Madeira Island, Regions, Culture and Attractions
A tropical archipelago with a wonderful subtropical climate and breathtaking scenery, Madeira is justifiably known as ‘the floating garden’ or ‘Pearl of the Atlantic’. It is located in the North Atlantic Ocean, some 560 miles (900 kilometers) from continental Portugal and about 370 miles (600 kilometers) from the coast of Morocco; an outpost of Europe in the Atlantic Ocean. Forming part of the Archipelago are the inhabited islands of Madeira and Porto Santo plus small groups of uninhabited islands, the Desertas and Selvagens. The Island of Madeira is the largest of them.
Madeira has a variety of rare attractions besides its luxurious blue skies and sea and its imposing valleys and mountains where plant life is abundantly diverse. The Island is famous for Madeira wine, embroidery artisans, 'Bolo de mel', exotic flowers, tropical fruits, striking scenery and its spectacular New Year's Eve fireworks, considered the biggest in the world by the Guinness Book of Records. Add all this to its balmy climate and it’s easy to see why the ‘Paradise Island’ has become the aspirational holiday destination of the 'old world'.
The Portuguese Captain João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira discovered Porto Santo Island in 1418. The following year while trying to settle in Porto Santo they observed on the southwestern horizon a great dark cloud; they sailed and found a beautiful island, which they named Madeira - Island of Woods.
With its relaxed atmosphere and sophisticated life-style, Madeira's cosmopolitan capital Funchal is virtually crime free.
Funchal was declared a city on the 21st of August 1508 the largest city in the Island and now the main centre of trade. It’s situated on the south coast of Madeira and is one of the Atlantic Ocean’s most popular cruise-ship ports of call. Funchal has a rich historical heritage; a bustling colourful city with stunning views of the mountains and with plenty to see and do. An excellent starting point for exploration is the busy vibrant Market “Mercado dos Lavradores” where you can buy a variety of exotic flowers and local crafts, tropical fruits, vegetables and fresh fish. From here visit some of our wonderful museums, monuments, art galleries and gardens. The Sé Cathedral, a landmark located in the centre of the old town was built between 1485 and 1514; it’s one of the few Manueline style buildings still standing.
Take a walk along the seaside promenade to Funchal harbour and enjoy the wonderful coastal views and surroundings over a ‘chinesa’, a traditional coffee in one of the many cafés by the Marina. A longer walk out onto the breakwater will reward with great views of the Funchal ‘amphitheatre’ and stunning mountain backdrop.
THE ISLAND COAST
Away from Funchal, the coasts and interior offer a diversity of landscapes rarely found in such a comparatively small area. Volcanic in nature and blessed with sheer cliffs, blue seas and skies, verdant mountains and the most wonderful flora, Madeira Island is truly diverse. The popular south coast, sheltered from the prevailing trade breezes is the calmest, whilst the rugged north coast is a spectacle of blue, green and white as the relentless Atlantic surf outlines each cliff, bay and cove.
The mountains are sheer and spectacular, their tops sometimes shrouded in mist, a micro-climate all of their own; it’s hard to believe that they are just a few miles from the warm sunny coast. With so many attractions to visit, why not let someone else do the driving and take a luxury coach tour of the most interesting and picturesque parts of the island.
With so much to offer, it's no wonder that Madeira Island appeals to the discerning tourist looking for something beyond the hustle of many a Mediterranean package holiday.
A charming sandy island is not far from Madeira though the two islands are completely different. While Madeira is generally green with a rocky and steep coastline, Porto Santo has a golden colour due to its 9 km sandy beach. The most popular way to get there is by the Ferry although flying is also an alternative.
The Desertas are a group of Islands known as Deserta Grande, Bugio, Ilhéu Chão and Prego do Mar about 22 miles southeast of Funchal. They are now a Nature Reserve and play host to the Mediterranean monk seal, one of the twelve most endangered animal species on earth. Also present here are tarantula spiders (absent on Madeira) and wild goats.
The Selvagens Islands are a Nature Reserve, a group of three small islands, Selvagem Grande, Selvagem Pequena and Ilhéu de Fora. They are 180 miles south of Madeira. In 1971 these islands were declared a Nature Reserve; due to their characteristics we can find a diversity of flora and fauna. With ideal nesting conditions the islands are an important seabird sanctuary sheltering some of the most significant colonies in the world.