325 miles from the African coast and 250 miles north of Tenerife lies the beautiful island of Madeira, which is part of the Madeira Archipelago. Discovered by Portuguese sailors in 1419, this autonomous region has now transformed into a year-round holiday resort boasting 1,000,000 visitors annually. The climate is Mediterranean, but unlike the Mediterranean there is little variation in temperature year-round. Highs of 19⁰C in the Winter rising to the mid 20s in Summer. Rain is something that is never far away, albeit in small amounts, resulting in rich and colourful landscapes. Most people relate Madeira to its famous wine and flowers, but there is much more to this beautiful island.
The capital, Funchal, situated in the south-east of the island is a popular port for ships on their Atlantic island cruises. Surrounded by hills it is well protected from the elements and a mix of colours from the numerous plants and flowers that adorn its many gardens, squares and public places. Well-tended they have that ‘the gardener has just finished’ look, making them the envy of the world. Step into the backstreets that lead to the old town where the pavements are in tiled in mosaic designs and discover Funchal Cathedral. A late Gothic style building started in 1500 and consecrated in 1508. Nearby is the São João Evangelista do Colégio do Funchal Jesuit church with its black wood, white walls and wondrous interior.
Near to the cable car station, a narrow cobbled alley locally named ‘Artist Street’ due to the beautiful painted designs on the front doors of the galleries is worthy of a visit. It is situated on Rue Santa Maria and can be found in the old town. Not only there are pictures for sale, but you may enter one of the many small, desirable restaurants and feast on local dishes and hospitality.
If you have a head for heights, the cable cars offer magnificent views of Funchal. Boarding at Almirante Reis in the old town, the journey will take approximately 15 minutes, giving breath-taking views that can only be gained this way, as your car climbs the 1,837 ft. to the Monte station near the Monte Palace Tropical Garden, at Caminho das Babosas. The adventurous can return to Funchal on one of the famous toboggans that at times can reach 30mph on its downhill slide.
There are several Ho-Ho buses (Hop on/Hop off) operating from Funchal, giving visitors a choice of areas to visit. The ‘Yellow Bus’ operates two separate routes. Tickets cost €13.50 euro and last for 24 hours. See the small towns and villages, the beauty of the countryside, and the hidden coves and beaches. Spend time in the seaside village of Câmara de Lobos where Sir Winston Churchill was inspired to paint the area.
Madeira is an island of ‘shows and festivals’. February/March sees the arrival of Carnival, Madeira’s version of Mardi Gras in Funchal. The ‘Flower Festival’ in May with a parade and decorated floats along the street. Jazz Festival in July, Wine Festival August/September and the spectacular of the year, the New Year’s fireworks display. Cruise ships moor outside the harbour especially for this event which from 2006-2010 held the Guinness World Record for ‘The Largest Fireworks Display In The World’. A beautiful island that should be on everyone’s ‘To Do ‘list.