Pushed by volcanic forces four miles fromthe sea floor and a mile into the warm trade winds of theNorth Atlantic Ocean, are the dramatic cliffs and spires of Madeira.
A place of legend since Roman and Viking seafarersfirst gazed upon these cliffs, Madeira’s fertile slopes were eventuallyclaimed by Portugal in 1419 and settled soon after.
The volcanic activity may have settled downmillennia ago, but the island’s rich soils and spring climatemeans Madeira explodes in lush vegetation all year round.
Madeira’s capital, Funchal, was named after the wild fennel which oncecarpeted its hillsides.
Situated on the island’s southern coast and with a population of just over one-hundredthousand, this is the island’s only true city.
Madeira may be closer to Africa than it isto Portugal, but in Funchal, the textures of Lisbon arenever far away.
Walk streets paved with patterned stonework that evokes the spirit of Portuguese cultureand pride.
Explore centuries-old churches and homes which have endured pirate raids, German U-boat attacks, and earthquakes.
Funchal is filled with fabulous museums, but for nature lovers, Madeira’s finestexhibits are found outside.
Set high on a sunny slope over the city, The Botanical Gardens of Madeira showcase the plants which thrive across the island’s diverse biomes.
The gardens feature rare species native tothe island, as well as hundreds more brought here by green-thumbed sailors and settlers throughout the ages.
Just two miles away at the Palheiro Gardens, stretch your legs along trails that wind through sweetly-scented woodlands and exquisite flowerbeds centuries in the making.
As Funchal developed in the 1800s, wealthy residents moved further up the hillsidesto escape the noise and smell of the bustling port.
If you’re seeking a little serenity, ride the cable car to Monte Palace TropicalGarden which features olive trees dating back to Roman times, …tranquil JapaneseGardens, … and mosaics depicting great moments in Portuguesehistory.
While Madeira’s formal gardens are impressive, it’s often the more practical plots thatsteal the show.
From Funchal, head west along the coast tothe neighbouring town of Câmara de Lobos, where grapes and bananas ripen on terraces, …vegetable fields cling kto the edges ofcliffs, …and the fruits of sea dry in the saltybreeze.
Câmara de Lobos is the gateway to Cabo Girão, one of the world’s mightiest cliffs.
Take a deep breath and step out upon the glasscliff-walk, the highest in all of Europe.
And yes, those are crops down there; Madeira’s farmers will plant wherever thesoil is good, and the growing conditions at the base ofCabo Girão are the most highly prized on the island.
You’ll find plenty of colossal views justa fifteen-minute drive east of Funchal too.
At Garajau, follow the steady gaze of TheSacred Heart Statue out to sea, and watch divers far below enjoying the underseagardens of the marine reserve.
If you feel like joining them, ride the cablecar down to the clear waters below.
While Madeira certainly can’t lay claimto the world’s sandiest beaches, its dramatic cliffs, warm waters and coastaltowns more than compensate.
Just around the corner in Canico, Reis Magos Beach is the perfect place to chillout and enjoy a little reflexology.
You’ll find plenty of places to cool offin neighbouring Santa Cruz too.
After your swim, follow the promenade beneaththe battlements of Fort São Fernando, past palm trees and pastry shops and intothe whitewashed embrace of the old town.
Madeira’s modern ring road and tunnel systemstring together coastal towns and beaches, each one a little different from the last.
If you’re looking for the island’s sunniestspot, head to Ponta do Sol.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, relax in a café in the old sugar town ofArco da Calheta and enjoy a homemade honey cake.
And if the rumbling sound of breakers echoingoff the cliffs is your idea of relaxation, spend a night or two at Paul do Mar.
While Madeira’s south coast offers the bestsunshine, the north coast offers plenty of drama andadventure.
Feel the power of the wild Atlantic in thenatural swimming pools of Porto Moniz.
From the town of Seixal, hike the levadasinto Madeira’s mist-covered interior.
While at Sao Vincente, descend into caves and lava tubes and learnabout the volcanic forces which shaped this island.
After exploring Madeira’s underground world, treat yourself to a blast of pure Atlantic air at Ponta de São Lourenço, the island’s eastern-most point.
Follow the path along this narrow peninsula, which dips like a dragon’s tail into the sea, only to resurface again in the far-off deserted islands.
Once you’ve explored the coastline, head to the mountains where the landscapebecomes even more extreme.
Less than an hours drive from Funchal is Picodo Arieiro, Madeira’s third highest peak.
Even at this harsh altitude where the viewsstretch away forever, vegetation finds a home amid the nooks and crannies.
From here, experienced hikers can head offalong the knife-edged trails to even higher peaks, …the same peaks that guided Portuguese explorersto Madeira six hundred years ago.
When those explorers first stepped ashoreon Madeira’s southern shores, they dropped to their knees in grateful prayerand the outpost of Machico was born.
Just a few decades later, church bells echoedoff the newly terraced slopes, forts guarded the town from passing pirates, and mills crushed sugar cane into liquid gold.
Each Spring, the citizens of Machico and towns all across Madeira decorate their streets with floral carpetsand give thanks for their island’s riches and bounty.
Once you’ve bathed in Madeira’s waters, …walked its gardens, …and touched its clouds, you’ll be giving thanks too.