Palheiro History

For your further enjoyment we have published the histories of some of the highly interesting characters after whom our hotel suites are named.
Rei Dom Carlos

Rei Dom Carlos

Conde de Carvalhal

Conde de Carvalhal

Frank Dillon

Frank Dillon

John Burden Blandy

John Burden Blandy

To learn more about the history of the Palheiro Estate choose a link below:
King D. Carlos I


reidcarlosiCarlos de Bragança became King of Portugal at the age of 26 after the death of his Father D. Luís in 1889.

His Germanic looks and bearing came from his Saxe-Coburg ancestry. He married Amálie, the daughter of the Comte de Paris, who was known in Portugal as Rainha D. Amália.

Carlos was the penultimate king of Portugal and his world of constitutional monarchy was to quickly disappear after his death.

Carlos played a conspicuous part in rebuilding Portugal's foreign relations, in particular with Great Britain through his friendship with Edward the VII. However, much of his life was spent in trying to stabilise his throne, fending off internal politics and court intrigues at his various palaces in Lisbon and throughout the country.

He was liked amongst the people for his informality, freedom of movement without protection and as a sportsman; on the other hand many factions in the country did not appreciate his opulent life style and numerous palaces requiring expensive upkeep.

He had wide interests as a patron of the arts and sciences, especially marine biology; he was an accomplished artist mainly of seascapes and coastal scenes many of which were painted from the fishing village of Cascais while looking out over the River Tagus.

Hundreds of his paintings may be seen today at his palace at Vila Viçosa in the Alentejo and in various museums in Lisbon.

The king and queen visited Madeira in 1901 and were entertained at the Casa Velha on the 24 of July. The King rode up from Funchal on horseback whilst the Queen arrived by bullock sledge. After a huge picnic banquet on the lawn in front of the house attended by many members of the British community, a game of tennis was played. A photograph of this occasion shows Don Carlos smoking a large cigar with a racket in his hand playing tennis with members of the Blandy family.

On the 1 February 1908, the king and his family traveled from Vila Viçosa by carriage without escort and crossed the Terreiro do Paço in the centre of Lisbon. Suddenly a fusillade of shot rained upon them and the king and the Duke of Bragança were killed. The queen and D. Manuel, the royal couple’s son, survived the attack. The house of Bragança collapsed two years later when the young king and his mother yielded after a period of unrest, were escorted to England and settled in Richmond, Surrey.

Conde de Carvalhal - 1778-1837

condecarvalhal2The 1st Count of Carvalhal created the Palheiro estate around 1801 and built the Casa Velha and chapel a few years later. He used the Casa Velha, which was a much smaller property in those days, as a country retreat and hunting lodge.

The nobleman was believed to be a friend of the King of Portugal Dom João VI and travelled to Brazil with his court during the Peninsular War (1808-1814). This could explain how he subsequently owned a considerable amount of land in Madeira and was able to import specimen trees from many parts of the world in the holds of sailing ships. These trees can be seen at Casa Velha today.

During the Miguelite Wars (1828-1834) he was forced to leave Madeira since his sympathies were strongly on the liberal side and the island was occupied by the Miguelite troops.

He boarded the English corvette Alligator on 22 August 1828, took refuge in England and only returned in 1834.

He lived in Funchal, his dwellings the Palácio de São Pedro, now the Natural History Museum. He became civil governor of Funchal in 1835 and died unmarried on the 11 November 1837. The title of Count then passed to his nephew, but that is a completely new chapter in the history of Palheiro Estate

It should be noted that Elucidário Madeirense informs us that despite his great wealth, the 1st Count of Carvalhal lived without luxury or ostentation and did much to alleviate hardship among the peasant farmers and poorer people during times of economic crisis.

Frank Dillon 1823-1909

FrankdillonFrank Dillon was a younger member of that great generation of British topographical painters which flourished in the first half of the nineteenth century.

He is particularly noted for his views of Egypt. The European fascination with this part of the world followed the Napoleonic campaign of 1798, generating a desire for Egyptian-style design and architecture and for views of the country, both ancient and contemporary. This demand lasted throughout the nineteenth century.

