Madeira is a refined and sophisticated holiday destination, set in a spectacular landscape with a wonderful climate.
The top-quality hotels and excellent service mean that everybody feels comfortable and welcome. You’re sure to be tempted by the massages and modern therapies on offer.
Madeira is a tropical island. The Laurisilva Forest, in the Madeira Natural Park, is the largest evergreen forest in the world - a fact that has earned it classification as a world heritage site. Elsewhere the exotic flowers and fruits compete with one another in their variety and color. And then there’s the sea, always blue and visible from wherever you are.
Madeira is a place of beauty, passion and romance.
The Portuguese navigators Tristão Vaz Teixeira, Bartolomeu Perestrelo and João Gonçalves Zarco discovered the island of Porto Santo in 1418 following a storm at sea during which the vessel was deviated from its route along the coast of Africa due to bad weather. After many days adrift at sea, they sighted a small island which they called “Porto Seguro” (safe port), i.e. Porto Santo, as it saved Zarco’s crew from a fateful destiny. One year after the discovery of Porto Santo, they arrived at the island of Madeira, in 1419. The latter navigator is thought to have named it “Madeira” (wood) due to its abundance of this raw material.
Having noted the potential of the islands as well as their strategic importance, the colonization by order of King John I started around 1425. As of 1440 the regime of captaincy is established, naming captain Tristão Vaz Teixeira captain-donee of the Machico captaincy; six years later, Bartolomeu Perestrelo becomes captain-donee of Porto Santo and in 1450, Zarco is named captain-donee of the Funchal captaincy.
The first settlers were the three captain-donees and their families, a small group of people of the gentry, people of modest conditions and some former inmates of the Kingdom. To earn the minimum conditions for the development of agriculture on the island, they had to chop a piece of dense forest and build a large number of water channels (the “levadas”) to carry the water that abounded on the north coast, to the southern coast of the island. In the early days, the fish was the main subsistence of the villagers, as well as horticultural products. At the beginning of its settlement, some agricultural crops such as sugar cane were introduced, which quickly gave the city of Funchal significant economic prosperity. Thus, in the second half of the fifteenth century, the city of Funchal became a mandatory port of call for European trade routes. The Portuguese Crown and the island leaders began to devote themselves primarily to the cultivation of sugar cane and the export of "white gold" to all of Europe, using slaves to work in the sugar plantations and bringing mills from the Portuguese trading posts in Africa, which meant that they had set up in Funchal elements from the most important commercial cities of the Mediterranean and northern Europe.
The economic and strategic interest of the island to the Crown was evident by the constant orders of Flemish painting and sculpture with which the churches and chapels of Madeira were ornamented. The 17th and 18th centuries were marked by the arising of a new culture that would again boost the economy of Madeira: the wine. Thus, following the establishing of trade treaties with England, the port of Funchal became, between 1660 and 1704, a mandatory port of call, attracting the interest of English merchants for the island’s wine, who settled their residence on the island and found numerous shops, leaving their mark on the history and culture of Madeira.
Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries Madeira flourished by the birth of the tourism sector, quickly becoming a reference for the European aristocracy that set temporary residence here, attracted by the island's natural healing qualities. The general conditions of location and the development of routes for the great cruise ships, together with the benefices of its climate, turned Funchal into a major European tourist destination in the mid-twentieth century. In the second half of the century, the huge development of air transport led to the construction of an airport, and the overall refurbishment of the port of Funchal.
One of the greatest tourist attractions of the Island of Madeira lies in its spectacular landscape. Its luxurious vegetation continues to fascinate all those closely drawn to nature. This archipelago, included in the bio-geographic region of Macaronesia, retains a natural heritage of great scientific value, distinguished by UNESCO as World Natural Heritage.
Madeira's indigenous Laurissilva forest, occupying an area of 15 thousand hectares, forms part of this vast layer of vegetation that covers the island. This ancient forest dates back to the Tertiary Era and includes very large trees amongst which is the Til, (Ocotea foetens), the Laurel-Tree, (Laurusnovo canariensis) and the Brazilian Mahogany, (Persea indica). Surrounding the trees are mosses and many other bushes, including heather and ferns.
Amongst the bird life there are rare species such as the Long-toed pigeon, (Columba trocaz) and Zino's petrel or the Madeira Freira petrel, (Pterodroma madeira). In a continuous effort to preserve nature in its primitive form, five different areas of the Region were declared Nature Reserves. These are the Reserves of the Desertas and Selvagens Islands, the Nature Reserve of Rocha do Navio and the Garajau and Ponta de São Lourenço Reserves. Through them, the various endemic forms of flora and fauna are identified. But beyond this invaluable heritage, the island of Madeira also contains a vast array of exotic plants of every form and color, the majority of which originate from various other parts of the world and have adapted here as well as they do in their native environment.
"Macaronésia" is an ancient geographic region in which Madeira Islands are included, and whose unique characteristic is that it preserves the remains of a great forest dating back to the Tertiary Era before the great ice ages. This forest once covered huge extensions of the European Continent. But glaciations led to the massive destruction of the vegetation that once covered Europe. But thanks to the beneficial influence of an ocean climate, these same species were able to survive in the Atlantic Islands. And so Madeira Island survived as the only region in the world where one can find representative samples of this ancient forest. It is well preserved and contains a large number of species.
