From the beginnings of exploration, travelers have described the Ilha Madeira with expressive attributes such as “flower island” and “island of eternal spring.” In fact the archipelago of volcanic origin is located approx. 900 km from Lisbon, approximately 800 km before the African coast. Two thirds of the island is a protected area. Landscapes and nature are just as unique as versatile. For instance you can see the natural “amphitheater” by the bay of Funchal.
Pictorial fishing villages, steep slopes of the volcanic mountains with their stonewalled terrace fields (poisos), deep ravines, valleys, and waterfalls comprise this lovely area. The artificial irrigation canals (levadas), which serve as supply routes today are also used as fascinating hike-tours with a total length of 2.100 km throughout the island. Adventurous zigzag roads on mountain slopes, high above the sea, are bordered with exotic and tropical flowers, plants and fruits.
The geographical position and the gulfstream provide for a mild climate where temperatures never fall under 16 degrees C. The sea is the main supplier for the kitchen of Madeira with delicious sea fruits, juicy tuna and the island specialty, the black sword- fish (espada). The famous Madeiran wine lands annually in the hand baggage of all holiday guests, just as the wonderful embroideries and the orchids of “the flower island”. Madeira has the oldest tourist tradition in Europe.
At Funchal, the capital of Madeiras, natural amphitheaters lie in ranks over the bay. You have to see the main cathedral, a large number of ornate churches, the fortifications and several museums. In the botanical garden there is an exotic blend of tropical flowers that fascinates visitors. Do not miss the experience of the Mercado dos Lavradores (farmer market) with its endless supply of tropical fruits and vegetables.
Many bars in Funchal offer wine tasting of the famous madeiran wines. In the steeped in classic winery Adegas de São Francisco you can learn about the history and production of the wines.
Funchal is a cosmopolitan city with excellent restaurants, good business, bars, discotheques and a casino. 6 km north of Funchal, there is Monte. In former times this was a holiday retreat with beautiful summer residences.
The church Nossa Senhora do Monte is worth the ascent with over 68 levels of terraces. And over Monte lies Terreiro dar Luta. From here you have a particularly beautiful view of the bay of Funchal. Above all, though, is your starting point for an unforgettable vacation experience on Madeira: The departure in a basket carriage. This old style “gondola” is steered down on wooden rails with two drivers guiding down the steep lanes until you hit Funchal.
With its mild water temperatures the sea before Madeira are privy to all kinds of water sports: Water skiing, snorkeling, sport dipping, sailing and high sea fishing. Previously holiday guests have caught big fish from the lake. At the coasts of Jardim do Mar, Paúl do Mar and São Vicente there are fine surfing spots. Windsurfers profit from very favorable wind conditions.
Canoeing down the steep ravines of many rivers, Madeiras holds its unaffected nature throughout the year. But those who would rather have fixed soil under their feet or sport in the air can also find a rich supply in Madeira: Kite flying, paragliding, riding or tennis, are all there.
For the golfers, the island has two wonderful championship courses: In Santo, the Sierra course with 27 holes, is the home to the Madeira Iceland Open Championship organized by the PGA Europe. And Palheiro (18 holes) offers a wonderful view of the bay of Funchal.
Madeira is also a paradise for hikers. Even with difficult routes, you will rarely ever reach a full sweat because of the moderate climate. The most popular hiking-routes are the supply-routes along the artificial irrigation canals (levadas) that cover 2,100 km on the island and lead to all sights worth seeing. Many varied and new routes make this classical nature experience very attractive to people young and old. For those who prefer “a somewhat harder” pace, you can decide to trek the breath-robbing stunning mountain paths selected by the experts.
Câmara de Lobos
The pretty fishing port in Camara de Lobos, with its multicolored painted boats, was a popular motive for the hobby painter Winston Churchill. Today it’s the site for the photographing tourists and painters. Near by the Pico da Torre provides a fascinating view of the port and to the cliff Cabo Girão. With it’s 580m span, it is the second highest precipice on earth. From its viewing platform you can see as far as Funchal.
