Portugal City Travel Guide: Madeira
Discovered by Portuguese explorers in the early fifteenth century the archipeligo of Madeira lies in the mid-Atlantic roughly between the Azores and the Spanish Canary Islands. The island chain consists of two populated islands: Madeira and Porto Santo and the uninhabited islets of Ilhas Desertas and Ilhas Selvagens.
The lively capital of Funchal reflects much of Madeira's rich history. The main black and white paved square Praça do Município is flanked by many fine buildings including the eighteeenth century Câmara Municipal (Town Hall) and the Museu de Arte Sacra (Museum of Sacred Art) with a collection of Flemish art from the 15-16th centuries, collected during the island's profitable sugar trade with mainland Europe.
Other places of interest in Funchal are the Mercado dos Lavradores (Farmer's Market) - a bustling scene of exotic flowers, fresh fish and local vegetables, the Jardim Botânico (Botanical Garden) on Caminho do Meio, the Museum of Contemporary Art in São Tiago Fort, the 16th century Sé (Cathedral), the Museu de Fotografia Vicentes at 43 Rua da Carreira Funchal (Tel. 225 050) with a fascinating collection of old photographs of life on Madeira and the Quinta das Cruzes, once owned by a rich wine shipping family and full of works of art and priceless antiques.
Driving north or travelling on the cable car from Funchal is the hill resort of Monte, which is often compared to Sintra on account of its fine quintas (palaces), churches, gardens and scenic hill-top location. The Monte Palace Tropical Garden is a favourite destination along with the Church of Nossa Senhora do Monte.
It is possible to return to Funchal on a unique form of transport - a wickerwork sledge (carro de cesto) on wooden runners pushed by two carreiros, or sledge drivers.
Tea at Reid's Hotel overlooking Funchal Bay is a step back in history to savour the traditions of the British aristocracy, who flocked to the island in the 19th century for its mild climate and stayed to foster Madeira's cottage industries of cane furniture, embroidery (bordados) and malmsey wine production.
The British are particularly associated with Madeira wines, which were drunk throughout the old colonies as their taste improved with long sea journeys. Names such as Blandy, Cossart and Gordon are synonymous with the wine and it is possible to visit the wine lodges of D'Oliveiras and Henriques & Henriques both in Rua dos Ferreiros and the Adegas de Sao Francisco (Avenida Arriaga 28).
The island's workers, and the slaves from Africa who came before, them have constructed an intricate network of stone-walled poios (terraces), fed by levadas (irrigation channels) out of the mountainous terrain of the island's interior to produce the vines, flowers and vegetables that make the island so richly attractive to visitors today.
Head into the mountains from the villages of Ribeira Brava or Sao Vicente to see some of the incredible sheer drops.
Madeira's highest point, often shrouded in mist, is Pico Ruivo with an altitude of 1,861 m (6,000ft) and is a hiker's favourite along with trails from Boca da Encumeada and Parque das Queimadas.
The more remote northern side of the island has some interesting villages including Porto Moniz to the west and Santana to the east - famous for its pictureque thatched cottages.
A wide variety of leisure activities are available on the island including 45 holes of golf at Madeira's two courses: Santo da Serra Golf Club and Palheiro Golf Club as well as a casino, sailing, fishing, diving, walking and bird-watching.
View at Cabo Girao, Madeira
Two colorful thatched cottages on Madeira
Posto de Turismo do Funchal
There are flights to Funchal from Lisbon, Porto, Faro and the Azores in Portugal and many cities in mainland Europe (from Amsterdam with KLM, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Madrid, Milan, Munich, Paris) including scheduled, charter and no-frills, budget flights.
It is possible to drive around the island and through the interior using a hire car or taxi.
There are fairly frequent municipal buses in Funchal and less frequent services to the outlying villages including services to Ribeiro Frio, Machico, Faial, Sao Vicente etc.
Cable car, Madeira, Portugal
Sled repairs, Madeira, Portugal
Reid's Palace Hotel Madeira
Book Hotel Accommodation in Madeira
Funchal has a good variety of both local and international restaurants with seafood often a specialty.
Funchal has a good variety of bars which tend to get lively at the weekends. Cafe Teatro (next to Municipal Theatre) is well-known.
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The island of Porto Santo (14 km by 5 km) reached by plane or ferry from Madeira is in stark contrast to its mountainous and lush neighbour 50 km to the south west. The island has little natural vegetation but does have in abundance the golden sandy beaches which Madeira lacks - a 9km long stretch to be precise on the south of the island. The capital Vila Baleira has a museum celebrating Christopher Colombus, who came to the island in 1478 and later married Felipa Moniz Perestrelo, the governor's daughter. There is a scenic look-out point at Portela but the island's main attractions are its tranquility and crystal clear waters.
16 km south east of Madeira are the uninhabited islands of Deserta Grande and Bugio which are now a nature reserve for the islands' birds, seals and poisonous spiders. Boats trips to visit the islands can be made in Funchal. 215 km (135 miles) south of Madeira are yet more deserted islands - the Ilhas Selvagens (Savage Islands) which remain a nature reserve of interest to scientists for their colonies of marine birds.
Funchal Square, Madeira, Portugal
Local football teams in Madeira
Club Sport Marítimo Funchal
Marítimo are a fairly solid member of the Portuguese First Division and the team in red and green stripes have reached the heady heights of playing in European competition.
CD Nacional Madeira
Nacional were promoted to Portugal's First Division in 2002 and the team in black and white stripes have maintained their status since then and appeared in European competition.
Christiano Ronaldo, presently playing with Real Madrid, was born on the island of Madeira.
The average high June temperatures for Portugal is between 22 degrees Centigrade and 26 degrees Centigrade.