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WITH ITS historical monuments, enchanting gardens, picturesque villages, amazing landscapes, impressive volcanic caves, rugged coastlines, beautiful natural beaches and breathtaking views, Madeira is the perfect place to escape and unwind.
The Madeira Archipelago actually consists of the islands of Madeira, Porto Santo and the uninhabited islands of the Selvagens and Desertas and lies 600 or so miles southwest of the Portuguese mainland on a similar latitude to Bermuda and Los Angeles. This southern location means that the climate in Madeira is temperate with mild winters – making it the perfect year round destination.
A wealth of attractions
Discovered by the Portuguese explorers, João Goncalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira in 1418, there is much for visitors to see and do around the island. Besides Funchal’s museums, churches and gardens, there are coastal and highland villages and a wealth of spectacular scenery. If you love water sports, Madeira is the perfect destination for you. Try sailing, fishing, whale and dolphin spotting, water skiing or surfing. Diving enthusiasts will love the Garajau coastline, one of Europe’s first underwater nature reserves.
Madeira’s capital, Funchal, is an enchanting town set on a glittering bay against a background of soaring green mountains. Winding cobbled streets meander between elegant colonial-style buildings, nestling into the shelter of the verdant hillside. Funchal’s historic centre overlooks the harbour and features some fine government buildings and stately 18th century mansions.
Highlights include the simple whitewashed Cathedral with its magnificent mudejar ceiling of Madeira cedar wood. Now a museum, the Quinta das Cruzes on Calçada do Pico is the house where João Gonçalves Zarco once lived. The Old Blandy Wine Lodge occupies part of a former Franciscan friary, dating back to the 17th century and offers tours of the cellars and wine-tasting sessions. Or, why not visit the The Madeira Story Centre, Funchal’s latest visitor attraction, where you can learn everything about Madeira’s history and development up to the present day. This spectacular, interactive museum allows the visitor to go back in time on a virtual journey and ‘relive’ in chronological sequence the archipelago’s great historic events, from its volcanic birth 14 million years ago through the times of the Infant D. Henrique to Napoleon and Churchill.
The famous toboggan ride from Monte to Funchal is an exhilarating experience and takes approximately 20 minutes. Madeiran tobogganing was invented as a form of passenger transport around 1850.
The peaceful island of Porto Santo, located 46 kilometres northeast of Madeira, is an idyllic Atlantic hideaway with a nine kilometre stretch of golden, sandy beach.
Vila Baleira is the main town and the site of Christopher Columbus’ house, located behind the church of Nossa Senhora da Piedade. The explorer arrived in Madeira in 1478 and went to live on the neighbouring island after marrying the governor’s daughter. His house, built from rough stone, has been carefully restored and contains a fascinating account of his life, along with rare maps, paintings and engravings.
Santana, in the northeast area of Madeira, comes complete with waterfalls, cobble-stoned streets, lush-green green meadows and plunging ravines, and is without doubt one of the prettiest villages in Europe.
The famous triangular-shaped houses of Santana, with their thatched roofs and wood-panelled interiors are a must-see attraction in Madeira. More than 100 of them still exist, thanks to a tourism initiative to reward the best-kept house.
Calheta is the island’s main centre of banana plantations, vineyards and sugar-cane production. It is also a pleasant place to stopover while driving along the coast road to the north.
The 25 waterfalls at Rabaçal, 10 kilometres north of Calheta, which plunge down the mountains from over 100 metres above are a must see.
Apart from lush scenery and pretty villages Madeira is a paradise for shoppers. The streets of Funchal are full of exciting shops to tempt each taste. There is a strong tradition in embroidery and wickerwork, but you will find modern shops housing international designer collections. Madeira is also renowned for its embroidery, lace, beautiful tapestries and, of course, Madeira wine.
The island’s traditional regional markets were originally set up for selling flowers, however, with time they expanded to offer all kinds of agricultural products and local food specialties, such as bolo de caco bread (steak in Madeiran garlic bread), grilled chicken and wheat soup.
Whatever your tastes, you’re sure to find a great souvenir of your time on these spectacular islands.
Eating and drinking
You can choose any cuisine you fancy on Madeira, but the local traditional recipes are worth trying – join the locals in the small restaurants in the back streets in Funchal where you will find freshly prepared daily dishes at extremely reasonable prices. If you fancy a night on the tiles, be warned, Madeira’s nightlife is fairly laid back, but there are plenty of bars, cafés and pubs to explore and even a casino if you’re feeling lucky!
Lapped by the waters of the Gulf Stream with warm comfortable summers and mild winters, the island of Madeira is an enchanting year round holiday destination with plenty for all the family to do.
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