The Portuguese archipelagos of Azores and Madeira are distinctly different, yet they have much in common such as nature, adventure, water sports, hiking, wellness, delicious wine and food. Except for the perfect weather year-round on volcanic islands, they also happen to have two of the most beautiful private gardens in the world.

The Azores, located off the coast of mainland Portugal, comprises nine volcanic islands known for lush vegetation and hot springs with therapeutic properties. Located in the volcanic Furnas Valley on São Miguel, the largest one of the islands, is the stunning Terra Nostra Gardens, a sprawling private garden owned and operated by the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel, which is more than 200 years old and perhaps one of the most beautiful anywhere.

It is an oasis with more than 2,000 different trees from around the world, ponds, and many different plants and flower species. There are several types of camellias and roses, wild garlic which is unmistakable to the senses and hundreds of varieties of ferns.

At the heart of the gardens is a thermal pool, surrounded by trees from North America, which attracts visitors for its healing properties.

The Portuguese island of Madeira, located off the coast of Africa and 965 kilometers from Azores, may be the best known for its namesake wine, seafood, street art and basket toboggans. It also has a drop-dead stunning garden named Madeira’s Monte Palace located at the top of the mountain (“monte”) in the city of Funchal. Monte Palace is a private property belonging to the José Berardo Foundation, which includes a palatial 18th century mansion with a stunning view of Funchal Bay, a museum and Monte Palace Tropical Gardens that has a multi-level private garden with creative influences from Japan and China, and infused with art, sculptures and ponds.


The gardens feature a large collection of exotic plants and trees from around the world, including cycads, clivias and hydrangeas from South Africa, Belgian azaleas, Himalayan orchids and heather from Scotland. As well, there is a laurel forest (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) with trees such as the laurel, Indian bay, barbuzano and til.

There are two oriental-themed gardens with a nod to Japanese and Chinese culture and symbolism, featuring a marble dragon, Buddha sculptures, pagodas and bridges, koi fish ponds and a lake with swans. Lining the walkways are the collection of tile panels from the 15th20th centuries. Portugal’s history lines the walkways with large panels dedicated to the four elements of nature: earth, fire, water, air – and lovely windows and arches.

The Monte Palace Museum holds a collection of sculptures from Zimbabwe, and a display of minerals and gems. Visitors can take a guided trolley-car visit and enjoy a tasting of Madeira wine free-of-charge in the cafe. The cable car which rides up to the gardens from lower Funchal provides a breathtaking panoramic view of the island. To get back down to Funchal, you can take the traditional “basket sledge” (or basket toboggan). It is a thrill ride for tourists today, but in the past, it was a practical way for locals to get down from the steep hilly streets to lower Funchal.

If you go…
How to get there: Azores Airlines offers direct flights (4.5 hours) from Toronto to Ponta Delgada, São Miguel.
From the Azores, Azores Airlines flies to Funchal’s Christian Ronaldo Airport in Madeira only 90 minutes.