Madeira, or « the island of flowers » as it is affectionately known, is a volcanic island in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Morocco. With a subtropical climate, Madeira boasts an abundance of flowers and lush vegetation, diverse landscapes, fantastic hiking trails and delicious food. It was voted “the best island destination in the world” for the 8th time by the World Travel Awards. There are many things that Madeira is famous for, here are our top 10!
What is Madeira known for?
1). The Levadas
Madeira is famous for its « levadas » these small irrigation canals that transport water from the high peaks to the crops below. Some levadas have been carved directly into the cliff, a huge undertaking! Today, they make up the network of hiking trails in Madeira, leading you though forests, mountains and terraced crops.
When you travel to Madeira, regardless of the time of year, there will always be flowers! Spring is obviously the most abundant season, and the capital city of Funchal is alive with celebration during the flower festival, with a procession of floats descending upon the city, a spectacular sight! There are many varieties of flower, including hydrangeas, birds of paradise, agapanthus, orchids, aloes, anthuriums, viperines, lilies, gladioli, bougainvillea… as well as many endemic species.
Why is Madeira popular?
3). The peaks « Picos »
Madeira is a popular destination for hikers. The best trails are on the ridges and summit of the famous « pico » or peaks. From Pico Ariero at 1818 metres to Pico Ruivo, the island's highest peak at 1862m, this magnificent ridge path offers splendid panoramic views of the island and the ocean. If you like a challenge, then tackle the hike from the summit of Pico Ruivo to Encumeada for a journey across Madeira Island from east to west, with breathtaking views!
No visit to the island is possible without a stop in Funchal, the capital city, laid out like an amphitheatre around the bay. It's a magnificent city, with its cobbled streets, splendid parks and gardens, little squares with restaurants, Portuguese colonial architecture and the cable car for a bird's eye view of the city. Madeira is also famous for the wicker basket descents. Once you have taken the cable car to the top of the city, there are 2 ways down, either on foot or in a wicker basket! This was once a traditional means of transport for the locals to help navigate through the steep and cobbled streets of the city.
What is the national dish of Madeira?
5). Local specialities
Whilst Madeira is famous for many things, the local cuisine is not one of them, and yet it is delicious! During your stay on Madeira Island, you must sample the following:
- “Bolo do caco”: a bread with snail butter served at the beginning of the meal, ideal for an aperitif.
- “Lapas”: small, pan-fried shellfish to share!
- “Espetada”: skewer of beef rubbed with garlic and salt, sometimes the spike is a branch of laurel for extra flavour! A delight!
- “Espada com banana”: fish served with bananas… it’s delicious, honest!
6). Punch & Madeira wine
Madeira also has some iconic alcoholic beverages, such as Madeira wine, which is a cooked wine rather like port, or Poncha, a rum with lemon balm and squeezed orange and lemon juice.… There are plenty of variations, with strawberry, kiwi or passion fruit! To be enjoyed…. in moderation, of course!
What is unique about Madeira?
7). Whale watching
This is not an everyday activity! There are not many places in the world where this is possible, but Madeira is famous for it. Enjoy a trip out to sea, and you'll probably be lucky enough to spot dolphins and whales - a unique experience!
8). The natural swimming pools & Porto Santo
There are many natural swimming pools on the island of Madeira, but the largest are located in Porto Moniz, an ideal location for a well-deserved swim after a day on the trail. For those looking for some real relaxation and beach time, far from the crowds, you can take the ferry over to the island of Porto Santo, about a 2h trip. Here, you can enjoy a more desert-island ambiance with windswept landscapes and golden sandy beaches.
9). The Primary forest
Madeira’s Laurissilva forest, is a UNESCO Word Heritage Site. It is the largest surviving primary laurel forest in the world and it home to around 80 species of endemic plants. When hiking through the forest, it is like something out of a film, an enchanted forest! There are many waterfalls, including the most famous “Caldeiro Verde” or green cauldron, that falls from 100m!
10). The Madeirans themselves
A very warm welcome awaits you in Madeira. The locals are very friendly, and we have handpicked the accommodations and boast a professional relationship over a decade old with many. They are eager to share this small island off the coast of Europe with you and we know that we are putting you in safe hands.
As you can see, Madeira is famous for many things. And yet… This little slice of Portugal with its beautiful location in the Atlantic Ocean, conceals so many other gems. You’ll have to book and find out!