The beautiful island of Madeira is part of Portugal.
It lies in the Atlantic Ocean, 470 miles to the west of Morocco and 300 miles north of Tenerife in the Canary Islands. It therefore enjoys a wonderful warm climate the whole year round.
For centuries, it was a particular favourite amongst British aristocratic travellers wishing to escape British winters. This was long before travelling and winter breaks became the norm for less wealthy folk.
Madeira, [Portugese for “wood”], is often described as a “Floating Garden”. Due to the luxuriant greenery and abundance of wild flowering shrubs that can be seen there.
It is a rugged, extremely mountainous, highly picturesque island, roughly rectangular in shape and measuring about 30 miles in length by 10 miles wide.
The highest mountain on this extinct volcanic isle is Pico Ruivo, which is 1862 metres, or 6060 feet, above sea level.
Coaches can carry visitors up very winding mountain roads to over 5000 feet. It is not an experience enjoyed by those of a nervous disposition, me being one of them! Although the views from the mountains on a clear day are breathtakingly spectacular!
Due to the height of the mountains, their peaks are sometimes shrouded in mist or low cloud. This provides Madeira with valuable water for irrigation, as well as everyday household use.
The hard-working Madeirans have, over the centuries, created a fantastic network of “Levadas” or irrigation channels alongside narrow paths, to carry valuable water from the highest peaks to the much drier valleys and coastal villages way down below.
The levadas are a fantastic feat of engineering and a tribute to the Madeirans dogged determination to make the best of their island.
It is quite humbling to think of the heroic effort that must have gone into the creating of these levadas on the most difficult steep terrain imaginable, using the simplest of hand tools to break up the volcanic rock.
The Madeirans of old must have been as nimble as mountain goats and very tough!
Today, the levada walks are amongst the favourite tourist attractions of Madeira, and one of the prime reasons that thousands return, year after year, to this gem of an island.
The scenery of the Madeiran mountains and rugged coastline is truly spectacular, particularly when the shrubs and trees are in flower.
The beautiful “Bird of Paradise” flower, or strelitzia ‘is a firm favourite with visitors, who buy them in their thousands from the colourful flower shops.
The capital of Madeira is the attractive port of Funchal on the south coast. It is a lovely, quite elegant, historic little city with fine, centuries-old Portugese colonial architecture.
It has far more character than the modern resorts of the the Canaries. More than half Madeira’s 350,000 population are active around Funchal during the day, making it more than a little busy with traffic!!
The centre of the town is at sea level, but there are steep hills all around as one travels in from the coast. This makes for a very picturesque location, with palm trees and little banana plantations dotted between the pretty whitewashed buildings with red-tiled roofs.
It is a firm favourite with the passengers of the many cruise liners that call at the wonderful harbour, which has very deep water, just off-shore.
The passengers love the historic Portugese architecture and narrow cobbled streets, lined with a wonderful selection of good quality shops, restaurants, bars and cafes.
Visits to the beautiful Se Cathedral, colourful botanic gardens and Museum of Madeira wine, are extremely popular with tourists.
Another of their favourite relaxing past-times is an evening stroll along the sea-front promenade to view visiting cruise ships or the expensive yachts, that often call in for provisions as they sail to the Canaries or even across the Atlantic.
A cable car rises from Funchal Old Town to Monte Village, offering panoramic views.
Monte Palace Tropical Gardens has orchids, hydrangea and strelitzia mingling with lush tropical foliage. A traditional toboggan run down the steep hill, through the cobbled streets brings you back down into Funchal.
The modern part of Funchal exudes cosmopolitan charm and effortless sophistication. There are at least seven 5-star hotels here, including the legendary Reid’s Hotel, famous for its afternoon teas (which is where I stayed).
There are also several good quality 4-star hotels and an exclusive casino with its wonderful floor shows.
Outside Funchal, the tranquil village of Canico with its lovely little square, surrounded by relaxing restaurants and bars is a nice place to visit.
The views from the area are stunning. The Palheiro Golf Course is not far away.
There are also stunning views from Cabo Girao, the world’s second highest sea cliff, whilst on the north coast, Santana, where houses have triangular thatched roofs, is a very pretty place and worth visiting.
When it comes to Madeiran food, espada or scabbard fish from some of the deepest water fished by man, is a must! Don’t be put off by the rather fearsome appearance of this fish, it is delicious!!
Caldo Verde, a Madeiran soup made from cabbage and potato, is a popular dish, as is chourico, a spicy sausage. Bolo de mel, or honey cake, is the most well-known pudding here and is a speciality of the island. It is particularly enjoyed by sweet-toothed diners who do not bother counting calories!!
In any case, who cares about calories whilst on holiday? Why not enjoy yourself and have an extra glass or two of sweet Madeiran wine to round off your meals?