Trips to Madeira

Our wonderful holidays to the Madeira Archipelago are all based on the small but incredible island of Madeira.

Madeira, the largest island of the archipelago, is a small piece of paradise situated in the North Atlantic Ocean. The smaller islands include, Porto Santo, the Desertas and the Savage Islands and each island within the archipelago has its own charm and character, however, Madeira itself is the main attraction.

Known for its infamous Madeira wine, volcanic peaks and pristine pebbled beaches, Madeira promises a diverse and spectacular landscape with an enticing sub-tropical climate.

Named the ‘Island of eternal spring’, Madeira is shrouded in fragrant bougainvillaea, frangipani and orchids, which create a colourful and picturesque landscape. The towering mountains, volcanic black pebble beaches and rocky coves provide the perfect setting for activities such as hiking, boating and wildlife watching.

As a Portuguese Archipelago, Madeira has a prominent culture and heritage, with exquisite fresh local cuisine, delectable wine, juicy tropical fruits and a passion for flowers, gardens and fruit trees. The island is brimming with colour and it has its own annual flower festival, which is held each spring. The festival exudes colour and light, with bright costumes, traditional dancing, concerts, fragrant flower carpets, exhibits and parades, transforming the island into an enchanting spectacle.

Located close to Northern Africa, the pristine Atlantic shores are often teeming with marine life. This provides ample opportunity for whale or dolphin watching, in addition to snorkelling from hidden coves and secluded beaches. The stunning and diverse scenery also allows for hiking of all levels, whether that is strolling along the numerous Levadas (mini canals high up in the mountains) or journeying to Ponta de São Lourenço, a nature reserve in the eastern part of Madeira and home to some wonderful volcanic rock formations, unusual plant species and great views of the Atlantic.

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Incredible landscapes, wonderful wildlife and exciting cultures

The Archipelago of Madeira is located 520 km from the African coast and 1000 km from Europe. The island lays atop a shield volcano which has risen 6 km from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean on the Tore Underwater Mountain Range, creating amazing peaks and ridges. Thanks to the volcano, the island is surprisingly mountainous with peaks reaching 1,860 metres.

A history of volcanic activity has produced a fertile landscape with ancient sub-tropical rainforests covering much of the island. Large parts of this forest still remain and it has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Perhaps the best way to enjoy the panoramic and dynamic landscape of Madeira is to take a Levada walk alongside the various water canals, which were created from the early 16th century onwards as a means to irrigate the crops on the lower ground using the plentiful water from the mountains. Thanks to the construction of these Levadas, people can enjoy a huge variety of walks, journeying through the mountains to the fields and towns below. Often the Levadas wind along some of the most spectacular scenery on the island and the views are incredible.
The island is also a prime spot for cycling, horse trekking, kayaking and jeep tours, as well as boat trips to hidden coves and nature reserves. Even though the island is relatively small, it is incredibly varied in landscape and the only way to appreciate its true beauty is to explore as much as possible, which is why we aim to include a variety of activities for you to enjoy.

Madeira’s climate is similar to the Mediterranean, with pleasant temperatures all year round and warm sea waters. The summer months, including August, can see daytime temperatures of up to 25°C whilst the winter months of January and February can often see daytime temperatures of up to 17°C. April and May are perhaps the most pleasant months to visit, as the oncoming spring brings to light the diverse variety of Flora which covers the island. Daytime temperatures in May can reach up to 20°C, which provides the perfect setting for the abundance of hiking trails surrounding the island.

The island is surrounded by the Atlantic and it is in the middle of a prime migratory route used by numerous species of both whale and dolphin, which means that Madeira has become an ideal location for cetacean watching, even providing the chance to snorkel with dolphins in the sea. Search for bottlenose and Atlantic spotted dolphin, as well as the short-finned pilot, sperm and humpback whales, as you sail through the ocean. Furthermore, thanks to its migratory position, as well as its natural lusciousness, the island is brimming with birdlife, which plays an important part in the ecosystem of the archipelago.

As an autonomy of Portugal, Madeira has strong Portuguese traditions, as well as British influences. Portugal lost control of the island briefly to the British during the Napoleonic Wars and the remnants of the impressive colonial architecture still remain in the island’s capital city of Funchal. After being returned to Portugal in 1814, Madeira was eventually granted political autonomy on 1st July 1976, following the democratic revolution of 1974. This date is now celebrated as Madeira Day.

Madeira is a small, charming island and thus the people are warm, hospitable and closely integrated. As a predominantly catholic region, Madeira is known for the numerous festivals that are held throughout the year, particularly in summer. The Madeiran wine festival is held in late August and celebrates the age-old production and cultivation of this infamous local wine.

In terms of tradition and popularity, the springtime flower festival brings the city of Funchal to life in an array of magical colours and pleasant aromas. There is an abundance of impressive flower displays and a children’s parade where each child places a flower file onto a vertical surface called ‘the wall of hope’ in the municipal square. In addition, there are numerous open air concerts and folklore dancing groups, which create a breathtaking and carnival-like atmosphere throughout the year.

Fresh food and delightful drink

Madeira’s location in the Atlantic Ocean has produced a long-established fishing trade and thus fresh, locally sourced seafood is part of the daily diet for most locals. Espada, which is a black scabbard fish, is perhaps the most popular choice on the menu and comes with a variety of different options including banana; the perfect, revitalising accompaniment after a day of hiking. Tuna is also served in abundance and is usually prepared in Madeiran style over an open fire, which creates a lovely taste. Sumptuous plates of mussels, clams, prawns and swordfish can be found in most restaurants and cafes and the freshness is incredible.

Meat dishes also play a prominent role in Madeiran cuisine. The most popular of these dishes is known as espetada - a Portuguese dish traditionally made from large chunks of beef, garlic, salt and bay leaf which are marinated in traditional Madeiran wine. They are then skewered using a bay laurel stick and left to grill over smouldering wood chips. Such meals are usually served with fresh local bread known as Bolo do Caco and often hung on their skewers above the table, ready for you to enjoy.

Almost every shop and market on the island is filled with local fruits, vegetables, sweets, herbs and spices and if you have time, the main market in Funchal is a wonderful place to marvel at the smells and colours that the island produces; perhaps you’ll even want to haggle for a bargain or two!

For avid wine enthusiasts, Madeira is a great place to explore. Perhaps the most famous, Madeira wine is a fortified wine produced on the islands and it dates back to the age of exploration in the 15th century. This wine is produced in a variety of styles and is generally consumed as an aperitif or dessert wine. It is unique due to the estufagem ageing process, meant to duplicate the effect of a long sea voyage on the ageing barrels through tropical climates. This process hastens the mellowing of the wine, which is then exposed to air in order to oxidise it, creating a tawny, port-type appearance.

Madeira also boasts a thriving coffee culture and the capital city of Funchal is littered with quaint cafes filled with coffee-seeking locals, so be sure to soak up the culture and enjoy a cup or two, watching the world go by and experiencing life as a local.

Image credits: Madeira Promotion Bureau, Francisco Correia, Visit Madeira
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