Explore Madeira

Madeira Travel Guide

Most people have heard of the Portuguese island of Madeira, but not many know exactly where it is. Located more than 600 miles (966km) southwest of Lisbon, and off the west coast of Morocco, it is a mere speck in the vast Atlantic Ocean. Madeira, along with its sister island of Porto Santo, is actually the summit of an undersea mountain, rearing up with craggy cliffs from the warm blue Gulf Stream waters in one of the deepest parts of the Atlantic. It features one of the world's highest ocean cliffs, soaring 1,933ft (589m) above the sea, which presented a forbidding sight to the ancient Portuguese mariners who first discovered the island archipelago in the 15th century. In fact Porto Santo and Madeira were the first 'new worlds' that were colonised by Henry the Navigator in his quest to explore the world.<br /><br /> Madeira is tiny, just 13 miles (21km) wide and 35 miles (56km) long, and has no beaches, but it does have an Eden-like beauty with its rich volcanic soil having turned it into a botanical wonderland and agricultural treasure house. Most of the indigenous thick forest was destroyed in a fire created by the first Portuguese colonialists to clear it for farming. Today however, the fragrant island blooms with colourful masses of orchids, bougainvillea, frangipani, wisteria and geraniums. Fruit and herbs grow in profusion on the hillsides and in ravines, and the mountain slopes are terraced with orchards and vineyards. The island has been termed a 'floating garden'.<br /><br /> Madeira's most famous export is its fortified wine, and with nearly 14,000 plots, there is a variety to try. Vineyards like Fajã dos Padres and Silva Vinhos offer tours and tastings, and the Funchal Wine Walk is a good way to get a taste of this historical delicacy without leaving town.<br /><br /> Madeira is accessible by air, mainly from Lisbon to the airport near the capital, Funchal. There is no regular passenger ferry to Madeira but cruise ships regularly dock here, bringing thousands of visitors to the island each year.<br /><br />

Frederico de Freitas Museum

Address: Calçada de Santa Clara, 7 Madeira

Admission: Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 12.30pm, and 2pm to 6pm

Telephone: 91 220 578

Named for the Madeiran lawyer who amassed the fascinating collections on display as a hobby, the Frederico de Freitas Museum in Funchal houses a vast array of decorative Turkish, Moorish and North African tiles, as well as about 2,000 mugs, trophies and vases. Besides these highlights the de Freitas collection also includes Madeiran artefacts, porcelain pieces, religious sculptures, ancient sacred paintings and Chinese and North African metal and woodwork. The museum is a treasure trove for antique lovers.<br /><br />

Sao Vicente Caves

Address: Madeira

Admission: €8 (adults), concessions €6 Daily 10am - 7pm

Telephone: 291 842 404

Beside the river at Pe de Passo are the Sao Vicente Caves, a series of lava tubes left after an eruption that occurred about 400,000 years ago. These volcanic tunnels extend for about 3,281ft (1,000m) and can be explored on a 30-minute tour. The caves feature formations like lava cakes, volcanic stalactites and erratic blocks and give a sense of walking through the bowels of the earth.<br /><br />

Madeira Cable Car

Address: Caminho das Babosas Madeira

Admission: Round-trip single fare is €15 (adults), €7.50 (children), concessions available Open daily from 10am to 6pm

Telephone: 291 780 280

One of the favourite diversions in Madeira's capital, Funchal, is to ride the cable car from the Parque Almirante Reis in the old part of the town up to the scenically beautiful village of Monte in the mountains above the city. The journey takes about 15 minutes and ends at the cableway station near the Monte Palace Tropical Garden.<br /><br />

Funchal Cathedral

Address: Rua do Aljube Madeira

Admission: Free; donation suggested Monday to Saturday 7am to 1pm, and 4pm to 7pm; Sundays 8am to 8.30pm

Telephone: 291 228 156

In the heart of the historic part of Funchal stands the cathedral (Sé do Funchal) which is the most impressive of Madeira's religious edifices. From outside the simple rough white stucco and brownish basalt is not all that impressive, but after entering through the Gothic portal there is plenty to admire. The ceiling, for instance, is Moorish carved cedar inlaid with ivory, and behind the Baroque altar are paintings by Flemish and Portuguese artists.<br /><br />

Whale Museum

Address: Caniçal Madeira

Admission: €2 (adults), free for pensioners and children under 18 Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 12pm, and 1pm to 6pm

Telephone: 91 961 407

On the East coast of the island of Madeira, in the little fishing village of Canical, the Whale Museum chronicles the rise and fall of the whaling industry that was a vital part of the island's economy for many decades, right up until 1982. The exhibits include photographs, hunting implements, a life-size whale model, a fishing boat, and objects carved by local fishermen from the bones and teeth of whales. The Madeira Whale Museum is currently closed for renovations, and information is not available as to when it will re-open.<br /><br />

Porto Santo

Address: Madeira

Madeira's sister island, Porto Santo, lies 24 miles (39km) northeast of its larger sibling and was actually discovered before Madeira itself. In 1418 Portuguese mariners Joao Goncalves Zarco and Tristao Vaz Teixeira stumbled across it while running from a storm. Unlike Madeira, Porto Santo is rather bleak and barren, but its southern coast is bordered by a lovely five-mile (eight km) stretch of beach fringed with soft golden sand, which, together with its temperate climate, has turned it into a popular holiday resort. The main town on the island is Vila Baleira, which was visited by Christopher Columbus. There is a scenic park in the town, some cafes and pretty cobblestone streets lined with stucco houses.<br /><br />

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