropical Garden plus a two-way-ticket by cablecar costs approx. 30 euros per person; that seems rather expensive, alright, but the alternative is to go up there by foot—suffice it to say that climate, geography and distance are quite dissuasive
  • More information about Charles I of Austria – EN

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