Wines of Spain: Visit Madeira Island

Madeira is only about 30 miles long and 10 miles wide, but for a small island it offers a lot of variety, with everything from lush woodlands and gardens to deep canyons and dramatic cliffs. Although a part of Portugal, the island lies in the Atlantic Ocean, about 520 miles off the Moroccan coast. Madeira is a popular stop for cruise ships, and whether you are here for just a few hours or you are spending a few days here, you will find plenty to see and do in this island paradise.

And it’s affordable too. A quick search on Flybe shows that you can fly there at a very affordable rate. Always check for coupons before booking flights or hotels.

The island enjoys a mild sub-tropical climate, with temperatures ranging from around 17 degrees C in February to around 23 degrees C in September, making it a popular vacation destination all year round. The highest rainfall occurs between October and March, especially on the northern part of the island. Madeira is in the same time zone as the UK, regardless of the time of year.

Most visitors to the island make their base in the modest capital of Funchal. The town was founded in 1425 and officially became a city in 1508 and today, many of the original buildings are still intact. It’s a town of attractive whitewashed and red-roofed buildings and wide boulevards, surrounded by mountains on three sides. The city is also known for its Art Deco architecture and has several excellent museums, as well as a lovely promenade offering views out to sea and over the city.

Funchal is also blessed with plenty of parks and gardens. If you visit the town’s immaculately kept botanical gardens, you can enjoy not only a wide variety of plants and trees, but also spectacular views over Funchal. The gardens occupy the grounds of what was once an estate belonging to the Reid family, the founders of the world famous Reid Palace Hotel, and contain plants from South America and Africa, as well as plants native to Madeira. And don’t miss a heather tree which is said to be 10 million years old.

You don’t have to travel too far out of Funchal to experience some of the island’s dramatic scenery. The valley of Curral das Freiras lies in a series of extinct volcanoes and was once used as a refuge by nuns when the island was being attacked by pirates. There’s a small but attractive village in the valley and one of the best ways to enjoy the scenery is by enjoying a drink at an outdoor table at one of the cafes that surround the village’s main square.

Accommodation on the island range from luxurious resorts to old-fashioned manor houses, known as quintas, which are popular with travelers on a budget. If you are staying on the outskirts of Funchal, make sure that your hotel offers shuttle service into town or to and from the airport, as not all the hotels offer that service. If you prefer the convenience of a rental, Madeira offers all types of rental accommodation, including houses, apartments and cottages.

If you have a rental home or villa on Madeira, one of the advantages is being able to enjoy the many outdoor and sporting activities that the island offers. Diving, deep sea fishing and tennis are all popular; the island also boasts two of Europe’s most scenic golf courses in the eastern part of the island. Walking is popular and Madeira attracts thousands of people every year to enjoy its thousand miles of rural footpaths. And tobogganing doesn’t seem a likely pastime here, but hurtling in a small wicker-sided sled from Monte to Funchal is surprisingly popular.

And one thing you must do while visiting Madeira is to sample the island’s sweet variety of wine which shares its name. The place to do this is at the Adegas de Sao Francisco, a wine lodge which dates back to the 16th century. Highlights of any visit here include the aging room with its huge oak barrels, the 17th-century wine press – and of course, the chance to sample some delicious Madeira wine.