Dillon, son of a silk mercer, was born in 1823 and entered the Royal Academy in London at the comparatively late age of 26.

He began to travel in 1848-1849, when he visited Portugal and Madeira with his wife Josephine. Colnaghi published a volume of lithographs entitled A series of Views of Funchal and the Neighbourhood following this visit (1850).

That year also saw his first exhibitions at both the Royal Academy and the British Institution and in the course of the next fifty years he regularly displayed works at almost all the major British oil and watercolour exhibitions.

John Burden Blandy 1841 - 1912

johnburdenJohn Burden was the 3rd generation of Madeira Blandy’s. He lived and worked in Funchal and was famous for his skills in developing the coal bunkering business along with the Madeira Wine Lodges in Funchal.

He bought the Palheiro Estate at public auction in 1885 and was roundly criticized by friends and family alike for having purchased “a white elephant”. The property was remote from Funchal and already by then in a state of disrepair.

Blandy wasted no time in improving the grounds.  He added new outhouses, including a turbine-driven sawmill and rebuilt the reservoir on top of the estate.  He initiated the farming of cereal crops and commenced forestry.  He and his wife Margarette Faber also continued to  develop the gardens.

Until the construction of roads and the advent of vehicular transport, the men of the family would travel in to Funchal on business in the morning by ‘carro de cesto’ (basket sledge) and return in the evening on horseback.  The women and children, however, usually stayed at home during the day except when visiting neighbours either by hammock, palanquin or on horseback.

The creation of the Palheiro Estate

The creation of Palheiro Estate began in 1801 and was overseen by the 1st Count of Carvalhal, João Esmeraldo, who set the grounds in the beautiful parkland of Palheiro Ferreiro.

The Portuguese nobleman had recently purchased a property within the vicinity, obstensively to use as a hunting lodge and summer residence. The Count had water channeled in by a levada (waterway) from near Pico do Arieiro (the third highest peak on the island), some 11 miles away, to a small reservoir.

He enlisted the help of a French landscape gardener in the laying out of the quinta (farm). The Frenchman's hand is evident in the width and spaciousness of the thoroughfares he planned, the principal one of which is the avenue of plane trees that stretches down from the hunting lodge and has no less than 100 trees standing on each side. There were orchards also planted to the north of the house.

The Count used to employ more than 200 men on the estate for the purpose of keeping it in order. He was reputed to have been a kind landlord and was much respected throughout the island.

As the grounds took shape, the Count imported specimen trees from all over the world to fill the estate. Tradition has it he was given many rare species by Portugal's monarch at the time, Dom João VI. He received other specimens from masters of the many visiting sailing ships tying up at Funchal harbour.

Horses were kept on the estate, the stables positioned in the middle of the circle of plane trees which can still be seen today to the north of the swimming pool.

There was also a deer park, and other animals were kept in fenced enclosures.

The Count and his retinue exercised their carriage horses at Pico do Cavalo, near the avenue of plane trees. Another favourite ride was to the folly on the way to Balancal, a route that took them through pine woodland along a winding path that led to a hilltop.

On both these roads, vestiges of some of the stone seats that were decorated in blue and white tiles can still be seen today.

In the 1820s in order to make the house more habitable, two new wings were added.

In the basement of the house were storage rooms with floors made of beaten earth that helped create ideal conditions for the storage of fruit.

The ground floor with its living rooms was enriched with decorative ceilings and frescos of flora motifs on the walls.

The entrance was painted with friezes of acorn branches, the Count's emblem. Intriguingly, the lateral walls in the hall could be opened to transform the whole of the ground floor into a spacious ballroom.


The aforementioned hilltop folly was constructed as an octagonal temple of neo-classical design and is today the Palheiro Estate corporate emblem.

Since the Count's time it has forever remained a "ruin", though it was once readily used as a place to socialize by ladies and gentlemen after the hunt.

More poetically, it is said that local lovers used the temple as a meeting place!

