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 built a chapel 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 reading mass. It was so far more comfortable to take part in the proceeding 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."
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