Monte Toboggan Ride
Go to almost any holiday website and you will read rave reviews describing the toboggan ride as one of those things that you simply must do.
Indeed, the renown American author, Ernest Hemingway, wrote of his journey in the wicker basket toboggan sled as the "most exhilarating experience" of his life.
Unfortunately, much has changed since the era when Hemingway took his trip. Today, the unwary tourist will be fleeced for every last possible euro that can be extracted from them.
Of course, many still find the sled ride an enjoyable part of their holiday. And, it is true, you are unlikely to find a similar experience anywhere else on your worldly journeys - just be mindful of what you are paying for before you hand over your hard cash.
Walk down the steps to the viewing platform and you will see the wicker basket sleds lined up alongside the disused gates to the old Grande Hotel Belmonte.
If you have arrived in Monte via the Cable Car, follow the signs to the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens. The start of the toboggan ride is a little way beyond the Garden's entrance.
Don't expect to pay for your ride with a credit card, the operator accepts only cash.
You are best advised to wander around the other attractions at Monte first as their is no return journey by sled.
|Monte Toboggan Ride|
|Location||Starts below the steps at Monte Church|
|Open Daily||Monday to Saturday 9:00am to 6:00pm|
Sunday 9:00am to 1:00pm
|Ticket prices per sled:||€20.00 (Single Person)|
€25.00 (Two Person)
€37.50 (Three Person)
14th & 15th August
|(Details correct at November 2009)|
The Toboggan Ride
You might have found references to an exhilarating ride, reaching up to 48km per/hour as the frail wicker basket sled makes its way along narrow, cobbled streets, finally arriving in Funchal city centre.
The truth is that the route has now been truncated to finish at Livramento, a suburb of Funchal.The total distance from Monte to the finish of the ride is little more than 2km (1.2 miles). The journey will take approximately 10 minutes, which means that your average speed will be about 12kph (7mph). During your journey, do not expect your speed to go much beyond 20kph (14mph).
As for the journey, right at the start you will enjoy some panoramic views of Funchal and its harbour. However, before you have much time to take a photo or two, you will turn into narrow, high-walled streets that will restrict your view.
The sled will be steered by two carreiros de Monte; a pair of men dressed in white, each sporting a straw hat. These men are responsible for guiding the wicker basket and, where necessary, using their rubber shoes as brakes.
The route used is not exclusive to the toboggans, so you can expect to encounter a car or two as you make your way down the steep slopes.
At journey's end, the carreiros will expect a tip.
You will also surely be offered a souvenir photograph of yourself taken at the first corner and transmitted by laptop to await your arrival at the finish. Do not feel obliged to purchase the photograph, the going rate is 10 euros.
You will now realise that you have been left standing in a district that you are unfamiliar with. Nearby taxi drivers will offer to take you to the city centre - for a highly over-priced fare.
You have a number of various options.
- Pay an inflated fare for a taxi to take you back to the town centre
- Get a yellow town bus back into Funchal
- Make your own way by walking back to the seafront
- Take a short diversion and visit the Quinta Palmeira Gardens
Pay for an over-charged taxi
In Madeira, it is a requirement that a passenger carrying taxi must display a light showing that their meter is switched on. Any taxi violating this can be stopped by the police.
The vast majority of taxi drivers in Madeira are honest. However, those wanting to make a fast buck often congregate at known tourist spots. At the end of the toboggan ride, we have frequently seen taxi drivers offering to take tourists back to Funchal city centre for 8 or 10 euros.
The direct route back to the city centre is little more than 2.5km (1.5 miles) away - which would clock up at about 3:50 euros on the official metre (correct as at November 2009).
So, if you decide to get a taxi back to town, insist that the driver switches on his metre and that you will pay him only what it displays - a loose change tip is entirely at your discretion.
Get a yellow town bus
Look for a yellow town bus stop. Nearly all town buses terminate in the city centre, so you can hop on almost any bus you see.
Your best bet is to look for a number 19 on the Estrada do Livramento as these are the most frequent. However, numbers 23, 25 and 27 all have nearby routes.
