The Garden Island of Madeira


The delightful volcanic island of Madeira sits 310 miles west of the coast of Africa and is a 90 minute flight from the Portugal mainland. The island of Madeira, along with nearby Porto Santo Island, was probably the first discovery of Henry the Navigator in the early 1400s. Its location yields mild winters and warm sunny summers, leading to a popular destination all year-round for visitors.

The main city on Madeira is Funchal and it is located around the port which is  frequented by passing cruise ships. The land rises steeply inland shaping great views from most locations. Even the most inaccessible mountainsides are covered with terraces which all have grape vines growing on them. Madeira is well known for its sweet fortified wines which can be sampled at some of the historic wine cellars.

Madeira’s climate also makes it ideal for growing exotic flowers, hence its nickname as the Garden Isle. Indeed, the streets of Funchal are lined with colorful flower stalls, each selling beautiful fresh flowers such as the bird-of-paradise (strelitzia) and heliconia which can be professionally boxed for transport home.


Things to Do on Madeira

There are many unique and exciting things to do on Madeira. Monte “toboggan rides” down the steep cobbled streets are one of the most exhilarating and unique experiences. Couples sit in wicker loveseats on wooden runners which are waxed. Two straw-hatted guides with ropes run alongside or ride on the back and deftly steer the chair down the steep streets above Funchal in a ten minute ride! It is a most exciting and crazy ride which all visitors will enjoy spectating or trying for themselves.

The gardens are among the big attractions to Madeira and some of the best are the Funchal Botanical gardens and the Jardim do Monte Palace which are the magnificent gardens of the former Grand Hotel.

Madeira is ideal for walking along the levadas which were aqueducts built to carry water down to the agricultural areas on the drier south side of the island. They now provide around 600 miles of scenic paved trails with stunning scenery.

The roads around this lovely island climb up steep hills, through tunnels and negotiate hairpin bends making the scenic drives one of the most popular things to do on Madeira. One of the most popular places to visit is the Cabo Girao which are the world’s highest ocean cliffs and offer dizzying views down to the sea 590m (1935 feet) below.

There are several beaches on Madeira such as Paul do Mar and Ponta Pequena which are sandy and offer ideal surfing conditions. Madeira also offers challenging golf courses, all with superb sea and mountain views, snorkeling, scuba diving, bird watching, shopping and exploring the small villages inland. There are also opportunities to go sailing, whale and dolphin spotting and sport fishing. Take a cable car ride or see the island from a hot air balloon or helicopter. The nightlife and things to do on Madeira are quite exceptional and are sure to enhance any visit.

Food and drink in Madeira

Madeira has some fine local and international restaurants, particularly in Funchal. Fish and seafood are the most common local dishes. Bread soup is a local delicacy along with “espetada”. The Madeira wine makes a wonderful dessert wine to round off any meal and is also often used for cooking. The five-star Reid’s Palace Hotel is world-famous for its afternoon teas which are taken on the terrace overlooking the harbour.

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