In the bay of Machico is the capitol of Madeira. In 1419 the Portuguese sailor Zarco first went ashore. Fishermen and tourists share the historical city today. Worth seeing is the chapel Nossa Senhora dos Milagres, the well S. Roque and the fortresses Nossa Senhora do Amparo and S. João Baptista.
Porto da Cruz is located at the 590 m high eagle rock (Penha D’Águia). The high region Paúl Serra is host to over 25 waterfalls with the highest fall at about 100 m.
In the northwest of the island, near this small coastal town, you can find lava rocks and exquisite sea water pools. The travel from São Vicente to Porto Moniz is a spectacular road journey along high cliffs and through tunnels. At times a waterfall can even tend cross the road.
Famous because of its typical unique rooftops, the straw-cover almost reaches down to the ground. And only one step away is the highest mountain of Madeira, the Pico Ruivo (1,861 m), which offers a fascinating panorama.
The islands in the southeast of the archipelago are – as their name says – of humans uninhabited: Protected areas in which sea-birds, goats, poisonous black spiders and monk seals rarely receive visitors, except for the occasional tourist.
Madeiras’ neighbor island Porto Santo is still a “virgin ” island that has barely been touched by tourism.
The island was discovered by Portuguese sailors one year before Madeira. The most famous visitor in the history of Porto Santo was Christopher Columbus. The reason he landed on this island was not necessarily for new explorations, but as a result of being married to the daughter of the governor for a short time. His simple house still lies on the island capital, Vila Baleeira, and is a small museum today.
Madeira has the perfect combination of natural elements that produce the ideal setting to practice all sports throughout the year.
A fantastic array of natural resources come together on the Island of Madeira, enabling you to enjoy a variety of sporting activities all year round.
Naturally there is a broader range of water sports where the most common activities are swimming, surfing, windsurfing, diving, sailing, canoeing or water skiing.
However, with its mild climate and specific geographical formation, this island encourages not only the local population but also those who visit us, to participate in other outdoor activities, such as horse-riding, mountain biking, hand-gliding and paragliding, mountaineering or canyoning.
International and world sporting events take place on the island, such as World Championships of Surfing and Triathlon as well as the Rhythmic Gymnastics International Championship.
It is not by chance that world famous golfers participate every year in the Madeira Island Golf Open – PGA European Tour, or that many famous world drivers exhibit their spectacular skills to thrill the motor racing fans at the Madeira Wine Rally.
The best way to reach the interior of the island of Madeira and enjoy the splendour of its untamed landscape is to follow the footpaths.
The existence of an amazing network of footpaths and primitive man-made irrigation canals, known as “levadas”, will enable the attentive visitor to encounter along the way the Laurissilva Forest of Madeira, an ancient forest classified by UNESCO as World Natural Heritage.
Rare species of flora and fauna exist alongside the 200 or so “levadas” which wind across the basaltic mass of the island. Amongst the bird life found here are the Long-toed Pigeon, Columba trocaz, Zino’s Petrel or the Madeira Freira Petrel ,Pterodroma Madeira, the Chaffinch, Fringilla coelebs madeirensis, and the Madeira Firecrest, Regulus ignicapillus madeirensis. As to the flora, the most characteristic are trees such as Til, Laurel or Brazilian mahogany, as well as unique species of bush, plants and moss.
Be prepared to discover a fabulous natural world during these unforgettable walks, the majority of which are accessible to everyone, although there are various levels of difficulty. It is advisable to consult tour operators and the special publications on this topic, as well as to use appropriate equipment.
If you are genuinely interested in going on one of these walks, we recommend that you contact one of the Travel Agencies or a Tourist Entertainment Firm, which organises Walk Programmes with mountain guides to accompany walkers.
May we remind you that you should never do the walks alone and you should always take drinking water, a snack, a flashlight, wear appropriate footwear and be warmly dressed.
Text from www.madeiratourism.org