When it comes to the archipelago of Madeira, most people think of the largest island that also bears the name Madeira. It has a population of over 260,000 people, mostly Portuguese settlers, and occupies an area of 741 sq km, or about 93% of the total area of the archipelago. It is located about 970 km southwest of Lisbon, the Portuguese capital, about 56 km southwest of Porto Santo and about 20 km northwest of the Desertas Islands.
Although less popular in comparison with the Canaries or most of the numerous tourist islands in the Mediterranean Sea, Madeira is still well known destination, especially when it comes to more affluent and sophisticated travelers.
It is considered to be a place for people with a taste for life and lovers of good food and drinks.
Madeira is a land of a great variety. Most of the island is occupied by high volcanic mountains reaching to an altitude of 1,862 meters (Pico Ruivo).
Between the mountain ridges descend deep and shady canyons. Small villages and charming towns with traditional architecture are nestled in the mountains of Madeira.
Common sight in the countryside of the island are white two-storey houses with triangular straw-covered roofs.
Most tourists are really impressed by the emerald green gardens and beautiful plants that surround most of these traditional homes.
Madeira Island is covered with lush greenery. For this reason, it is often called the “Island of Flowers”.
Here grow different types of palm trees, ferns, gorgeous hibiscuses, ficuses, figs, citrus trees, olives and whatnot.
In the high mountains that cover the heart of Madeira grows an amazing relict laurel forest, also known as Laurisilva. Because of its uniqueness, it is under the auspices of UNESCO since 1999.
Unlike the neighboring island of Porto Santo, the coast of Madeira is mostly rocky. Beaches are almost completely absent, and the few available are black and pebble.
In Calheta, on the southwest coast of the island, you will find two man-made beaches with fine golden sand. They are made up with sand that was brought from the Sahara Desert in Morocco and from Portugal.
Madeira is a place to offer a lot of fun and entertainment to its visitors, especially when it comes to fans of gastronomy.
Like all the other cities and resorts in Southern Europe, Funchal, the capital of the island, is famous for its numerous cafes and restaurants.
No matter if you are searching for a place to have a dinner at a restaurant with traditional music and dancing or just dream about a cup of coffee on a shady square, this island is a real tourist gem.
Local restaurants can offer you an impressive variety of dishes and delicacies. If you want to experience the most typical local specialities, you should try beef kebab.
Besides being one of the most typical dishes in Madeira, the beef kebab has a great taste that owes to its incredible flavorful sauce.
If you prefer seafood restaurants, however, Madeira will not disappoint you. It offers a huge variety of seafood, but mussels are probably the most popular.
No matter if served as an appetizer or part of the main dish, they are an integral part of the everyday food habits of the population. If you are a traditionalist in terms of alcohol and prefer wine to other beverages, Madeira will be a real paradise for you.
Here you will find a few great types of wine, and most of them are prepared in a way unchanged for centuries.
Some wine producers still maintain the old traditional pressing of grape with feet as the best way to extract juice from the fruits.
If you prefer to drink something different, however, Madeira offers a kind of traditional alcoholic drink called poncha (or ponsha). It is made from sugar cane, lime, honey and various aromatic tropical fruits.
Any culinary tour of the island would not be complete without the pleasure of enjoying a lovely local dessert. The island is famous for its “queijada” – a kind of delicious and appetizing cake.
Its main ingredients are sugar, milk and eggs, but the most important part of the cake is the local cottage cheese.
One of the strangest and most interesting experiences that person can have while on the island of Madeira, is the sledding down the steep streets with toboggan.
This unusual vehicle is a type of sled, and it is made of solid wood. For this reason toboggans are very hard and able to resist high speed.
Each toboggan is pushed usually by two men, dressed in white uniforms, who skillfully take the sharp turns of the capital Funchal.
If you want to climb up the steep city streets, most likely will be quite interesting for you to take the lift. It transports people between the low-lying parts of Funchal and the suburb of Monte, located at more than 560 meters above sea level.
The experience is probably most interesting during the rush hours of the day because you are able to avoid the busy city streets and all the traffic under your feet.
Madeira enjoys a mild and easily tolerated subtropical oceanic climate. Summers are long and bring spring-like temperatures to around 25 – 26°C in August and September.
Winters are short and cool, with pleasant temperatures up to about 19°C. Everything looks always green, and there’s a plenty of year-round flowering trees and shrubs.
Madeira beach season lasts approximately from June to late October – early November (depending on your personal preferences and perceptions of warm and cold weather).
This is the period with daytime temperatures of at least 22°C. Madeira’s high lying areas and northern slopes experience traditionally cooler and much wetter climate, while the south of the island is usually sunny, warm and dry.
The best time to visit Madeira is the height of summer in August and September. Definitely, this is the period to see this place in its best light.
Madeira is the most easily accessible of all the islands in the archipelago. The international airport is located not far from Funchal, in the easternmost part of the island, in the municipality of Santa Cruz.
It serves regular flights to Lisbon and other major international destinations, for example, London, Munich, Brussels, Paris and so on.
Besides taking a plane, the other way to get to Madeira is by ferry. There are regular ferry routes connecting the capital Funchal and the cities of Portimão (Portugal), Las Palmas (Gran Canaria) and Santa Cruz (Tenerife).