Described once by Winston Churchill as a ‘floating garden’, Madeira offers a stunning green background and is considered one of Europe’s most dramatically beautiful islands.
Located in the Atlantic, every corner of this 30-mile long island is accessible to explore and for today’s tourist, Madeira is an island paradise. The stepped and forested mountain slopes make trekking a breath-taking experience – made possible by a famous network of watercourses – the levadas. These were created thanks to the magnificent engineering work of Madeira’s irrigation system.
The Levada walks are well maintained, signposted and are perfect for days out. They snake across and around the island, enabling visitors to reach remote and previously inaccessible areas of often spectacular beauty. Visitors can hike through the dense Laurisilva tropical rainforest – the world’s largest surviving laurel forest and a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its biological diversity. They may spot some of the island’s distinctive and often rare flora and fauna. As well as the typical Madeiran chaffinch and firecrest, there’s Zino’s Petrel and the Long-Toed Pigeon... there are ancient laurel and heather trees, and also a tree called the Stink Laurel, possibly not one to picnic under!
Levada Walks and Treks
Levada walks and treks vary from easy to strenuous to dizzyingly difficult. Even on easy trails, it is not recommended to walk alone as sudden mists or changes in the weather can be disorientating and seemingly easy routes can become slippery and treacherous. Difficult routes can be hazardous in all weathers as they can involve negotiating narrow and sometimes crumbling mountain ledges. Guided tours are the ideal solution and local companies have designed walks and treks of various different durations, levels of difficulty and sightseeing highlights.
Often called ‘God’s Floating Garden’ Madeira also offers a multitude of gardens and plants to discover. It’s pretty all year round but especially in the summer when Funchal comes alive in an infusion of colour with the island’s famous flowers springing into bloom providing a beautiful backdrop to the city. There is also a festival dedicated to the flowers which takes place two weeks after Easter. However, whatever time of year you visit there are a wide variety of gardens and parks to enjoy including a fantastic botanical garden and the Monte Palace Tropical Garden, both must-sees.
Funchal is very much worth a visit. It’s a natural harbour city and the capital of Madeira. Wander cobbled streets and winding roads lined with tranquil cafés and fantastic restaurants. Home to a third of the population, it retains a vibrant local charm. Although a small city, it is steeped in culture and history, making it easy to explore the many sights on foot, including the cathedral, town hall, art galleries and market that is open everyday and is called Mercado dos Lavradores. If you are brave enough to have a go, then the Monte toboggan is a must-do. Located at the foot of the Monte church, wicker baskets on rails are lined up waiting for you to take a seat in them. Once sitting in the basket, you hurtle down narrow roads guided by two carreiros... hold on!
Other Places to Visit
• The Madeira Story Centre is located in the Old Town of Funchal and a great place to go to learn everything about Madeira’s history from its volcanic birth 14 million years ago, to the present day.
• The São Vicente Caves shows Madeira’s volcanic past with long stretches of lava tubes formed in an eruption 400,000 years ago.
• Take a cable car ride from Parque Almirante Reis in Old Town Funchal up into the hills to the quaint village of Monte. Spend an afternoon exploring this picturesque village and sampling some local cuisine. Enjoy the stunning panoramic views across the island on your way up.
• 24 miles north east of Madeira is Porto Santo which has many treasures of its own including a rich history involving the visit of Christopher Columbus and a 5-mile stretch of beautiful gold sandy beach on its south coast.
• Try some scuba diving at one of the diving schools in the area to spot creatures like barracudas, monkfish, dolphins and rays. Out to sea, Madeira has some amazing Big Game Fishing grounds only 5 miles away from the harbour with opportunities to catch marlin and tuna. Whale and dolphin spotting trips are also popular.
• Book a wine tasting trip so you can give the famous sweet wine a try and even combine it with a vineyard tour or dinner.
• Visit Santana Theme Park, spreading over 7 hectares of land and is a discovery journey of Madeira combined with fun rides! There is also Santa Cruz Water Park with several pools, a lazy river and lots of slides.