Madeira – Portugal
Madeira Islands, Portuguese Arquipélago da Madeira, a safe haven from today’s modern society and just a short traveling distance from most European major cities; the island offers superb accommodation, fantastic scenery and an escape from all that is wrong with the coastal mass-tourism. The capital Funchal is renown as much for its food as it is for its clean, crime-free streets (Madeira Funchal Vacation).
Madeira: archipelago of volcanic origin in the North Atlantic Ocean, belonging to Portugal. It comprises two inhabited islands, Madeira and Porto Santo, and two uninhabited groups, the Desertas and the Selvagens. The islands are the summits of mountains that have their bases on an abyssal ocean floor. Administratively, they form the autonomous region of Madeira. The regional capital, Funchal, is located on Madeira Island.
MainzMadeira Island, the largest of the group, is 34 miles (55 km) long, has a maximum width of 14 miles (22 km) and a coastline of about 90 miles (144 km), and rises in the centre to Ruivo Peak (6,106 feet [1,861 metres] above sea level). The greater part of the interior above 3,000 feet (900 metres) is uninhabited and uncultivated; communities of scattered huts are usually built either at the mouths of ravines or upon slopes that descend from the mountains to the coast.
In such a naturally welcoming environment, balance and well-being are taken for granted. Madeira offers various tourist complexes and accesses to the sea with prime conditions for leisure boating and scuba diving. The island of Porto Santo, in particular, is the ideal place to escape from stress and undertake a thalassotherapy programme, or a beach holiday combined with a spot of golf.
As the capital of the island, the city of Funchal really is central to life on Madeira and where the highest concentration of hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions are located. It is compact enough to see in a day and has amazing architecture, a colourful market in the old town where locals buy fresh fruit and fish, thrill-seeking activities such as the toboggan ride, and some great restaurants. A highlight is the interesting street art in Rua de Santa Maria. The doors along this street have been given to local artists to paint and some display sculputres too.
The Madeira Cable Car is one of Funchal’s most popular sightseeing attractions. Passengers are taken on a 15-minute “flight” over the Madeiran capital and up into the surrounding hills. Specially designed cabins afford outstanding 360-degree views of the town below, the dramatic mountain landscape, and a shimmering blue Atlantic Ocean. At its highest point, the cable car glides 560 meters above sea level. Departing from the esplanade near the Zona Velha, passengers can alight at Jardim Botânico or continue towards Jardim Tropical Monte Palace, the final destination. From here, a novel way of returning to the city center is by the Monte Toboggan.
Funchal is an excellent base to explore southern Madeira and is home to many of the most popular attractions on this island, such as the 15th-century Sé (Cathedral) on the Rua do Aljube, and the rather splendid Monte Palace Tropical Gardens (Jardim do Monte Palace). The Botanical Gardens (Jardim Botanico) are especially close by and in nearby Caminho do Meio.
Levadas are irrigation channels typical to Madeira. It is a natural beauty for nature hikers to hike along the Levadas. They still bring water from the mountains, meandering through lush mountain vegetation. Ramblers can follow their curves for hours. The scenery is beautiful and Madeira’s Laurisilva forest – the world’s largest laurel forest, is a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site. Make your way to the mountain top for a wonderful eyeful of views of the coast.
An interesting fishing village next to tall cliff faces and a sheltered harbour, Camara de Lobos was a favourite holiday destination of wartime prime minister Winston Churchill and is located just a short distance to the west of Funchal, standing on Madeira’s southerly shore. Camara de Lobos is always a hive of activity early in the morning, when the fishermen arrive with their bountiful catch, after a long night at sea. An afternoon stroll along the harbourfront and rocky beach is hard to beat.
About four kilometers northeast of Funchal city center is one of Madeira Island’s greatest tourist attractions, the Botanical Garden. Draped over the slopes of the Quinta do Bom Sucesso estate, the garden dazzles with its rich and diverse sub-tropical flora. Thousands of Indigenous plants, trees and flowers share the grounds with other exotic species from around the world. A manor house that used to belong to the estate’s original owners is now the Natural History Museum, which is situated near the entrance. The western edge of the garden affords spectacular views across Funchal bay, and a novel way of reaching the estate is by the Teleférico do Funchal cable car.
One of the most impressive experiences in Madeira Aquarium is being able to plunge into 500,000 liters of salt water, diving with sharks, rays, morays and hundreds of other fish. Prior to diving into the aquarium, you are taken by an experienced instructor into an external, natural seawater pool, where you learn how to handle the equipment and to breathe under water. Friends and family not participating in the dive can watch from the other side of the aquarium glass and take photos.
The mountain settlement of Pico do Arieiro is little more than 35 km / 22 miles to the north of Funchal and embodies much of the island’s volcanic character. The mountain peak itself is almost 1,800 metres / 5,900 feet in height and is Madeira’s third tallest, being accessed along a scenic road towards Pico Ruivo, although hiking trails are available if you have the time and inclination. Those who reach the very top will be able to enjoy great views across the village of Curral das Freiras, Pico Ruivo and also the famous site known as the ‘Eagle’s Rock’ (Penha d’Aguia).
Funchal’s cathedral was consecrated in 1514 and is a functioning religious building. Its rather austere façade belies a rich interior that features an early 16th-century gilded altarpiece and richly carved sanctuary. A fabulous ceiling of white cedar with ivory inlay further heightens the ornate Gothic woodwork. Its knotwork style blends Moorish and European architectural elements, and is one of the finest examples of its kind in Portugal.
The cathedral remains a focus of Funchal society, and while it’s free to enter, sightseeing should be timed between church services.
Porto Moniz is to be found on the far north-westerly coast of Madeira and reaching this fishing village will take you along a winding cliff road, with spectacular ocean views and vertical drops. When you arrive at Porto Moniz, you will discover a village with a surprisingly sheltered harbourfront, complete with picturesque cottages and cobblestone alleyways, appearing quite unchanged by time.
In the village of Porto Moniz, in the North West part of the island, you can find natural salt water swimming pools. These are framed by volcanic rocks that keep the sea water – replenished at high tide – cool and refreshing.
Madeira is one of the best locations in the world for dolphin and whale watching. There are about 80 species of cetaceans world-wide and 29 of these can be seen in Madeira year-round. There is a 90 per cent chance that you will see at least 1-2 species of dolphins, which will playfully swim around the boat, and, if you are lucky, you may even come across a family of whales. Make sure you take your camera, suncream and a waterproof jumper.
Santa Cruz is sited on the eastern side of Madeira and has become the island’s third-biggest parish, after both Funchal and Camara de Lobos. There are a number of reasons why Santa Cruz is such a popular part of the island, with the Ribeira da Boaventura bathing complex always drawing tourists and featuring two pools, a number of sun decks and a lengthy esplanade. However, it is the recently opened Aqua Park attraction that is now drawing the biggest crowds to Santa Cruz, with its fast water slides, lazy river and exciting toboggan rides.
At 589 meters, the Cabo Girão Skywalk is the highest cliff skywalk in Europe and second highest in the world (after the Grand Canyon at 1,450 meters). Since the construction of the glass-floored platform in 2012, you can now step into the abyss, looking down at the sea. With 1,800 daily visitors, the Skywalk is one of Madeira’s top tourist attractions.
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