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Madeira Island - a remote paradise far from Portugal's shores

Funchal
Photo taken by Ben Salter | flickr.  Funchal

Located far from the mainland shores in the Atlantic, Madeira is often referred to as “paradise” by tourists. Among the reasons for this are the island’s fantastic nature, picturesque landscape and subtropical climate that’s simply perfect for a vacation. At 57 km long and 23 km wide, Madeira, located around 1,000 km southwest of mainland Portugal and 520 km from African shores is the largest island in the archipelago of Madeira. The archipelago also encompasses the nearby smaller island of Porto Santo and the tiny archipelago of Desertas.

In 1419, Madeira was discovered by the Portuguese. In the 16th century, this fertile island became Portugal’s most important producer of wheat. Later, the introduction and widespread cultivation of sugarcane ensured the continuing growth of the island’s economy and population. Grapes were brought to Madeira in the 17th century, soon after to be used for the making of local wine, which became famous around the world, and is now the island’s main export.

Sao Vicente, Madeira
Photo taken by Eric Wustenhagen | Flickr.  Sao Vicente, Madeira

Due to its spring-like weather that lasts throughout the whole year, Madeira is sometimes called the Isle of Eternal Spring. During summer, the average ambient temperature here rarely exceeds 23 degrees and only occasionally dips below 16 degrees in winter. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, the water temperature here is around 18 degrees even during the winter season, reaching as many as 24 degrees in September. Rainy days become more frequent only in late autumn and winter.

Madeira’s climate is very conducive to vegetation, leading to great fruit and vegetable yields. Here you can find small bananas, passion fruit, papayas, mangos, a number of interesting banana-pineapple and banana-passion-fruit hybrids, and different species of flowers – including the orchid, which is now the island’s symbol.

Mole Island lies off Madeira's northwest coast
Photo taken by David Stanley | Flickr.  Mole Island lies off Madeira's northwest coast

Two-thirds of Madeira is a natural reserve covered in vast laurel forests, reminding one of what primeval life might have been like millions of years ago. This UNESCO-protected forest is home to many different species of plants and animals, including endemic ones like Madeira’s Trocaz (or long-toed) pigeon.

Thanks to the island’s warm weather, one can remain active outside year-round. We recommend you visit Madeira’s largest city, called Funchal, which is home to many museums and excellent architecture, and travel by car, bike or foot and discover the island on your own terms. The coastline can be enjoyed not just on the shores, but also on the water from a boat. The island has great conditions for diving, surfing, gliding and watching dolphins and whales.

Calheta beach, Madeira
Photo taken by Petras Gaigalas | Flickr.  Calheta beach, Madeira

As befits a volcanic island, Madeira doesn’t have any natural sandy beaches – rather, its coastline is characterised by countless powerful cliffs and spectacular slopes, washed over by the Atlantic Ocean. Adjoining these cliffs are most of the island’s villages and resorts, their buildings seemingly growing out of mountain terraces. The highest point of Madeira – the Pico Ruivo Mountain – is 1862 metres high.

In the 1860s, Madeira was visited by its very first tourists – mostly wealthy Europeans escaping the harsh winters back home. During the last century, Madeira became very popular especially with the Portuguese, Germans, Brits and other visitors from Europe. The local businesses are more than ready to welcome tourists – luxurious hotels, various tourist complexes and diving clubs abound.

Fish market in Madeira
Photo taken by Thilo Hilberer | Flickr.  Fish market in Madeira

Madeira’s local restaurants are known for their fresh fish-based dishes, while its larger cities, especially the capital Funchal, are characterised by their wild nightlife. More than 10 beaches of these islands have been awarded the Blue Flag. All of the archipelago's resorts have special sea water pools for swimming.

The locals of are very religious, which is attested by the number of churches and religious festivals. The second religion here is football – there’s a reason why one of the world’s greatest football players, Cristiano Ronaldo, hails from Madeira.

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