Madeira is a strangely peculiar topographical and cultural blip off the coast of Africa, a rich tiny world of rugged mountains and verdant slopes smacked by Atlantic surf. Locals hold a flower, organ, philharmonic, and wine festivals in high regard, and they parade a collection of immaculately maintained family heritage antique vehicles throughout the capital city every year. Their food is typically healthy and rich, and the local air is fresh, humid, and sweet, with birdsong filling the air.
Madeira is almost three times the size of Nantucket in the United States, twice the size of the British Isle of Wight, and somewhat bigger than Singapore. Madeira constitutes an autonomous territory of Portugal, together with the islands of Porto Santo and Desertas, as well as the Selvagens. It is located 550 miles (870 kilometers) west of Casablanca, Morocco, roughly the same distance as Sacramento to San Diego or Geneva to Berlin. It has a semi-tropical climate.
Because the island was covered with wood when navigators first arrived in the 15th century, the Portuguese term "Madeira" means "wood." This hilly island is a delight to visit since it is safe, picturesque, and has a pleasant temperature. Here is how Madeira welcomes most cruisersfrom all over the world.
The island of Madeira, which was richer in natural resources and natural beauty, was colonized first, mostly by agrarians from Portugal's Algarve province; the drier, smaller, sparser Porto Santos wasn't disregarded, but it did play second fiddle to Madeira. Ilhas Desertas and Selvagen are two further (uninhabited) islands in the Madeiran archipelago. In the six centuries since its discovery, Madeira and its main city, Funchal, have developed.
The city of Funchal which is the capital of Madeira rises abruptly from the sea, named for the vast quantity of fennel (funcho) that grew wild. The full effect of this extraordinary geography is most evident when sailing out of the city after dark; the lights of the homes and businesses rise straight up as if suspended in air, twinkling aloft in the middle of nowhere, funneling up from the harbor area to nearly 5,000 feet of mountainous terrain.
It's a breathtaking experience, but that doesn't mean the island isn't equally magnificent during the day. Its position on the Gulf Stream ensures pleasant weather all year; flowers, roses, and bougainvillea stream in wild splendor down the mountainsides.
Madeira's residents are, for all intents and purposes, Portuguese because it is a self-governing "autonomous region" of Portugal (created under the Portuguese constitution). They communicate in Portuguese, participate in Portuguese elections, and observe Portuguese festivals.
Food that celebrates the freshest ingredients, a population that is joyful and gracious, activities that range from vigorous hiking to placid contemplation of nature, and great shopping opportunities for locally made crafts and embroidery await trans-Atlantic voyagers who have Funchal as one of their stops.
Madeira with its rock formation which holds a swimming pool alongside the sea
Despite the fact that Madeira is a self-contained island, it is considered a part of Portugal. For hundreds of years, Madeira's main export has been wine, and the tourist industry has grown in importance throughout time. The region is well-renowned for its production of Madeira wine, which is celebrated with an annual festival. Every year, there are dance festivals honoring Funchal and Madeira's traditions. Madeira is now a premium island resort full of surprises, such as its great natural beauty and distinctive gastronomy. The majority of the population speaks Portuguese, but English is also widely spoken.
As Madeira welcomes most cruisers, you'll be close to the city center when you arrive in port. If you don't feel like taking the bus, there are shuttle buses that will take you farther onto the island. If you don't feel like using the bus, you may take a cab.
Although there are several tourist huts open most of the day when a ship is in town, there isn't much to do directly at the cruise pier. For last-minute purchases of Madeiran hats, embroidered products, almonds, and chocolates, the rates are affordable.
Come on a Madeira cruise with an adventurous appetite since there's lots of native food to eat that you won't find anywhere else. Bolo de Miel, or honey cakes, are a must-try treat. It goes without saying that you should try some of the region's Portuguese wines. Smoked and grilled meats, such as espetadas, or roasted beef coated with salt and garlic, are staples on local menus in Madeira. If you don't want to stick to one sort of food, the island has plenty of Italian and Mediterranean restaurants as well as cafés.
Santa Cruz, a tiny coastal village port that dates back to the 15th century, is one of five local village parishes located just northeast of Funchal. On June 26, 1515, the region was designated as a municipality, and on August 2, 1996, it was designated as a city.
It's a functional port near the international airport that's popular with cruise ships and is a popular tourist destination for Europeans. If you have young children, it is also a fantastic spot to stay in Madeira.
Santa Cruz looks like it was built in the early 15th century, with whitewashed terraced buildings with terracotta tiled roofs, small passageways, and old cobblestone walkways. Churches and chapels dating from the 15th and 16th centuries can be found all over the city, including the municipality's original parish church, which dates from 1479.
Santa Cruz's enormous aqua-park, replete with flumes, slides, a kiddie pool, and all the facilities you need for a fun day out, should keep the kids entertained. The Madeira Theme Park is also a great attraction for both adults and children. It's a unique theme park that's built on science, tradition, and the history of the Madeira Islands.
The exhibition, which is divided into four main themes, employs a variety of multimedia presentations to maintain the attention of even the youngest guests. A lovely garden with a variety of unique plant species may also be found on the grounds.
The beach is connected to a lido complex with swimming pools, diving boards, lifeguards, and a food court, and the beachfront offers a decent range of bars, cafés, and stores.
Local businesses can meet most of your needs, whether you're self-catering and need supplies or just want to window shop for take-home items and mementos. There is nothing in the way of active nighttime entertainment, with the exception of several outstanding restaurants and local pubs for a quiet evening's enjoyment. Funchal is about 15 minutes away by cab if that's what you desire. Santa Cruz offers a diverse range of lodging options, from self-catering flats and complexes to guest homes and hotels.
