Once visited, never forgotten. It’s little wonder that the enchanting island of Madeira attracts more repeat visitors than any other part of the country. Blessed with a spectacular volcanic landscape and subtropical climate, it was discovered by Portuguese navigators in the 15th century.
Rising like a green miracle from the Atlantic off the Moroccan coast, some one thousand kilometres south-west of Lisbon and the rest of the mainland of Portugal, Madeira has been a holiday destination since the end of the 19th century.
But Madeira is mostly synonymous with its rich, fruity wine of the same name, which has been made on the island for hundreds of years. Visitors to Blandy’s Wine Lodge can buy vintage Madeira from every decade as far back as the mid 19th century, while the oldest surviving bottle dates back to 1772.
The capital, Funchal, is an enchanting town set on a glittering bay against a background of soaring green mountains. Its historic core overlooks the harbour and features some fine government buildings and stately 18th century mansions.
Visitors shouldn’t miss a tour of the botanical gardens located on the edge of the city, after which we suggest the famous Monte toboggan ride back into town.
West of the city and rising to a height of almost 600 metres is Cabo Girão, the world’s second-highest sea cliff.
The rest of the island is easily reachable from Funchal, including the characteristic triangle-shaped houses at Santana on the north coast, and the secluded deep-valley location of Curral das Freiras, where nuns sought refuge from invading pirates in the mid 16th century.
Tourists travelling to the neighbouring island of Porto Santo will find a long sandy beach and the house where Christopher Columbus lived prior to setting sail for America. He married the governor’s daughter in 1479.
Besides being known for their healing qualities, the beach and surrounding waters of Porto Santo are ideal for all types of water sports, including windsurfing and deep-sea diving.