Updated: Feb 10, 2021
By Mark Blezard
Volcanic forces formed Madeira, pushing it up from the seabed of the Atlantic Ocean 4 miles below. The island has been a place of legends since the early days of Roman and Viking explorers.
Madeira was eventually claimed by Portugal in 1491, deemed a great prize given its fertile hills, enriched by the former volcanic soils. Settlers quickly followed.
Madeira, otherwise known as the 'flower garden of the Atlantic Ocean'.
Madeira's rich soils and perpetual spring climate means that the island explodes in lush vegetation all year round.
The capital of Madeira, Funchal, was named after a wild Fennel which once carpeted the South side of the island. Funchal is the island’s only true city, with a population of just over 100,000 residents.
Madeira may well be closer to Africa than Portugal, but the texture and ambiance are truly Portuguese and, in many cases of Funchal, very much of Lisbonian feel. Pretty much all walkways are built out of black & white patterned tiles, typical of Portuguese culture and pride. No matter the modern-day infrastructure requirements (pipes, cables, drains, etc.), any building work always results in a perfect reconstruction.
When sightseeing, you can explore century old churches and buildings, which have survived pirate attacks, earthquakes, Atlantic storms, and even German U-boat attacks.
Funchal offers many excellent, and informative, museums. However, for nature lovers, the real sights start just above the city with the many levadas (mini water canals that feed the city from the hills above), the Botanical Gardens, and even the Monte Tropical Gardens. These are just a few of the fantastic sights within a mile or two of the capital. And it doesn’t stop the further you travel up and out of Funchal. A few miles further you have Palheiro Gardens with its many paths that weave between thousands of exquisite, exotic flowerbeds that are the product of centuries of work.
Further West of Funchal, Camara de Lobos is the most beautiful fishing village surrounded by banana plantations and agricultural terraces that cling to the cliffs above. This was the favoured painting spot for former British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill.
And then, for contrast, just an hour’s drive away is Madeira’s third highest peak, Pico do Arieiro, at almost 2 km above sea level! Here you can see around the whole island (weather permitting) and view the very mountains that guided the explorers to the island hundreds of years ago.
Each Spring, the Madeirans decorate their towns and villages with beautiful floral displays, in thanks to the richness of the soils and the fertility of the island. It is a popular time for visitors and a ‘must do’ for botanical lovers. However, there is never a bad month on which to enjoy this wonderful island.