If you’ve been lucky enough to spend a timeshare week in Madeira, you’ll know why this pretty island appeals to so many people – not least British visitors.
Belonging to Portugal, Madeira is one of a group of islands of which only two are inhabited (Porto Santo is the other).
Madeira is volcanic, with two mountains encircled by high, hilly countryside leading down to steep cliffs that touch the wild Atlantic.
The beauty of Madeira is all about Mother Nature – blue sky, blue ocean and the greenest stretches of hills you’ll anywhere except perhaps in Ireland.
Although Madeira has relatively few historic monuments, its draw is the scenery, with hundreds of shades of green carpeting its panoramic scenery, and it’s also famous for its flower cultivation and flower festivals.
How does it score as a winter sun destination? Madeira’s moderate climate is perfect if you’re not a fan of extreme heat, and it’s rarely cold, either. Although there are frequent showers it rarely rains between June and September. You’ll need a rain jacket for many months of the year – there’s a reason the landscape is so green!
Madeira’s fresh, temperate climate makes it popular with cyclists and hikers, while neighbouring island Porto Santo (which also has its own airport) is becoming famous for its golden sandy beaches.
The Madeira islands are well known for their wine – you can pick up a couple of bottles of Madeira to take home from The Madeira Wine Company and there are plenty of wine-tasting opportunities.
Even though Madeira is a small island in the Atlantic (it’s on the same latitude as Casablanca, so the winters are warmer than in Portugal and the climate is sub-tropical) there’s more to do here than you might imagine. The scenery is dramatic so it attracts a lot of artists and photographers: some say it’s like Bali, while some compare it to Hawaii and the island takes its wildlife seriously – two thirds of the island is national park/UNESCO protected.
In recent years, with more luxe hotels and high calibre restaurant openings, Madeira has been attracting a new following of foodie travellers. Many of the island’s celebrations are closely connected with food, and the fresh produce here is unbeatable, ripened by the sun and fertile rain-soaked earth.
The nightlife is good (although not as happening as in other destinations like Majorca, Ibiza or the Greek Islands) and there’s an electronic music festival every year, while Funchal and the harbour area is a beautiful place to take a leisurely stroll and enjoy sunset drinks.
Porto Santo, Madeira’s smaller sister, offers a beautiful 90 kilometre beach – this island is just 15 mins from Madeira by plane, or two hours by boat, and it’s worth taking a day trip to have a look.
The name Funchal, the capital of Madeira, comes from the Portuguese word for “fennel” and there is quite a lot which grows wild on the island. But one of Madeira’s most important agricultural crops is cane sugar.
Originally, the English popularised Madeira – they were the first to start exporting wine, while brandy (as opposed to sherry) is a British “brand”, created by the English.
When you’re in Funchal, you have to take a downhill “basket ride” – you’ll find yourself sitting in a basket on wheels, “steered” from behind by two Madeirans as you hurtle downhill at a heart-pounding pace. It’s thrilling – Ernest Hemingway loved these rides! It’s the fastest way to get down the hills and see the scenery along the way.
Madeira may have something of a reputation for being the ideal island for the over-60s but that image is changing. It’s a verdant paradise for sports lovers and the music festivals attract a much younger crowd. If you appreciate natural beauty, love food and wine and prefer a temperate climate to an extreme one, you’ll love Madeira, whatever your age.
Last but not least… is Madeira cake really from Madeira? The answer is no. The islanders have their own traditional cake, a “bolo de miel”, a kind of spicy honey cake. Madeira cake was created in England, and originally enjoyed with Madeira wine – so although we now love a slice of Madeira cake with a cup of tea, not wine, that explains the original name association!å