Madeira is well known as an excellent walking destination – miles of trails winding across the island with almost unending views of the Atlantic Ocean. Yet one of the island’s most unlikely tourist attractions is a toboggan ride from the gardens at Monte down the steep roads toward the island’s main city, Funchal.  Stranger still, these toboggans have been operating for over 150 years.

Here’s a glimpse of what you might expect on a ride on the Monte toboggan;

The toboggans were initially set up for the transport of residents from the lofty heights of Monte down to the bustle of the Funchal markets. While over time cars took over the road and the demand for the toboggans among the locals dwindled, the rides remained popular with visitors to the island and gradually evolved into a must-do activity for tourists.

The ride takes you along a 2km route through narrow winding streets that make their way down from the hilltop. The wicker sledges are designed to hold two riders and glide along the road on wooden runners, reaching speeds of up to 48km per hour. They are pushed and steered by two men who are dressed in traditional white cotton clothes and a straw hat. They brake by using their rubber-soled boots to slow the progress of the toboggan in the face of the oncoming traffic.

The rides cost €30 for two and there are two options for the onward journey into Funchal from the end point – a short but pleasant walk or one of the notoriously overpriced taxis that will be waiting for you when you leave the sledge.

Monte Palace Tropical Garden

There’s more to Monte than merely a stopping off point for the toboggan ride. The Monte Palace Tropical Garden has been open to visitors since 1991 and offers the chance to admire over 100,000 flower species from around the world. As well as its impressive variety of flora, the garden is also home to a huge collection of Portuguese tiles that spans several centuries.

The garden also has a special section dedicated to Portugal’s enduring relationship with Japan. It was the Portuguese who first traded with the Japanese in the 16th century and the garden features many traditional Japanese symbols. In keeping with authentic Japanese garden design, there is of course a tea house.

You can reach the gardens from Funchal using a cable car that drops you right by the entrance to the gardens. The ride takes around 15 minutes.

Visit our main site for more information about Madeira itineraries that include the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens and the exciting toboggan ride.

Image: By Paul Mannix [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons