The Portuguese island of Madeira has long been a popular holiday destination for high society. European royalty, Winston Churchill and many Hollywood stars have favoured it. Much of the shooting of the famous film, Moby Dick, took place there.
The island depends on tourism so you will find hotels to suit all budgets, cafes, bars and restaurants around every corner. Funchal, the capital, is a perfect place to stroll by the sea or sit with a beer and watch the world go by. Just make sure you don't miss a visit to its colourful market, or a tasting of the Madeira wines in the St Francis Wine Lodge.
Although it is a volcanic island, close to the more barren Morocco and the Canaries, its climate is very different. It has more rainfall and is covered with lush vegetation. Because it is so mountainous, the island has three different micro-climates, at different levels. So the plant life varies as you climb its windy roads. First you'll see banana plantations, above that it becomes cooler, but warm enough for the vines that produce the grapes for Madeira's famous wines. On the way to the highest peaks you go through National Parks with laurel woodlands, plus eucalyptus with its strong roots that help prevent landslides on the steep slopes. And from the barren peaks, you get the most stunning views imaginable, as long as they are not shrouded in low-lying clouds.
Some people choose Madeira for walking holidays. Many trails follow the levadas, the intricate irrigation system that ensures water in the right place at the right time, especially for the cultivated areas on high ground. Others want to visit its wonderful gardens. Funchal has many delightful public parks, and its Botanical Gardens are to die for. Orchid breeders open their greenhouses to the public and serve refreshments at viewpoints in their beautiful gardens. Up in the hills is Blandy's Garden, where camellia flowers bloom for many months.
Read more of this article in my Helium portfolio