Walk back to the town centre
Be aware that the walk will involve going down some steep hills and will take you around 90 minutes, or more, at a gentle pace.We have walked this part many times. Ignore any taxi driver who tells you it is "dangerous" - it is not. Just head downward and toward the sea, you can't go too far wrong.
Alternatively, you can join our preferred Monte to Funchal walk. To do this, turn right along the Estrada do Livramento. Then turn left at the next major junction, joining the Rua do Comboio.
You are now walking on our preferred route.
Visit the nearby Quinta Palmeira Gardens
A nice addition to your trip to Monte is to take a diversion to visit to the nearby Quinta Palmeira Gardens.
Either get a taxi to take you there, but insist on the minimum fare of 2:50 euros (correct as at November 2009) as it is no more than 1km away.
Alternatively, you can walk to the Gardens in around 10 minutes.
In conclusion, the Monte toboggan run is something that you are unlikely to experience elsewhere. So, if you are one of those people who wants to experience everything that Madeira has to offer, then sit back and enjoy the ride.
However, the journey for two, with all the extras is likely to cost you 50 euros or more - which for a ten minute excursion is very expensive by Madeiran standards.
The choice is yours.
The Monte toboggan sleds, appear to be a form of local transport derived from the carro do bois. The latter, referred to in English as a bullock cart, is said to have been devised in 1848 by a British resident of Madeira, Major Buckley. It was a crude seating arrangement mounted on sled runners and pulled by oxen.The Monte sledges, as they are often called by early English narrators, needed no animal power to propel them as the route down to Funchal was one long, steep decline. However, the sledges needed to be small and light enough for the owners to return them up to the top of the hill, carrying them on their backs. Thus, the lightweight wicker basket seats on wooden runners was developed.
"We arrived at length at the steep hill from the Mount Church, which leads down to Funchal. Often people slide down this steep hill, on little sledges constructed for the purpose and guided by boys, who run by the side, or after them, and direct them sufficiently to prevent their going out of the road. It is said not to be an unpleasant mode of descending the declivity. We thought of trying it, but it was late, and the boys had probably all gone home, not expecting excursionists at that advanced hour."
By the early 1900's this mode of transport had become a tourist attraction. In a 1909 documentation of a leisure trip to Madeira it was written:
"Returning [from Terreiro da Luta, some 200 metres higher in altitude than Monte] we descended the mountain in wicker coasters with seats for two, placed on sled-runners and guided by two men. The descent took us through streets lined with white villas enclosed by high stone walls, festooned with the wonderful purple Bougainvillea, looking over which mothers and children smiled at us in our holiday enjoyment and showered us with gardenias and roses. The five mile descent was covered in eight minutes."
This account implies that the sledges of the day descended at an average speed of about 37 miles per hour or 60 kilometres per hour.
For further details, see a full description of a 1909 journey in the Monte sledges.
Monte Toboggan Sled Photos Gallery
Waiting at the start of the toboggan ride
Gathering pace at the start of the run
Finishing the ride
To ride the Monte toboggan sled, you need to get to Monte itself. You have a number of alternatives, including taking an awe-inspiring cable car journey.
See our Travel Directions to Monte for the various options.
Porto da Cruz Lido
Situated on the north east coast of the island, Porto da Cruz has a relatively new lido complex.
Facilities include changing areas, showers and toilets. Refreshments are also handily placed nearby.
The pool area itself is large and has naturally heated seawater.
In the shadow of Eagle Rock, it is the perfect spot on a hot summer day.
Funchal's Gate Varadouro
The Old City Gate was originally constructed in 1689 as part of Funchal's fortifications.
That Funchal needed protection from pirates and foreign aggression was in little doubt. The city was often attacked by marauding forces from passing ships.
Finally, the fortification became largely redundant in the late nineteenth century and the gate Varadouro was eventually dismantled in 1911. Fortunately, key aspects of the gate and its design were preserved. Then, in 2004, to contribute to the city's 500th anniversary celebrations, Funchal's Gate Varadouro was rebuilt in its original location.