In 1807, John Blandy, the first of his family to settle in Madeira, bought a house and adjoining wine stores in the capital Funchal. Following the destruction of the Madeira vineyards by disease in 1852, Blandy’s son, Charles, seized the opportunity to buy all available stocks of the wine, and by 1877, Messrs Blandy Brothers held the largest reserves of Madeira of any shipping house in Funchal. Today, the Blandy Group has wide-ranging interests throughout the island and beyond — from hotels and tourism to media and real estate.
Meanwhile, the fortunes of the wealthy Portuguese count João de Carvalhal took a rather different turn. Having bought the spectacular 800-acre Palheiro domain in the hills overlooking Funchal in about 1800, he set out to create a classic country gentleman’s sporting estate, with no expense spared. A spate of new buildings included a large hunting lodge, a huge stable block and a delightful Baroque chapel. Exotic trees and plants were imported from around the world to stock the extensive gardens. The folly he built on the estate’s highest point—today part of Palheiro’s challenging golf course—is now its ironic symbol, as, following the count’s untimely death, his nephew squandered his inheritance and, in 1885, John Burden Blandy bought the Palheiro estate. Since then, successive generations of astute Blandy men (and women) have carried on where the count left off.
In 1891, J. B. Blandy built himself a grand new house on a wide terrace overlooking the Deserta Islands, a quarter of a mile up the hill from Carvalhal’s Casa Velha. But Palhiero’s crowning glory is its 30 acres of glorious gardens, still impeccably maintained by a devoted army of expert Portuguese gardeners.
An article by Mildred Blandy (mother of current patriarch Adam Blandy) in the RHS Journal of September 1955, describes Palhiero with its rich volcanic soil and incredible variety of topography and planting as ‘a gardener’s paradise’— made all the more remarkable by its location, 1,800ft up the eastern slopes of Funchal Bay. Mrs Blandy attributes the ‘phenomenal growth’ of camellias of ‘indescribable’ beauty to Palheiro’s lime-free soil; the growth of blue cedars from the Atlas mountains to the gardens’ sheltered aspect. Banks of magnolias provide ‘deep drifts of colour’ from December to March; in summer, a ‘blue sea’ of hydrangeas under a canopy of trees matches the blue of the vistas to the sea. A trickling stream in the rocky ravine known as the Inferno provides unlimited moisture for shade-loving tree ferns and rhododendrons.
In Mrs Blandy’s day, the rest of the 800-acre estate was largely farmland, planted to corn, vegetables and fruits instead of the traditional island crops of sugar cane, bananas and vines, because of the altitude. Today, Palhiero has shrunk to about 250 acres, with the focus on leisure, following the creation of a spectacular 18-hole golf course by Cabell Robinson in 1993, and the conversion of the Casa Velha to a five-star Relais & Chateaux hotel some 10 years ago. It seems singularly appropriate that, last month, the Casa Velha was one of only two hotels in the world to win the coveted Relais & Châteaux garden trophy; the other was Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.
Neither time nor the Blandys have ever stood still, and, given the dramatic growth in residential tourism in Portugal, the group’s decision to create a series of exclusive private developments around the estate’s perimeter was a logical next step. The first of these is Palhiero Village (00 351 291 795 161), a private development of 32 apartments and 44 villas on the hillside overlooking Funchal Bay. The scheme, due for completion in March 2008 and almost 50% sold, was designed by international architect Michael Brown, who made his name at Quinta do Lago, with Palhiero’s development manager, Roger Still. Prices range from €319,000 for a large one-bedroom apartment to €475,000 for two bedrooms; villas cost from €698,000 for three bedrooms to €1.65 million for four/five bedrooms.
It was the breathtaking views over Funchal Bay and the Deserta Islands that finally ‘did it’ for Chelsea estate agent Linda Beaney, a keen golfer, when she signed on the dotted line for her three-bedroom villa at Palhiero Village. She admits that the generous concessions being offered to property owners at Palhiero golf course, hotel and spa also helped. ‘I wanted something that would be both an investment and a sunshine retreat for frequent short breaks, as I am not very good at taking long holidays and with London only three hours away by air, and Palhiero a mere 15 minutes from Funchal airport, it means that I can make a snap decision to leave on a Thursday and be back in the office on Monday.’