When most people think of island culture, they imagine beach huts, straw hats, no shoes and a cocktail but on the island of Madeira, culture is a little more of a high-brow affair. The island is home to a number of wonderfully upmarket attractions including world-renowned museums, contemporary art galleries, award-winning wineries and gourmet eateries all of which give this locale a fabulously five-star feel. With a particular emphasis on world-renowned edible produce as this is its chief export, you’ll find Madeiran culture to be very food-focused with a positive plethora of haute cuisine to tuck into.
Despite seeming to be a beachy paradise, it may surprise visitors to learn that as Madeira is a volcanic island, there are very few natural beaches here but therehave been a number of man-made beaches imported to the Madeiran coastline. The governing powers of the island want to ensure you don’t miss out on your sun, sand and sea therapy. Of the few natural stretches that do exist between the impressive cliffs, you’ll find that while they may not be the most comfortable for sunbathing, they are strikingly beautiful with their gleaming black and grey pebbles.
As the name Madeira means ‘wood’ in Portuguese, it’s safe to say that the island is bound to be full to the brim with fabulous natural splendour. Given its volcanic origins, Madeira has a completely unique landscape carved out by eruptions, lava trails and mountainous peaks, some of which reach over 6,100 feet high. Natural amphitheaters, ancient subtropical rainforests and an abundance of stunning flora make this island a nature-lover’s paradise on earth. With the Laurel Forest recently becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s clear that the rest of the world considers it a place of natural wonder too.
With its stunning landscape, it comes as no surprise that outdoor activities are at the top of every Madeira holiday to-do list. An all-year-round adventure destination, many thrill seekers choose to come during the winter when those of a surfing inclination hit the swells on Madeira’s western and southwestern sides. Hikers also make a beeline for this stunning locale during the latter half of the year when they can enjoy miles of people-free trails such as the Vereda do Jardim do Mar, located on the western side of the island. Walkers looking for a real challenge may want to try their hand at the Pico do Arieiro path that takes climbers up to 1,862 metres.
Lining the ledge of the dramatic Madeiran cliffs in a quaint postcard-perfect manner, the pretty locale of Paúl do Mar is home to some radical water sports. Known by some as the surfing capital of the Atlantic, this small little village has even hosted a leg of the World Surfing Championships. So those who like to ‘drop in, pull in, kick out’ on the waves will be content to spend their days here, alongside kayaking fans and diving enthusiasts.
One of Madeira’s most famous exports of course is its wine and as the island is full to the brim with top-notch vineyards for you to sample the sweet vintage in. Of all the vineyards however, perhaps the most famous is Henriques&Henriques, whom many regard as the best winemakers in the region. Established in 1850, this institution has over 160 years of experience in crafting the most delicious wines, only using grapes from its own vineyards in Quinta Grande and Câmara de Lobos. Visitors are welcome to sample its produce with three-year-old wine tastings given free of charge and a nominal fee charged for the tasting of older vintages.
Exhibiting Madeira’s loftier cultural aspirations, the MudasMuseu is a stunning contemporary art gallery, perched high above the municipality of Calheta. A breathtaking feat of artwork in itself, the building somewhat resembles a video-game like structure with its completely smooth fortress looking walls and sharp modern edges, taking pride of place on the clifftop. You can even enjoy the gallery’s phenomenal exhibits with a bite to eat and a fresh cup of java too thanks to the space’s newly installed cafe. For those who want a little more of a hands-on experience, there is an auditorium with talks to engage in as well as a workshop area.
Madeira Island is a Portuguese gem with a pleasantly mild climate all year round. Warmer than its Azorean counterparts, the area also sees significantly less rainfall, which makes autumn and winter breaks as wonderful as those in summer. Travelling to Madeira during the low seasons between April and May or September to October is the best time for most holidaymakers as queue times for all attractions and eateries will be significantly reduced, the weather will still be pleasant and the attractions will still be open. However, the summer is a great time to visit if you enjoy a busy and festival like atmosphere alongside a healthy dose of sunshine.
If you hold a British Citizen passport or an EU National passport, you don’t need a visa to enter Portugal and are visa exempt for 90 days. For the latest information on travel regulations, visit https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/portugal/entry-requirements.
The currency is the Euro (EUR).
The language spoken is Portuguese.