Madeira Island Overview
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.
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'.
Madeira's most famous export is its fortified wine, and with
nearly 14,000 plots, there is a variety to try. Vineyards like Faj??
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.
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.