Just off the coast of Morocco is the tiny Portuguese island of Madeira, also known as the Islands of Eternal Spring, or the Garden of the Atlantic. Originally settled in the 1400s by Portuguese sailors, Madeira today draws in over a million tourists every year, many who come for the island’s perfect weather, rich culture and breath-taking natural beauty. We’ve asked our resident Madeira expert, Monarch Airline’s Social Media Executive Catrionna Grant, to give us the lowdown on the best of the island.
Follow the levadas
Madeira has over 2,500km of levadas (irrigation channels primarily used in farming) that take you to some stunning parts of the island, previously inaccessible by car. Dating back to the 16th century, the levadas criss-cross the mountains, and weave through the farmland, vineyards, fruit orchards and banana plantations.
My favourite levada, Levada das 25 Fontes, is in the Valley of Rabacal. When walking along this levada, you come to the Risco Waterfall. From the cliff face which towers above you, 25 natural springs cascade into a small lake.
Some of the levadas are best visited with a qualified guide, as the terrain can be difficult and weather can change quickly. The levada walks have different difficulty levels, so make sure you check before you go. You can find more information about the levadas at www.madeira-levadas.info.
Try the wine
Madeira is famous for its local fortified wine, usually served dry as an aperitif or as a sweet dessert wine. Typically, it is a rich amber colour with undertones of caramel and nut.
Head to the Madeira Wine Institute to learn about the history and governance of Madeira wine, then try out some of the island’s best with a guided tour and tasting at the 17th century Blandy’s Wine Lodge. If you can’t get enough, stock up on some great aged Madeira and ports at Diogo’s Wineshop.
Visit the gardens
With Madeira’s year-round perfect weather, you’ll find stunning botanic gardens and lush green parks everywhere – the two best are in Funchal, the island’s capital city. Spend a day at the Jardins Do Palheiro, a huge public park surrounding the Palheiro Estate, hotel, golf course and village. These extensive gardens are home to many tropical plants, as well as a unique collection of camellias, hibiscus and bougainvillea that flower most of the year.
The Madeira Botanical Gardens are equally impressive, with more than 2,000 different varieties of plants, as well as local parrots and parakeets. Don’t miss the Teleférico do Jardim Botanico, the on-site cable car that takes you over the Jo?o Gomes Stream Valley and offers panoramic views over all of Funchal.
The Teleférico do Funchal also offers stunning vistas over the terracotta roofs of Funchal and even more beautiful gardens, including the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens and the Monte Municipal Park. You’ll also find the Museum of Semi-Precious Stones, Church of Our Lady of the Mount (Nossa Senhora do Monte), and the Fountain of the Virgin (Fontenário de Nossa Senhora do Monte) here. The best part: you can then take a toboggan ride back down the hill to Funchal!