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Madeira Island, Portugal Is The Premier Island Destination In The World

Visit Madeira Island

Annually, Madeira Island, Portugal is voted by tourism associations the leading island destination on Earth. It's no wonder. Closer to Morocco than Lisbon, the elevated, volcanic island hovers between 60 and 85 degrees year round. There are luxury hotels, food tours, wine tasting, museums, and cruises and flights to nearby Porto Santo Island. Because scientists found that trees and faunas from China, the African continent and the Middle East would flourish here, there are species in both urban and forest areas from the rest of the world. Madeira is home to many microclimates and ecosystems. The best way to experience a few is during a hike of The Levada, a mostly narrowly paved system of agricultural aqueduct drainage dating to antiquity, from which island farmers and villagers sourced their water. Companies such as Adventure Kingdom provide fun and informative guides for the hikes, which vary in moderate lengths. 90 minutes is ideal, and there are breaks, The guides bear snacks and drinks. A jeep tour is quite an adventure via roads that wind overlooks, traverse villages little changed since the 19th century, cliffs, and impossibly steep back streets. You may even see the field where international celeb Cristiano Ronaldo learned football as a boy. The island's airport bears his name.

An great hotel experience in the capital of Funchal is the Quinta da Casa Branca- 43 rooms with private terraces or balconies, an international botanical gardens exemplary of the array of foliage introduced on the island (the plants and trees are captioned with signage), a health club featuring spa, jacuzzi, heated pool, fitness, sauna and Turkish bath, two restaurants, both of which serves plen aire, in room dining, and attentive desk staff. The stately 158 room Belmond Reid's Palace Hotel is like something out of a Graham Greene novel or 007 film, with its 10 acres of subtropical gardens, unbelievably breathtaking views of The Bay Of Funchal and beyond, far beyond- from the dining room's terrace, You would never think "I'm on the first floor". The  world class ambience and service add to the elegance. 

You may tour Madeira by bike, boat, guided jeep, hiking, or all of the above. Haven't had enough of the surreal views? Ride the cable car up to lofty Monte Palace Tropical Gardens, The lift alone makes Madeira the most awe inspiring populated island. Up at the peak of Monte, tourists shop, lunch, take photos, and can take a toboggan-like sledge car back towards the base. Monte almost seems Japanese in its ornate layout. Dine at Nini Andrade Silva Design Center, a chic gallery topped by a stone towered restaurant (more views) that has a tasty menu and enviable wine list. 

If you opt to ferry (two and a half hours) or fly (less than 20 minutes) to sandy, smaller Porto Santo, stay at the all inclusive Pestana Porto Santo, a large, pastel toned resort comprised of family rooms or private guests villas accompanied by swimming pools. Jeep tours are recommended here, and highlights range from dreamlike natural stone formations, to a mockup of a traditional village, complete with cafe, gift  shop and aviary. Grab lunch at Calheta's. Dinner back at the Pestana is either themed Euro establishments which require reservations, or an immense buffet with views of the grounds and poolside. 

Regional food favorites are Bacalhau (codfish in many iterations), a beef sandwich called prego,  or Bolo do Caco, the garlic bread of Porto Santo, peixe espada, which is black scabbard fish, and Espetada- beef on a skewer, and Polvo a la Lagareiro- a hearty serving of octopus. Walk it all off in bohemian Funchal. It won't take long for you to realize why of all the world's many islands, Madeira stands alone.

Bijan Bayne

Bijan C. Bayne is an award-winning Washington-based freelance columnist and critic. Bayne's travel articles have appeared in AAA Horizons, Family Digest, Atlanta Goodlife, Ohio magazine, Arrington's Inn Traveler, and Hotel Executive, and his book reviews have been featured in Washington Post Book World, The Boston Herald, Wild River Review, and The Crisis. He has served as a consultant for film, t...(Read More)

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