The archipelago of Madeira is located approximately 620 miles from mainland Portugal (1 hour 30 minute flights f rom Lisbon) and 310 miles from the African coast. The archipelago includes the islands of Madeira, Porto Santo and the uninhabited islands of Desertas and Selvagens.
Madeira was offically discovered in July 1419 by a group of Portugese explorers who were working for Prince Henry the Navigator while exploring the coast of Guinea. The explorers first spotted Porto Santo and sought formal permission by the Prince to return a year later to claim the island under Portugal’s Crown. Madeira was divided into three provinces by Prince Henry with Funchal now the capital.
Madeira: Guests can choose from a range of four and five star accommodation, from traditional hotels such as Reid’s Palace and Cliff Bay, the meticulously restored Quintas, or state-of-the-art Design Hotels, such as the Asian inspired Choupana Hills and the stark white Quinta da Rochinha.
Porto Santo: Guests can choose from a range of four star hotels, including Vila Baleira, which features an internationally renowned Thalassotherapy Centre and Hotel Porto Santo, which is situated directly on the beach front.
The Madeira Nature Reserve was created in 1982 to preserve two thirds of the island and has been classed as a Biogenetic Reserve accommodating rare species, unique flora and fauna. The Reserve includes areas of total and partial natural preservation, protected landscapes and leisure zones. The main protected areas within the Nature Reserve are: Ilhas Sesertas Nature Reserve, Ilhas Selvagens Nature Reserve, Parcial do Garajau Nature Reserve, Rocha do Navio Nature Reserve. The ‘Laurissilva’ forest is also part of the Nature Reserve and is a living relic of the Teriary Era and home to rare trees, flora and fauna and birdlife. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the forest covers an area of 15,000 hectares on the island.
The volcanic terrain of Madeira and its deep natural vegetation lend itself well to land activities. Hiking into the Laurissilva forest by following one of the 200 levadas takes visitors into the heart of nature. In the summer, abseiling down the hills, cycling, orienteering, horse riding, paragliding, taking a panoramic balloon ride are alternative ways of enjoying the island’s landscape.
In Porto Santo horse riding on the beach, jeep safaris, hang gliding or paragliding over the gold sands and blue water are popular island pursuits.
Madeira offers a choice of pebble beaches. The ‘Golden Isle’ of Porto Santo has 9km of pure white sand. With a mild climate all year round water temperatures are 18 – 23C depending on the season making Madeira and Porto Santo popular destinations for scuba diving, jet and waterskiing, surfing and windsurfing. Madeira’s location in the mid-ocean makes it an ideal destination for whale and dolphin watching.
Madeira’s waters are close to the coast and drop rapidly to more than 300 metres with the opportunity to see a large variety of rare whales and dolphins. The warm water attracts huge blue marlin and tuna. The Atlantic Blue Marlin season in Madeira runs from May to October with the average fish being estimated at around 700 lbs. Most marlin fishermen on the island practise a system of ‘tag and release’ returning the fish unharmed to the ocean after the catch.
The natural elements of Madeira and Porto Santo’s environment make it the perfect destination for the rejuvenation of the mind, body and spirit. The prominence of the sea has resulted in the wide use of thalassotherapy treatments. The abundance of vegetation and flora grown naturally within this subtropical climate results in the popular use of aromatherapy. In Porto Santo the sand itself contains therapeutic qualities to benefit people suffering from rheumatic, psychiatric and orthopaedic diseases. Visitors can choose from quality spa offerings in selected Quintas and hotels.
For the golfing enthusiasts Madeira offers two golf courses, the 27-hole Santo da Serra Golf Club home to the Madeira Island Open Golf Championships and the 18-hole Palheiro Golf Course which is set in the hills to the east of Funchal. The Porto Santo Golf Course was designed by Spanish golfing champion S. Ballesteros.
Signature seafood cuisine such as the Espada Black Scabbard fillet fish of Madeira, tuna steak and limpets with lemon and garlic are enloyed across Madeira and Porto Santo. Espetada – a marinated beef brochette is another official delicacy, and the ritual cooking of the meat during festivals is an enjoyable part of the experience. The espetada brochette is usually accompanied by the traditional fried corn and tasty round flat bread, bolo do caco. The local blue-clawed lobster, cavaco, is a rare specialty. All visitors should sample the local queijada sweet pastry and honey cakes for afternoon tea. Madeira wine is still a very popular beverage to drink as a sundowner.
For shopping, Madeira’s specialities include wicker products, lace and hand embroidered linen, specialised Madeira Wine Lodges and exotic flowers, all of which may be purchased in Funchal.
Madeira International Airport in Santa Cruz is the main gateway to the region and is used by the main European airlines: British Airways, TAP Portugal, Lufthansa.
The Madeira archipelago has several harbours that can cater to small, medium-sized or large vessels. There are well equipped marinas in Madeira and one in neighbouring Porto Santo.
Language: Portuguese. Currency: Euro. No time difference with UK.