Around the same time as the folly's construction, the nobleman also had a chapel built in the gardens following a simple baroque style and dedicated to Saint John the Baptist.

On the feast of its Patron Saint all the employees on the estate would gather at the site and deck the building with flowers, recite the Rosary and pray that their Patrons may live another year to spread happiness amongst them.

Gazing at the ceremony, the Count would sit at his dining-room window a short distance away and watch the priest through the open door of the chapel celebrating Mass. It was so far more comfortable to take part in the proceedings this way.

Folklore suggests a mysterious woman associated with the Carvalhal family haunts the chapel. Her ghost, it is said, wandered the house and then the pathway found between the camellia trees before disappearing through the chapel doors never to be seen again.

Today, it's the camellia trees that have made a lasting impression.

An Englishman who visited the quinta on 13 January 1826 wrote, "The house is modest in size as well as in architecture, but elegant and comfortable and the gardens that surround it are rich in plants and flowers. The camellias are the principal ornament producing red and white flowers which rival the rose in form and colour but do not have the beautiful scent of them."

About the 1st Conde

A Portuguese nobleman, João José Xavier de Carvalhal Esmeraldo Vasconcelos de Atouguia Bettencourt Machado, was known as the 1st Count de Carvalhal da Lombada.

One wonders if he had a nickname?

He was born on 7 March 1778 and died aged 59 on 11 November 1837.

In spite of his great wealth, the Count, who owned much land on the island, lived without luxury or ostentation and was a man of generous and liberal principles. History relates that he did much to alleviate the suffering of the poor during periods of economic crises.

During the Miguelite Wars (1828-1834) the Count whose sympathies leaned strongly towards the liberal side of the conflict, had to leave Madeira to seek refuge in England and boarded the English corvette Alligator on 22 August 1828 for British shores.

He returned to the island in 1834, was given the title of Conde de Carvalhal da Lombada on 5 September 1834 and became Civil Governor of Funchal on 13 September 1835.

His principal town residence was the Palácio de São Pedro, today occupied by the Funchal Natural History Museum. If you should visit the museum, glance above the entrance and you will see his coat of arms.

During the summer months, balls and picnics were hosted at the quinta at Palheiro, the Count's summer residence. One distinguished guest was the Archduchess Leopoldina of Austria, who was entertained at Palheiro in 1817 while she was passing through Madeira on route to Brazil to marry Dom Pedro I.

Many of the ancient trees seen today at Casa Velha do Palheiro like the huge metrosideros (Christmas Day Tree), til, plane and oak are attributed to the 1st Count of Carvalhal, who had many other different specimens imported to the gardens on the estate.

Dying unmarried in 1837, he had no direct descendant so the title and estate were passed to his nephew, the 2nd Count, who was only 6 years old at the time.

He was buried in the chapel on the estate and 40 years later, his nephew the 2nd Count had his mortal remains removed to the Angustias Cemetery in Funchal.

About the 2nd Conde

António Leandro da Câmara Carvalhal Esmeraldo Atougia Bettencourt de Machado was better known as the 2nd Count do Carvalhal da Lombada.

He was born on 6 October 1831 and died 4 February 1888.

In 1854 he married Dona Matilde Montufar Infante, daughter of the Marchioness de Selva Alegre of Spain. They had two daughters, Dona Maria and Dona Teresa da Câmara.

In 1858, he ordered the construction of a small house to the north of the property for his French mistress. It was known as the Casa da Francesa (House of the French Lady).

The 2nd Count was very different in character to that of his uncle.

By all accounts he was extremely agreeable, charming and a typical aristocrat. However, little time was spent in Madeira.

Instead he led an extravagant life in European capitals such as Paris, Madrid and Lisbon and travelled extensively. It was said that he outshone the King of Portugal in his magnificence; he owned a large yacht, kept a racing stable near Paris and maintained a retinue of followers that would put the entourage of a modern monarch to shame!

He attended splendid parties, royal balls, race meetings, sporting events and the opera. One story relates that he once hired the entire Paris Opera for one night for his friends.

