Madeira is the Portuguese tropical archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, comprised of just two populated islands, those of Madeira and Porto Santo and numerous smaller unpopulated ones.
The island of Madeira is just 310 miles from the African coast but over 600 miles from Europe. It is a year round destination with incredible average temperatures of 17º C to 21º C, yet rarely reaching more than a nicely bearable 28º in summer. A flight to the islands from Portugal takes one and a half hours.
The forests on the northern slopes of the Island are a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site and an excellent area for walking or hiking. There is a network of over 200 manmade water channels, called levadas, that today are hiking routes into the more remote villages. This is tough walking for the more experienced or to be done with a guide.
There is even a festival for walkers – The Madeira Walking Festival and Madeira Orienteering Festival which are both in January.
Funchal is the capital and the most populated area, its beach, the bay of Funchal is backed by high peaks producing a constantly warm microclimate.
Cable Cars in Madeira
Most of Madeira is a Nature Park, and a Biogenetic Reserve, which covers almost two thirds of the island. It has therefore a mountainous terrain, which has given it its unique form of travel we still see today – cable cars.
The construction of cable cars and scenic elevators provide a way for both visitors and locals to get up and down the hill. The trip provides stunning views and enables easy access from the old town to the Monte Palace Gardens and with just a short walk to the Botanical Gardens.
Sledges were also introduced around 1850 for the more affluent families, now it’s the tourists who enjoy a high speed sledge ride down the narrow streets into Funchal. Today’s sledges are reminiscent of the original two-seater wicker ones with runners. They are pushed by traditionally dressed men in white with straw hats, who are also the brakes for which they use their rubber-soled boots. The downhill ride takes about 10 minutes to cover the 2km hill.
Gardens to Visit
The Botanical Gardens are home to over 2,000 exotic plants in a hilly area of 35,000 square metres, it is also known as a centre of science and culture in the defence of endangered species of plants.
Another garden worthy of a visit is The Monte Palace Tropical Garden in Quinta Monte Palace which has over 100,000 species and 60 of the 72 known species of the living fossils cycads.