The Laurissilva forest occupies a coastal strip from 300 to 1300 meters above sea level, and plays a crucial role in soil preservation and the capture and filtration of rainfall on the island. Considered a living relic, almost all of it has been classified as part of the Madeira Nature Reserve, and is deemed a Total Preservation Area. This is a unique rarity which has not yet been entirely quantified. It was awarded the distinction of UNESCO World Natural Heritage, on the 2nd December, 1999. This new position of the Region in relation to the rest of the world, enables it to be seen for its true and specific value, as a biocultural heritage for all humanity.
Madeira is winning international fame as a first class destination for deep water sea fishing. It is one the best locations in the world to fish for blue marlin of over 500 kg, thanks to abundance of tuna and tuna like species in these deep waters.
Beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean lies an interesting underwater world. Diving in Madeira offers unique experiences.
Jet skiing and water skiing are fine ways to enjoy the sea and the Madeira coast, which unfurls itself in green folds around the water’s edge.
If it’s adrenaline you’re after, then the Madeira coast is the place Jardim do Mar, Paúl do Mar and S. Vicente all offer excellent surfing, with waves able to stir even the stout-hearted. Windsurfing conditions are also very good. In 1996 a native of Madeira won the world championship.
Explore Madeira from a different angle. The view of the coast from the sea makes this charming island seem even more beautiful. You can also book a trip to the Desert Islands to see the Atlantic refuge of the Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) or watch other species of marine fauna, like dolphins or, if you’re lucky, even whales.
Madeira Island is ideal for the observation of dolphins, whales and other marine species such as turtles. Swimming in the company of marine mammals, accompanied by teams of marine biologists and certified official guides, offers an unforgettable experience in temperate and calm seawater.
Getting down the rivers of Madeira is a way to see undiscovered and untouched parts of the island, while reveling in the exciting journey through transparent waters. During summer the northern rivers are the most appropriate, as the flows are high and there is enough white water to create an exciting challenge. During winter, however, you may be better of trying the streams to the south, with gentler, quieter flows.
Madeira is distinctive, mountainous terrain and the rich diversity of the landscape make it a unique challenge for even the most experienced orienteering enthusiasts. Madeira has been developing its facilities for this sport in the last few years and already has a selection of maps and a large number of fans. The archipelago's mild climate and excellent hotels have been attracting lots of orienteers from different countries, particularly from Northern Europe, for whom the island is the ideal spot for training.
Birdwatching is an activity that finds, on Madeira, ideal conditions for its practice, whether being the observation of land or sea birds. Birdwatching is a pleasant way of getting to know, in depth, the elements that make up the unique natural heritage of Madeira. The rich biodiversity of the Madeira Islands, which are considered as a Biogenetic Reserve by the European Union and a World Natural Heritage by UNESCO, allows you to observe native species of Madeira and Macaronesia.
So just take a leisurely stroll down the paths and levadas (man-made waterways) and enjoy the discovery of the long-toed pigeon (Columba trocaz), the Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea schmitzi), the Buzzard (Buteo buteo harterti) and the Zino’s Petrel (Pterodroma Madeira).
Should you prefer to make a boat trip, then you will also be able to see and enjoy a large variety of marine birds. There are companies specialized in this area that organize excursions on land or sea, adapted to your preferences.
Madeira’s challenging terrain and mountainous environment typical are a route-planner’s delight. Beautiful landscapes provide the opportunity for deep contact with nature. The northern and the central mountain range are perfect areas for this kind of activity.
Discover the pleasures of riding a bicycle along Levadas and unpaved roads, through forest and mountains, making the best of the friendly landscape.
Riding along easy or difficult trails is the ideal way to get rid of stress. Beautiful scenery is guaranteed all the way.
Like an eternal spring, the Madeira islands are a golf destination par excellence all year round. Two different islands, three wonderful golf courses, and a range of accommodation and leisure activities to choose from to suit all golfers.
Madeira island has a beauty and climate that makes it really unique and Golf has been played on Madeira island ever since 1937. On this island you can play on two different courses, Palheiro Golf and the Santo da Serra Golf Club, with between 18 and 27 holes, both are renowned for their beautiful setting.
On the island of Porto Santo, 40km from Madeira, try the Porto Santo golf course with 27 holes designed by the famous golf player Severiano Ballesteros. It is different from the course on Madeira, with 9km of beach and the clear waters of Porto Santo for you to enjoy after a game of golf.
Madeira has all the facilities it needs to welcome golfers with all handicaps, including a choice of top quality hotels, which transforms the island into a paradise for lovers of the sport who will definitely be fascinated by the challenge of each hole and the scenery around it. Wherever you want to play, it will always be impeccably kept with great views of the ocean, Funchal bay, exotic flowers and deep valleys.
Due to the morphological characteristics of the Island, these activities are very appealing. There are excellent places to engage in these activities such as Pico da Cruz, Madalena do Mar viewing point, and the areas of Porto da Cruz and Prazeres.