I recently had the immense pleasure of visiting the Azores island of São Miguel. With dozens of volcanoes sculpting the terrain and nothing to be seen but the uninterrupted Atlantic ocean surrounding the island, São Miguel provides an idyllic and secluded escape from reality.
One afternoon after experiencing a tour of the most dramatically phenomenal caves carved by lava from the volcanoes, I bumped into two girls travelling from Germany that were also sharing the same residence as me. Having already met them a few days earlier and since I was alone and without a car, they offered me a ride. I gladly accepted the offer, before they stated they had no plans for the rest of the afternoon and asked if I would like to go somewhere with them? I agreed. So they decided to take me to the top of one of the volcanoes to visit an abandoned hotel.
A heavy fog had descended upon the town that afternoon, clinging to the volcano making it impossible to see anything further than about 3 metres in front of you. Driving up the road was done with extreme caution, and a wall of fog barricaded what should have been a fantastic view of the ocean directly to our left. When we eventually arrived at the hotel; the impenetrable fog gave the derelict building an even eerier atmosphere. With all windows and doors absent, bright, white fog was crawling in from every gaping hole in the building. It was almost as if someone was directing a giant dry-ice machine at the building.
We walked through the long corridors cautiously; at every turn there were broken pipes and exposed cladding to be found. Everything was damp, possibly due to the 100% humidity and low-hanging cloud that wrapped around the building like a damp blanket, but the floors were completely flooded and goodness knows where all that water had come from or why it had collected there. Silence was all around, apart from the dripping pipes. It was incredibly intimidating and I was afflicted with an unshakable nervousness of the setting having a creepy resemblance to that of a haunted hotel in a horror film.
Despite our jitters, we wanted to explore the entire building and so we climbed up one of the many staircases (the elevator was M.I.A leaving a dangerous, empty shaft) and emerged upon the six-storey high rooftop. The view from up there, so I was told, was meant to be the best view of the extinct volcano’s caldera. However, due to the ridiculously thick fog, nothing was visible past the road directly below. Looking to find the end of the roof was also impossible as again, it disappeared off into the dense cloud.
The only parts of the building left that bore any resemblance to the former five-star hotel were the wooden frames around the grand ground floor doors to the elevator and the near-intact sign at the front of the hotel that with all of its letter, should have read Monte Palace.
I subsequently discovered the secrets to the story of the hotel’s undoing. Having initially been built in 1989, the 14,000 square-metre hotel consisted of 80 bedrooms, 2 restaurants, multiple bars and a nightclub. Surrounded by 50 hectares of natural vegetation, including a significant amount of the beautiful Japanese conifer cryptomeria, the luxury hotel was built in a dream location with half of the hotel bedrooms favouring unbeatable views of the Atlantic ocean, and the other half overlooking the beautiful lakes of the Sete Cidades caldera. At that time of the late 80s/early 90s, the remote island was not on the radar as a popular holiday destination, and due to the lack of tourism, Monte Palace sadly declared bankruptcy just 19 months after its grand opening. Ironically, it won the Best Hotel of the Year award in the same year that it closed down.
In 2017, Level Constellation, a Chinese real estate developer acquired the property with plans to restore it, having already invested 70 million euros into Portugal by developing urban rehabilitation projects on historic buildings such as the hotel. Let’s keep an eye out and see if they manage to restore the magnificence that once was where this is now nothing but a sombre skeleton.
If you enjoyed this piece and want to hear about another abandoned Portuguese building off the beaten track, click here to read my article about Palácio da Comenda!
To see more of my photographs of Monte Palace and Palácio da Comenda, click here.