Madeira Island Vacation Travel Guide | Expedia
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Madeira Island Vacation Travel Guide | Expedia

Pushed by volcanic forces four miles from
the sea floor and a mile into the warm trade winds of the
North Atlantic Ocean, are the dramatic cliffs and spires of Madeira. A place of legend since Roman and Viking seafarers
first gazed upon these cliffs, Madeira’s fertile slopes were eventually
claimed by Portugal in 1419 and settled soon after. The volcanic activity may have settled down
millennia ago, but the island’s rich soils and spring climate
means Madeira explodes in lush vegetation all year round. Madeira’s capital, Funchal, was named after the wild fennel which once
carpeted its hillsides. Situated on the island’s southern coast and with a population of just over one-hundred
thousand, this is the island’s only true city. Madeira may be closer to Africa than it is
to Portugal, but in Funchal, the textures of Lisbon are
never far away. Walk streets paved with patterned stonework that evokes the spirit of Portuguese culture
and 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 finest
exhibits 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 to
the 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 flower
beds centuries in the making. As Funchal developed in the 1800s, wealthy residents moved further up the hillsides
to escape the noise and smell of the bustling port. If you’re seeking a little serenity, ride the cable car to Monte Palace Tropical
Garden which features olive trees dating back to Roman times,…tranquil Japanese
Gardens,… and mosaics depicting great moments in Portuguese
history. While Madeira’s formal gardens are impressive, it’s often the more practical plots that
steal the show. From Funchal, head west along the coast to
the neighbouring town of Câmara de Lobos, where grapes and bananas ripen on terraces, …vegetable fields cling kto the edges of
cliffs, …and the fruits of sea dry in the salty
breeze. 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 glass
cliff-walk, the highest in all of Europe. And yes, those are crops down there; Madeira’s farmers will plant wherever the
soil is good, and the growing conditions at the base of
Cabo Girão are the most highly prized on the island. You’ll find plenty of colossal views just
a fifteen-minute drive east of Funchal too. At Garajau, follow the steady gaze of The
Sacred Heart Statue out to sea, and watch divers far below enjoying the undersea
gardens of the marine reserve. If you feel like joining them, ride the cable
car down to the clear waters below. While Madeira certainly can’t lay claim
to the world’s sandiest beaches, its dramatic cliffs, warm waters and coastal
towns more than compensate. Just around the corner in Canico, Reis Magos Beach is the perfect place to chill
out and enjoy a little reflexology. You’ll find plenty of places to cool off
in neighbouring Santa Cruz too. After your swim, follow the promenade beneath
the battlements of Fort São Fernando, past palm trees and pastry shops and into
the whitewashed embrace of the old town. Madeira’s modern ring road and tunnel system
string together coastal towns and beaches, each one a little different from the last. If you’re looking for the island’s sunniest
spot, head to Ponta do Sol. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, relax in a café in the old sugar town of
Arco da Calheta and enjoy a homemade honey cake. And if the rumbling sound of breakers echoing
off the cliffs is your idea of relaxation, spend a night or two at Paul do Mar. While Madeira’s south coast offers the best
sunshine, the north coast offers plenty of drama and
adventure. Feel the power of the wild Atlantic in the
natural swimming pools of Porto Moniz. From the town of Seixal, hike the levadas
into Madeira’s mist-covered interior. While at Sao Vincente, descend into caves and lava tubes and learn
about 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 landscape
becomes even more extreme. Less than an hours drive from Funchal is Pico
do Arieiro, Madeira’s third highest peak. Even at this harsh altitude where the views
stretch away forever, vegetation finds a home amid the nooks and crannies. From here, experienced hikers can head off
along the knife-edged trails to even higher peaks, …the same peaks that guided Portuguese explorers
to Madeira six hundred years ago. When those explorers first stepped ashore
on Madeira’s southern shores, they dropped to their knees in grateful prayer
and the outpost of Machico was born. Just a few decades later, church bells echoed
off 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 carpets
and 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.


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