Madeira is often called “the floating garden of the Atlantic. And for good reason! The island is quite small, 35 miles long and 16 miles wide and has a sub tropical climate, giving rise to a great variety of lush vegetation and exotic blooms.

There are a multitude of beautiful gardens in Madeira, an island where everything seems to grow whether native or not! The Madeira Botanical Gardens in Funchal are world renowned, home to more than 2000 exotic plants, and play a part in preserving many endangered plants. The Palheiro Gardens have spacious lawns and lakes, and are home to some of the rarest plants in the world. Quinta da Boa Vista Gardens in Funchal has an orchid collection which has been winning awards for over 20 years.

Madeira is the tip of a huge mountain, so although it is a bit short on beaches, it more than makes up for this with stunning coastal scenery, mountain ranges and idyllic valleys. It really is a very picturesque island, but not much of it is flat! There are many traditional villages dotted around the island, Santana on the north of the island is home to some of the triangular thatched houses Madeira is known for and Monte, high above Funchal is where you will find the Monte Palace tropical garden, home to plants from all over the world.

One way to reach Monte is to take the cable car from Funchal, and either return by cable car or take a ride in one of the traditional wicker baskets which Madeira is well known for. Funchal is a very pleasant town, with a thriving cruise port, a lively old town with lots of traditional bars and restaurants, a famous local fish and flower market and a lovely ambience. It’s a very neat place, quite quirky, especially at Christmas time with its famous illuminations. It’s even possible to take a night bus tour around Funchal to marvel at the intricate and elaborate Christmas decorations and illuminations.

Funchal is home to one of the best firework displays in the world to celebrate New Year, indeed on New Year’s Eve, this is simply one of the places to be to see in the New Year, rivalling Sydney. Not bad for a small town in the middle of the Atlantic! Whilst Madeira only has a few small black sand beaches, most of the hotels have swimming pools , and there are seafront promenades along various stretches of the coast. The interior of Madeira is where the hidden treasures are.

Once you leave Funchal and head up into the mountains, the terrain changes and the forest takes over. The laurel (or Laurissilva) forest is a protected area designated by UNESCO as a World Natural Heritage Site, the only one in Portugal. The laurel forest dates back millions of years and has survived a number of Ice Ages. Travelling further into the interior, the Pico de Ariero, the third highest peak in Madeira is the place to enjoy magnificent views.

The levadas, all 1400 km of them are a man made irrigation system designed to move water to the lower slopes. Nowadays, many of them make great hiking routes through the forests. There’s a wide range of accommodation, to suit all tastes and budgets. From family hotels such as the Vila Porto Mare resort to the Grand Dame of Madeira, Reid’s Palace to the Quintas, converted manor houses to ultra modern hotel The Vine, situated in Funchal (although it wouldn’t look out of place in Miami or New York!)

Madeira is also easy to reach by cruise ship, Funchal is a popular port of call and many ships stay overnight, so passengers can get the most out of this beguiling island. Madeira really does have something for everyone! Great scenery, beautiful gardens and parks, a temperate climate, a refined elegant atmosphere, an interesting history and a cosmopolitan capital city in Funchal.

Rosemary Shaw

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