Many lavish parties and soirees were given at Palheiro, some reputedly of a scandalous nature. On one occasion it's believed, women were invited wearing as their costume only jewellery and high-heeled shoes.

He received Prince Luís (later Dom Luís of Portugal) whom he greatly admired at Palheiro and once again at Palácio de São Pedro, his town house, when he visited the island together with Archduchess Carlota.

The 2nd Count of Carvalhal was an indefatigable bon vivant, a womanizer and enthusiastic gambler and despite his sizeable income, his lifestyle ultimately outpaced his funds.

Spiraling expenditure and increasing debt meant that inevitably he was forced to sell. The fast pace of life also caught up with him and the 2nd Count died after prolonged ill health at the age of 56 in his Palácio de São Pedro town house.

Visit by Dom Carlos I & Dona Maria Amelia to Palheiro in 1901

In 1901 John Burden Blandy hosted a picnic banquet for the King and Queen of Portugal, Dom Carlos I and Dona Maria Amelia. The invitation was extended to the royal entourage as well as local residents and members of the English community. The party took place across the garden in front of Casa Velha. The monarchs arrived separately; the king rode up on horseback and the queen arrived by bullock sledge.

As befitting a royal occasion, everything had been thought about in advance except one thing - toothpicks! John Ernest Blandy quickly whittled a match down for the king who indeed requested one at the conclusion of lunch.

Later, a game of tennis was organized. Dom Carlos played in his waistcoat smoking a cigar. His opponent was John Ernest Blandy who related that in order to play, he [Blandy] took off his leather boots and played in stockinged feet.

Palheiro Estate 1912 - 2014

After the death of John Burden Blandy in 1912 the property passed to John Ernest Blandy (1866-1930). He met Elinor Reeder from Washington when she visited Madeira onboard the New York State schooner rigged training ship St Mary’s, commanded by her father Captain Reeder. They married in Baltimore in 1901 and lived at Palheiro. Elinor cared for the gardens and brought in trees from America - notably Sequoias and Liriodendrons which can still be seen today.

Here's an extract taken from the book Madeira - Impressions & Associations by Alan Lethbridge who visited the Estate or Quinta as it was known cerca 1924: “Through the lodge gates that takes one back to an English country house, up a more intimate drive boxed in with camellias of every known shade and behold, the house, the new house, for the old one has long since been abandoned for more modern comfort. It is said that in the days of Portuguese ownership the steward was told to go and count the camellia trees and on being asked how he got on, answered, "Sir, I have counted 9000 and I am tired, there are many more, so let us say that there are 10,000”.

With John Ernest's passing in 1930, Graham inherited the estate and was soon to marry Mildred born in South Africa. It was her turn to care for the gardens while Graham worked in town and wrestled with the farm at Palheiro on weekends. She was a passionate gardener and imported many plants from different parts of the world notably Proteas from South Africa. It was she who made the gardens famous, opened them to the public and together they entertained many notables visiting the island. Meanwhile, the Casa Velha, the Old House, remained derelict and forgotten and slightly mysterious. But it proved a great playground for children.

And so to the current owners after Graham´s death in 1972. The farming land and forests were turned into the golf course which opened in 1993, the Casa Velha was restored and turned into a hotel and Palheiro Village was built. Adam continues as Chairman of the Estate, his wife Christina (from Sweden) cares for the gardens and oversees Casa Velha, Adam`s son Jonathan runs the golf and is Chairman of the hotel and leisure activities, whilst daughter Louisa works at Palheiro Village with the property management team looking after the owners and rental guests.

The Hotel Casa Velha do Palheiro

With Palheiro Golf running successfully and proving a major draw for visitors to Madeira, the present owners of Palheiro Estate, Adam and Christina Blandy had the idea of restoring Casa Velha into a luxury boutique country house hotel.
The ambitious conversion began in 1995, with Christina as creative designer.
Casa Velha do Palheiro opened in 1997 and was subsequently extended in 1999 to offer a larger restaurant and a garden wing with 10 rooms and two suites. A spa facility was added in 2009.
In 2001 the five-star Casa Velha became a member of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux association.

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