Madeira Islands: The place to be!

Madeira Islands: The place to be!

Madeira Islands voted European´s Leading Island Destination. Essential suggests a few reasons why.

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When the World Travel Awards results were revealed on August 31st word soon got round that Madeira had been voted as Europe´s Leading Island Destination. The award had extra meaning as the Islands came first place in a category in which they faced strong competition from other main island destinations. The winner was chosen through an on-line voting system.

There is one word that comes to mind when trying to explain the reasons behind this achievement: Microdiversity! The term itself alludes to the vast amount of things to see and do on these small islands.

The destination itself is historic and full of tradition. Nearly 200 years have gone by since travellers seeking the “fresher airs” of the island, arrived. At the advice of their doctors these patients would come several months at a time mainly during the Winter season. One of these famous patients was Empress Sissi of Autria. Time has changed this destination in many ways as 600 years of history have clearly left their mark.

The archipelago soon became well-known due to its strategic geographic location. Discovered in the XV century, they were the first lands to be colonized during the Portuguese discoveries and therefore used as testing grounds for agricultural products, administrative models, habits and cultures which soon spread to other parts of the world.

The island served as a connecting point between the old and the New World. It was part of this symbiosis, absorbed over centuries, which helped shape not only the landscape but also the people and the cultural references which have influenced it. It was a passing point for many ships travelling to and from Europe, with people from different cultures aboard. Thanks to these ships hundreds of Madeirans emigrated to all four corners of the world, returning with new customs and life experiences.

Funchal is the best example. Though it may seem, it is not a Mediterranean city neither exactly European. It is an Atlantic city, the first to be developed off the mainland during the European expansion and therefore used as an inspiration and model to follow. The city streets are the result of different eras and influences. Though most of the downtown city was developed during the first half of the twentieth century, all historical elements have contributed towards its cosmopolitan appeal as hundreds of locals and visitors merge in a multicultural environment.

Another example of this diversity lies in its natural landscape. The island is taken over by the Laurissilva, a subtropical humid forest classified by UNESCO as World Heritage. All in all it comprises 15 thousand acres of luscious verdure which seems to take us back to the beginning of time. This forest coexists with hundreds of different species of plant stemming from all parts of the world and slowly introduced into the local gardens and lands on the island.

Nature, History and Geographic Location are the three main pillars of this tourist destination also known for its temperate climate.

But how does this all translate in reasons to visit Madeira? The word is experience! All together it provides a wonderful vacation as there is a little bit of something for everyone´s taste and a set of high quality hotels. Few destinations in Europe can match the standard of service of the hotels in Madeira. In addition to this, many other unique characteristics convey the island´s identity.

The Laurissilva forest is an experience in itself. Crossed by several kilometers of irrigation canals, the levadas, built over centuries that are still currently used. They are also used as walking grounds.The levadas have long been around yet other local activities are fairly recent. One of them is canyoning, a sport which consists of exploring water courses which run through mountainous terrains.

The sea has many ideal diving areas which are easily accessible and do not require a boat trip. A dive into the deep will reveal crystal clear waters, underwater caverns and various species of fish. However, a boat excursion will be as equally delightful and should not be missed. Whale-watching in Madeira is a must as 28 species of whales and dolphins can be sighted in these waters during different seasons of the year. Several boats offer excursions along the coast.

These local waters are also sought after by many surfers as the island´s waves are internationally recognized, not forgetting the natural swimming pools, the small beaches or shallow bays which are equally beautiful and unique.

The mild temperature of the water and the vastness of the ocean are a distinctive feature in Madeira, as are the extraordinary beauty of the mountains which can be accessed by cable cars. They will take you to places such as the beach at Garajau or the symbolic parish of Monte known for its quintas, gardens and the resting place of the last emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Throughout the city, several daily tours on alternative transports such as the Tuk Tuks, electric cars, classic cars, bicycles or even segways, are available. All of these guarantee to show you the best of Funchal, namely the old part of town which is today known as one of the liveliest parts of the city filled with dozens of bars, restaurants and urban art.
Outside of Funchal, other touring options such as jeep tours or car rides are ideal to discover the island and its picturesque localities.

But other traditional options are still a must, such as a “toboggan ride” down from Monte and a meal including the local espetada and bolo-do-caco, traditional delicacies which are constantly being reinvented and widely used in the Madeiran households.

The people of Madeira are passionate about their culture and share a strong sense of identity, a trait felt by all those who “experience” Madeira. This sense of identity can further be experienced through the traditional Poncha, a drink made from sugar cane firewater, honey and lemon juice. Besides traditional, this drink is one of the most common to be drank during a night out in town. It symbolizes Madeira and proves to be a delightful experience.

Poncha symbolizes much of what has been the development of Madeira as a tourist destination: it is increasingly dynamic, less contemplative, young, alive and full of opportunities. Late night entertainment in Madeira is electric yet tasteful. Restaurants offer several options and the warm climate is a plus.

All this coexists in harmony with the local tradition, with the interminable list of celebrity figures which have enjoyed holidays here in Madeira, the traditional Madeira Wine which is also reinvented on a daily basis, the lush gardens or the historic quintas.

This overall tradition is seasoned with a touch of contemporaneousness. All in all, this is what makes the Madeira experience so unique and special.