Madeira - Portugal's Most Beautiful Island
Although Madeira is almost 1,000 kilometres away from the mainland, the archipelago is one of the most beautiful places Portugal has to offer. High rocky cliffs, thick laurel forests and a breathtaking volcanic landscape make Madeira a wonderful destination for lovers of nature and discoverers.
Geography - The Portuguese island in the Atlantic Ocean
The archipelago lies on the African Plate in the Atlantic Ocean but like the Azores, it belongs to the Portuguese territory. Portugal's capital Lisbon is over 950 kilometres away. The capital of the archipelago is Funchal. Madeira is an island group consisting of the main island of the same name, the smaller island of Porto Santo and the uninhabited island group of Ilhas Desertas. Although it only has an area of 740 km², the archipelago is divided into eleven municipalities with Funchal, Câmara de Lobos and Machico as the most important ones. The climate is subtropical to mild throughout the year. The average temperature is pleasant 21 °C in summer. In winter, it rains more often than in the warm season.
Nature - The exciting rock and flower island
Madeira is characterised by an extremely diverse and exciting landscape. This has to do with the archipelago's formation. Strictly speaking, Madeira is not an island but one of the greatest volcanoes on earth, whose tip protrudes from the sea and was quickly overgrown with a lush laurel forest. Today this forest only covers 20 percent of the archipelago's area and is protected. In addition, it is part of the UNESCO World Natural Heritage. The Madeirans call it "laurisilva". In the north of the country, you find thick forests, juicy river valleys, mountain bogs and waterfalls. The south, on the other hand, is considerably drier and barren. Nevertheless, the islands blossom colourfully in summer. All towns and natural spaces are decorated with great strelitzia, hortensia and other flowers. Like the Azores or the Canary Islands, Madeira is very hilly. Its coasts are sharp-edged and harsh and steep rocky cliffs protrude from the seabed. The lava flows which once formed the coast can still be seen.
Natural sights - The Island of Everlasting Spring
Madeira is often called the "Island of Everlasting Spring" and it is true that hikes through its lush nature are a good idea at any time of the year. One special sight is not far from Funchal and a real tourist magnet: Cabo Girao, Europe's highest cliff coast. The cliff, which is over 850 metres high, protrudes into the sky almost vertically and requires a head for heights. An attraction which is just as exciting is Pico Ruivo (1,862 m), the highest volcanic peak on Madeira. Using the hiking trails leading up to its summit, travellers need two to three hours to climb this mountain. Once you have arrived, you are rewarded with a spectacular view of the clouds above the island. The second highest peak, Pico Arieiro, offers an impressive view as well. Even beginners can climb it. Paúl da Serra is an eerily beautiful mountain bog. The locals often compare the plain in the west with the Scottish Highlands. Visitors see breathtaking gorges and wonderful waterfalls at a height of 1,500 metres here. Another natural sight which needs to be mentioned is the 400,000-year-old cave system of São Vicente. Lava ducts and stalactites give these caves a special appeal. Not far from them, you find the centre for volcanology.
Culture - The Portuguese maritime nation
The Phoenicians mentioned the island group long before the arrival of the first Europeans. Portugal's sailors only came to the islands in 1419 but they settled them quickly. In the following year, the first houses were built and the age of the Madeirans began. For centuries, especially during the time of the great seafaring into the "New World" or to India, Madeira was an important stopping point. European aristocracy also saw the archipelago's advantages and made it a popular holiday destination. The Austrian Empress Elisabeth ("Sisi") spend considerable time on Madeira to cure her illness. In the 19th century, the archipelago was occupied by the British for a while, who brought the tea culture and the tradition of wine-growing with them. Nowadays Madeira is an autonomous region of Portugal. However, the Madeirans have their own culture, cuisine and language.
Cultural sights - Idyllic island villages and beautiful churches
The capital of Funchal lies in a bay in the south of the island. Besides a wonderful botanical garden full of exotic plants, it accommodates the historical pilgrimage church of Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Monte, which the locals decorate with colourful petals. Machico is Madeira's second biggest town and an important pilgrimage site. The inhabitants swear by the "Chapel of Our Lord of Miracles" and the sanctity of the parish church from the 15th century. The smaller island of Porto Santo can be visited by ferry or by plane. It is a quiet, rural idyll with scenic country villages. The island's main attraction is the former residence of Christopher Columbus. In the north of the main island, you find the town of Santana. It accommodates the typical Madeiran triangular houses with their thatched roofs and generously planted house entrances. The coastal town of Porto Moniz is the northernmost point on the island. Besides beautiful churches and excellent fish restaurants, holidaymakers enjoy the unique natural swimming pools, which were created by lava flows in the middle of the sea.
Experience - Madeira wine and cable car rides
Popular Madeiran food is black scabbardfish and Madeira bananas. The latter are grown on vast terraced fields next to wine. In addition, you find the fish soup caldeirada, the skewered beef espetada or the delicious Madeiran honey cake bolo de mel on every menu. The wine from the archipelago is not only delicious but also well-known. Different types are exported into the whole world. Travellers are advised to taste the dessert wine Malvasia and the liqueur wine Malmsey on a tour through Funchal's wine cellars. The wines are popular souvenirs in addition to basketry and embroidery. There are great shopping facilities in Funchal and Madeira's nightlife mainly takes place here as well. One casino, several night clubs, bars and discos offer entertainment. Holidaymakers can relax in one of the many spa hotels, which leave nothing to be desired. Another worthwhile experience is a cable car ride from Funchal into the higher situated, classy district of Monte.
Activities - The attractive offers of the archipelago
Besides the harsh volcanic coast, Madeira offers stunning sandy beaches. The most popular one is called "Golden Beach" and is located on the island of Porto Santo. Visitors who want to follow the traces of the former sailors can board the Santa Maria. The cheerful pirate crew regularly sets off to new expeditions with the historical sailing ship from the 15th century. Surfers and divers can pursue their hobbies on the archipelago too. Due to the warm Gulf Stream, the water temperature is never lower than 18 °C, not even in winter. People keen on angling enjoy catching Atlantic blue marlins, tuna and swordfish on a deep sea fishing tour. Animal lovers can set out to sea to watch whales and dolphins. A worldwide unique experience is a ride on the traditional "carro de cesto" ("basket cars"), which were already described by Ernest Hemingway. The basket cars are pulled from Monte down to Funchal at a good pace. The exciting landscapes on the islands are a paradise for mountaineers, mountain bikers and hikers. In addition, you can also run along the serpentine mountain roads by Jeep.
Thanks to the mild climate, Madeira can be travelled at any time of the year. It is more rainy in winter then in summer. The islands can be reached by plane or on a cruiser.
Madeira is the ideal destination for lovers of nature and adventurers. Far out in the Atlantic Ocean, the archipelago promises tranquillity and relaxation. In addition, it offers a variety of exciting leisure activities which make your trip an extraordinary experience.