The whitewashed and red-tiled cottages of the island sprawl along the lush green valley of the Machico River, with cliff-like, forest-clad hillsides on three sides. It also distinguishes itself from many of Madeira's beaches due to its beach area. It took a lot of white desert sand to make Machico's first golden sand beach in 2008. Thousands of tonnes of it were brought in from Morocco and spread over the pebbles.
Long groins reach into the bay, and lifeguards are on duty to keep the water calm and safe for children. The beach promenade is lined with bars and stores, and parasols and loungers are available on the beach. There are lots of 15th-century churches, chapels, and sculptures to see in the main town area, as well as wonderful seafood restaurants, international dinners, and pubs to unwind in the evening.
There are three nine-hole golf courses at Santo da Serra Golf Course, as well as scuba diving on man-made reefs, horseback riding on countryside routes, and whale watching tours for those who want a little exertion with their leisure.
The Whale Museum at Clinical, which chronicles Madeira's history in the whaling industry, is another point of interest. The Solar do Ribeirinho: the ruins of this 17th-century plantation were excavated, repaired, and transformed into a museum in 1998, displaying objects dating back over 400 years.
The Mother Church of Machico (Igreja Matriz de Machico) is Madeira's oldest example of Gothic architecture from the 15th century.
Machico offers a diverse range of lodging options for your Madeira vacation, including self-catering vacation homes and villas, guest houses, single rooms, and three-to five-star hotels.
Calheta, a spectacular location of natural beauty nestled against a background of towering volcanic cliffs on the island's southwest side, is skilfully integrated with a contemporary beach resort and marina.
It was founded as a settlement in 1502, and its Portuguese name means "small cove," which is precisely what you see from the water. Calheta, however, is much more than simply sun, sea, and water sports.
You can find plantations and vineyards all over the inland area of Madeira if you want to spend a quiet day on the beach with a trip to the countryside nearby. Calheta is Madeira's biggest banana, grape, and sugar cane-growing city.
Calheta's parish church, which dates from 1430, is located in the town. Engenho da Calheta, one of the island's only two sugar mills, is located just a few yards from the church. The mill, which is now a museum, still produces honey for the island's favorite bolo de Mel (honey cake) and aguardiente white rum.
You'll discover enough historic chapels, churches, and cathedrals to keep you pleased all around Madeira. Loreto and its 15th-century chapel are only a 15-minute walk from town. The Chapel of the Three Kings, built in the 16th century, is located in Lombo dos Reis.
One of the most popular things to do in the city is to go to the modern Casa das Artes, which is a museum of modern art that stands on a clifftop and looks out over the harbor and beach.
Jardim do Mar, a lively small fishing community along the coast, is nearby, as are the 25 waterfalls at Rabaçal, which flow down over 100 meters into the river canyon below.
For people who want to do more active outdoor sports, there are windsurfing and surfing and kayaks and scuba diving as well as mountain biking, hiking, paragliding, fishing, and a lot of boat cruises for whale watching and exploring some of the smaller islands.
Calheta offers a diverse range of lodging options for your Madeira vacation, including a spa hotel, private rentals, self-catering, guest homes, and family-friendly hotels.
Jardim do Mar, or Garden of the Sea in English, is a charming, tiny town on Madeira's southwest coast. The name comes from the village garden (square), which is alive with colorful wildflowers throughout the spring and summer months, despite the lack of greenery around it.
The flowers can now be seen on balconies, hanging baskets, and pots around the homes and alleys as part of the gorgeous mosaic promenade that weaves its way along the front, and they can now be found on balconies, hanging baskets, and pots around the houses and lanes.
The Portinho, Enseada, and Ponta Jardim are three little pebble beaches near the hamlet, and the sea in the vicinity is a vivid blue. It is a popular destination for people looking for water sports. Because of its North Atlantic waves, it is known as the best place to surf in Madeira. A number of well-known international surfing competitions have been held there over the years.
Low-rise whitewashed structures with red-tiled roofs are strewn about above the seafront. The neighborhood creates a sense of peace and calm, with small cobblestone streets and roads flowing between them, and vineyards and banana plantations dotting the periphery.
The Church of Nossa Senhora do Rosário and the exquisite Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Piedade are also worth visiting for fans of sacral architecture. The black and white Portuguese tiles from the old mill can also be found.
Jardim do Mar may be ideal for those who want to do nothing but rest and relax during their visit to Madeira. There are several self-catering options available, as well as guest homes and private hotels.
Madeira's currency is the euro. ATMs may be found all around the city. Except on Saturdays, when they are open from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. until 7 p.m., monetary exchange centers (kiosks) are open from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. until 7 p.m. Note that banks charge a minimum of 8 euros to exchange money; there is no charge at kiosks, although the rate is significantly lower. Credit cards are accepted in almost all shops, retailers, and restaurants.
Funchal is a generally safe city. However, like in any other destination, caution is advised. At night, Zona Velha (near the cable car) is perhaps the riskiest spot to visit in Funchal, as it is always highly busy due to the nightlife.
Things have already improved significantly for this autonomous area of Portugal thanks to funding and help from the European Union. In 1988, Madeira was still one of the poorest areas in the European Union. It had a GDP per capita of just 39.9% of the European average.
The region is known for its Madeira wine, gastronomy, historical and cultural significance, flora and wildlife, UNESCO World Heritage Site scenery (laurel forest), and needlework craftsmen.
Stunning views may be found as Madeira welcomes most cruisers. Take the cable car up to Monte for breathtaking views of the botanical gardens and this lovely town. There's a lot to like there. Whether Drive down the coast to a place where Winston Churchill painted seascapes, or head out to Cabo Giro's beautiful cliffs for a visit to a charming fishing community.