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Explorers and visitors have been lured to Madeira for centuries, drawn by a mellow climate and lush landscapes that have earned it a reputation as the floating garden of the Atlantic.
Portuguese navigators were the first to set foot on this dot in the ocean, claiming it in 1420 and dubbing it Madeira ('Wood') for its thick forests. For avid walkers and outdoorsy types, it makes Madeira a paradise holiday spot. Much of Madeira's rugged hinterland is still cloaked in virgin forest, and the trails that follow the levadas (irrigation channels) are ideal walking territory.
Swap walking for wheels in Madeira and you can cover much of the island in one trip – most attractions can be reached in under an hour from wherever you stay. Urban explorers start at Funchal, the island capital with an old town that reminds many visitors of Lisbon, and the pretty town of Santana, with its unique tent-like thatched houses.
Adventure may be guaranteed in Madeira, but sandy beaches are not. Instead, enjoy seaside vibes at Canical, where brightly coloured fishing boats line the waterfront; in pretty Camara de Lobos, with its fishermen's cottages and old harbour; and at Calheta, where you’ll find a sandy manmade beach that’s one of only a handful on the island.
Looking for the full beachside resort experience? Hop over to Porto Santo, Madeira's smaller neighbour. It's only a 25-minute flight away, but has a hotter microclimate, with temperatures that average around 25C in summer and can peak at above 30C.
Madeira is generally a very safe destination, with low rates of violent and petty crime. If you plan to explore the mountainous interior on foot, wear sturdy walking boots and take waterproof clothing. For up-to-date travel advice for Portugal, check the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.
No, travellers with a full British passport do not need a visa to go to Madeira.
Stay for at least a week to make the most of Madeira's charms. A two-week break will let you explore the island's lush interior on foot or by rented car and perhaps take a trip to Madeira's little neighbour, Porto Santo.
A no-brainer! Madeira is famous for... Madeira. In the 16th century, Portuguese mariners discovered that the local wine was tastier after long months in tropical heat. It's now made by warming the wine to around 50C for six months. Drink dry varieties as an aperitif, while sweeter versions go well with pudding and Madeira's other famous product: rich, sticky Madeira cake.
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