The Azores, owned by Portugal but lying in the Atlantic Ocean about 850 miles West of the mainland, is one of the prettiest places I had ever seen. The island we docked on, São Miguel, is the largest and greenest of the nine islands making up this archipelago, filled with lush rolling hills, sweeping mountainous landscapes and turquoise lagoons in volcanic craters. In amongst this picture-perfect setting, imagine my shock horror (in a good way) when I discovered that São Miguel is also home to the decaying ruin of a hotel. Not only that, but this place is easy to find and 100% possible to visit. Although it might a bit of an unusual Azores activity, exploring the abandoned hotel on São Miguel island was one of the highlights of my visit.
The opening (and closing) of the Monte Palace Hotel
1980s glam in all its glory
Back in the era of shell suits and shoulder pads, aka The 1980s, travelling all over the world wasn’t yet a big thing; especially not to somewhere as obscure as the Azores. But the construction of the majestic Monte Palace Hotel went ahead anyway, in a prime location up high overlooking the village of Sete Cidades and its twin lakes, one blue and one green- and in 1989 the hotel opened and became the first 5 star hotel in the Azores. A mammoth structure, as well as its 83 rooms and suites, the Monte Palace was home to several conference rooms, restaurants, a nightclub and a hairdresser for all those hairsprayed 80s perms which were all the rage back in the day, and the owners were confident that with such unparalleled luxury in a location as breathtakingly beautiful as this, they were pretty much on to a winner.
It turns out: they were wrong. Alas.
Not only is the island of São Miguel completely isolated, but the location of the hotel itself- on top of an actual dormant volcano- was so far away from anything, that barely anyone came to stay. The hotel was also so high up that the surrounding areas (which, it’s true, are stunning) were often shrouded in mist; who wants to look out onto the inside of an actual cloud every day for seven days straight when they’ve paid for a room with a view?
So, in 1990 after not even two full years of being open to the public, the Monte Palace Hotel shut its doors and officially closed for business. Sad times, you guys. Until 2010 a lonely security guard and his dog patrolled the building, but eventually even the funding for that dried up; the hotel was left to be gradually taken over by the nature that surrounds it.
Exploring the abandoned Monte Palace
My pal Dima had offered to drive a few of us to some of his favourite places on the island in a hire car, so obviously we leapt at the chance- and when he mentioned that we’d be stopping at an abandoned hotel I was 100% well and truly up for the idea. After exiting the port of Ponta Delgada, we headed further and further uphill, sunshine and sheep fields eventually giving way to pine trees and damp air. When we pulled into the car park of the Monte Palace, I was rather confused. This looked nothing like a hotel to me, albeit an abandoned one. If I’d have had to offer up a suggestion of what the building was, I’d have definitely gone down the ‘concrete nuclear bunker’ route, myself. The squat structure wouldn’t have looked out of place in a communist city centre somewhere in Eastern Europe.
When the hotel was designed, they wanted something that wouldn’t detract from the nature that surrounds it…it had to blend in with the landscape, essentially. I get what they were aiming for, but as the building has decayed over the years, it’s become something of an eyesore for the locals. Imagine a stone temple overrun with vines and moss somewhere in SouthEast Asia, or in the middle of an Indiana Jones film, but replace the temple with a concrete brutalist multi storey car park, and that’s pretty much the image I was getting from the exterior of the Monte Palace hotel.
It was all very bizarre. But I was loving it.
Inside, the building is even stranger. Green-streaked balconies overlook a central atrium where presumably the reception once stood, and at one end a slightly-too-small spiral staircase leads up to the other floors. Some rooms have walls which are completely bare, stripped back to concrete and splattered with graffiti, and others are half-covered with peeling wallpaper or old broken tiles. Old pipes dangle from the ceiling, coated in green and black streaks. It’s obvious that the being-in-a-cloud situation has really affected this place. There’s a feeling of dampness everywhere, and the carpet squelches with every footstep you take.
There weren’t many other people inside the building when we visited, and the atmosphere was mildly spooky; it felt like being in a ruined version of The Shining’s hotel, and would be the perfect location for filming a horror movie. I would definitely not be up for visiting at nighttime…or alone.
The Tale of the Princess and the Shepherd Boy
Ironically once the security guard presence was gone, the hotel started attracting many a visitor, so all the glass from the windows was taken out in an attempt at damage control from broken shards to intrepid explorers. This means that once you get into the the individual hotel bedrooms on the upper floors, the views which once would have been scuppered by layers of grime on the glass are now completely open to the outdoors. We were lucky enough to visit on a crazily clear day, and were able to see right the way down from the rim of the luscious green crater to the two lakes below.
Legend has it that the green lake and the blue lake of Sete Cidades were formed from the tears of a princess and a shepherd boy. Pretty cool, you’ve got to admit.
Antília was a young princess who in classic princess style was an absolute beaut and all round good lass. (You never get ugly old princesses in fairy stories, do you?) Her father the King had become oddly possessive after the Queen died, and decided the princess was so exquisitely wonderful that she was forbidden from leaving the castle grounds. Princess Antília was having none of it, so with the help of her nurse she began to sneak out every day while the king was having his siesta. She was drawn to the sound of a shepherd playing a flute in the hills, and would go back every day to listen to his music.
Obviously the pair fell in love, and eventually the shepherd plucked up the courage to ask the king for his daughter’s hand in marriage; but the king was outraged and forbade the two from marrying, or even seeing each other ever again. Quite the harsh one, that king. The princess obeyed her father but met with the shepherd one last time to say goodbye; they were both so devastated at the thought of being apart forever that they cried enough tears to fill two whole lakes. The princess, whose eyes were green, cried a river of green tears which ran down the hillside and formed one lake, and the shepherd, whose eyes were blue, cried a blue river of tears, which ran down the hillside and formed a blue lake beside Antília’s.
And that is how the story ends. What a sad, sad situation.
The Monte Palace Lives On
If you fancy a visit to the abandoned Monte Palace yourself, you’d better get a move on, pals. Rumour has it that the building has recently been bought by a Chinese company who want to redevelop the concrete shell into something magnificent, so before too long I’m sure it’ll be back in business. Maybe now that international travel is the norm, it’ll be a more successful enterprise.
IF YOU WANT TO VISIT THE MONTE PALACE
- To get to the Monte Palace, head for Sete Cidades, then follow signposts to Vista do Rei viewpoint. The hotel is up the road on the right hand side, opposite the viewpoint.
- You can only really visit if you have a hire car. We went to a hire car office in Ponta Delgada and were able to get a car without pre-booking.
- Driving distance from Ponta Delgada to the Monte Palace Hotel is around 30-40 minutes.
- As a crumbling, ruined building, you may have already guessed that it’s technically probably not allowed; although as a fairly well-known location for urban explorers, plenty of people go on in anyway. Enter at your own risk, and consider bringing a torch if you want to explore properly. As the hotel is basically a massive concrete block, I wasn’t too concerned about anything collapsing on my head but that’s not to say that it would be completely impossible; who knows?
- I arrived on the island of São Miguel by cruise ship, but it’s also the home of the Azores’ busiest airport. Flight time from mainland Portugal to São Miguel is about 2 hours 15 minutes.