A Portuguese archipelago located about 250 miles north of the Canary Islands, Madeira is part of a series of volcanic islands. The first settlements on the island began in the early 1400’s and agriculture was their way of life. By the late 1400’s, they were large contributors to the sugar trade but as sugar production shifted to other countries by the 17th century, Madeira’s most important product became its wine and even to this day it is very well known for its Madeira wine.
Today Madeira is a popular tourist destination for visitors wanting to enjoy a relaxing day walking and absorbing the breathtaking scenery and excellent evening dinners. With festivals throughout the year, Madeira is also well known for its firework show that is recorded as the largest in the world.
The island is filled with beautiful and well maintained gardens showing off a wide variety of flowers, plants and trees with orchid gardens, Asian style gardens and botanical gardens to name a few.
The capital city of Funchal, where your cruise ship docks, is located on the stunning south coast of the island where banana plantations and flowers bloom all year round having the shelter of the lush mountains as a backdrop. Facing the blue Atlantic Ocean, the city is set on a hillside being modern and clean with white washed buildings and red ceramic roofs making it very picturesque. The old cobbled streets are balanced with modern shops, cafes and restaurants making the city exciting as well as interesting.
Usually taking place during the weekend, a visit to the local market is ideal for all your senses and the Funchal market is open every day except Sunday and holidays. You can find anything from rows of fresh flowers, fruit and vegetables, clothing, music, food and beverages.
The coastal promenade links the Lido area of Funchal with its tourist facilities to the pebbled beach at the western end. Lined with palm trees and botanical gardens it has amazing views and great for a walk and with several public swimming pools, including saltwater, you can cool off when you desire.
- Getting around
The best way to explore the capital city of Funchal is by foot. The streets are hilly but even a walk along the level waterfront promenade showcases the beautiful city.
Renting a car to explore the island is a great way to get around but keep in mind the roads can be steep and windy and petrol stations can be rare. European rules of the road apply here and pre-booking online can save you some money.
The International airport is located about 30 minutes from the town of Funchal.
- Beyond Madeira
As Madeira sits mid-ocean where the depths reach over 3000 metres just off shore, it is an excellent place to see dolphins, Fin whales and the very rare Beaked Whales just to name a few. For a day of fun while keeping cool for both adults and children, visit the Aqua Park at Santa Cruz with a lazy river, waterslides and pools.
Located in the charming town of Sao Vincente on the North coast is the Volcanism centre, where the formation of the island began. You can visit the famous volcanic lava tubes allow you to explore for over 700metres and take about 30 minutes to view. This centre also has entertaining while educational demonstrations of volcanic eruptions and the story of how the island was born.
- Local activities
Hiking at Ponta de Sao Lourenco
For an outdoor activity, hiking at Ponta de Sao Lourenco on the eastern part of Madeira offers amazing panoramic views of both the ocean and the interesting volcanic rock formations. It is a nature reserve with may unusual plants and can be a relatively easy hike with a good pair of shoes along stone steps. The entire walk can take several hours so bring water if you plan on enjoying the entire circuit.
Visit one of the few golden sand beaches on the island, Porto Santo with almost 6 miles of sandy beach touching crystal clear waters. Offering snack bars, toilets with showers and some shade provided by palm leafs; it is an incredible place to visit for a day of utter relaxation. The sands are also known for their therapeutic value and are scientifically proven to improve pain caused by rheumatism as well as help the healing process of broken bones.
Look out, Cabo Girao
The sea cliff at Cabo Girao, located on the southern shore of Madeira, quite close to the city of Funchal, is an impressive sheer drop of about 600 metres. With spectacular panoramic views it is a popular lookout point and at the foot of the cliff is surprisingly a small plot of cultivated land. The Chapel of Our Lady of Fatima, one of the most important pilgrim places on the island, built in 1931 is also located here.
- Local cuisine and drinks
Madeira is known for its wine, a fortified wine great for both drinking and cooking. For a great starter try grilled limpets served with garlic butter and a squeeze of lemon, served in a hot pan. Meat lovers will find an array of tasty dishes including marinated and grilled chicken, pork and beef and seafood can be found on most all menus.
- Where you are docked
The cruise ships dock in the centre of the town of Funchal, which is the main harbour in Madeira. There are many restaurants, cafes and shops close by in every direction and it is a great port to get off the ship and explore.
The arrival into this port should not be missed, as it is a picturesque arrival and departure and many ships call here on their maiden voyage.
- Regional weather
Madeira experiences one of the world’s most enviable climates. With seemingly constant sunshine, and never too hot, Madeira is the perfect holiday get-away. That is not to say it never rains in Madeira, it does, but it is refreshing and never for long periods.