An area of beautiful isolation, Madeira is actually a group of islands, with Madeira Island itself being easily the largest and most commonly visited of them. Located off Africa’s west coast close to the Canary Islands, Madeira is a popular year-round destination for a relaxing sun holiday.
Affectionately nicknamed the “floating garden” or the “Pearl of the Atlantic”, Madeira is astonishingly beautiful, its rolling hills dotted with lush green forests and deep river valleys. Madeira is actually most famous for its countryside, and mostly attracts hikers and those who love the outdoors.
With Madeira being so cut off from both mainland Europe and Africa, it has developed an ecosystem very much of its own, meaning that some of the birds, butterflies and flowers found here are unlikely to be discovered anywhere else.
Boasting a rich history and stunning natural beauty, it’s hardly surprising that cheap Madeira holidays are such a lure for British jetsetters at any time of year. Even at the coldest times of year, temperatures on the island are rarely below 12ºC, so it’s a great place to head if you prefer to travel light and leave the winter warmers at home. With a warm and pleasant climate whatever time you visit, beaches to relax on and historical sites to see, it’s the perfect holiday spot for a travelling group with a broad spectrum of interests.
Madeira’s a peaceful island, but there are plenty of fun activities to enjoy on your holiday. Manmade Calheta Beach offers a variety of watersports, and for golf fans, there are several courses with beautiful sea views.
A unique attraction in Madeira is the intersecting network of levadas which cover the island, small channels that collect water but also serve as guidelines for walkers on hiking trails. For lovers of the outdoors, Madeira holidays are the perfect choice. Everything from mountain walking to scuba diving can be undertaken, with experienced guides always on hand to assist you.
Nature is the name of the game in Madeira, and visiting a protected spot like Garajau Natural Reserve can really give you a glimpse into this. With its fresh, transparent waters, make sure you take some binoculars to get the best view of the local birds and sea life.
As a province of Portugal, Madeiran cuisine has a lot of very distinct Portuguese and Mediterranean influences. Mealtimes are very much a family event and a lot of dishes are prepared with sharing in mind; traditional picada, a dish of small pieces of grilled beef together with garlic, red peppers and potatoes or french fries, was designed to be shared by families eating from one large plate.
Locally sourced black scabbard fish is a real delicacy here too. With its eel-like body and sharp teeth, it might not be the easiest creature on the eye, but locals enjoy its flavour. If you exhaust the fish options, try meat dishes like espetada, which is beef flavoured with garlic and salt before being cooked over a roaring fire. Some diners will even serve it to you on a hook above your plate.
Those with a sweet tooth have much to look forward to as well. It’s is a place where you can have your cake and eat it, with bolo de mel being a dark, treacly treat often containing mixed nuts.
In Madeira, every food offering seems to have a local wine to complement it, whether it’s a full-bodied one to accompany a hearty meat dish, or a sweet and fruity number to go with your dessert.
Though it drives the economy, Madeira has not given way to tourism completely, meaning that weekdays tend to be relaxed and quiet. This is less the case at the weekend, especially in capital city Funchal, where discos are often open until 4:00 am. Everything from club anthems to 80s classics can be enjoyed here, and there is even a casino if you fancy a different scene.