Madeira Portugal, often referred to as the "Pearl of the Atlantic" and "The Floating Garden" in the Atlantic, is an archipelago 900 km off the coast of Portugal. Being of volcanic origin, it rises majestically from the sea and offers tourists a mild climate with subtropical vegetation that makes it an ideal year-round vacation spot. The entire island is covered in flowers and lush green vegetation as well as acres of grapes that produce deliciously famous Madeira wine.
The capital is Funchal which sits in tiers up the slopes of one of the many mountains and is home to beautiful hotels and an abundance of shopping, sports and nightlife opportunities. Known for its festivals, Funchal comes alive during "Carnival" each spring with dancers and musicians in brightly coloured costumes parading through the streets. Similarly the festival at New Year's Eve brings numerous European tourists to celebrate at the harbour and in the hotels.
With its rich history, Funchal is the place to visit museums, open air markets and the Old Town with its colourful history and wide variety of architectural styles. Visit the shops on the pedestrian streets for unique souvenirs. Take the cable car to Monte located 600 m above the town and check out the magnificent views. For a unique experience, try the Monte toboggan, a huge wicker basket on runners that is steered by drivers and careens down the hill.
No visit to Madeira is complete without a tour of at least part of the island and a bit of a walk too! Roads from Funchal lead all over the island providing an opportunity to see the many fishing villages, forested plateaus, waterfalls, rocky peaks and volcanic beaches.
Many tourists come to Madeira for the walking trails. Not just for the experienced hiker, Madeira is world-renowned for its Levada Walks. "Levada" is Portuguese roughly translated as mini-canal. These mini-canals are actually irrigation systems developed during the 16th century to distribute water from the wet regions on the north of Madeira island to the drier regions of the south. The Levadas traverse the mountains, covering a total distance of 2500 km and a wide variety of terrain. The Levada Walks are actual narrow walking trails, beside these Levadas through spectacular scenery, and are used by locals and tourist alike to get from one village to another. Depending on the elevation, terrain and distance these Levada Walks are classified as easy, moderate and steep. For the more difficult walks, a guide is highly recommended and can be arranged through any tourist agent. Always take food and drinks there are no facilities at all on most of the walks. Be sure to have a good pair of shoes, a waterproof jacket and a flashlight.
For an amazing experience touring the island in a jeep and covering territory that is normally not accessible by car contact Up Mountain Madeira. Ask for Miguel. Included in a one day tour is a short Levada Walk that will whet your appetite for more.
Madeira with its lush gardens, quaint old villages, delicious food and wine, and untouched nature is one of Europe's best-kept secrets. It is an island so remote but sophisticated that one visit will have you planning your return trip before you get home.
Calling from Canada/US to Portugal: To call a hotel in Portugal from Canada/US dial 011 or 01 ( US/Canada country code),351 ( Portugal's country code), then the 9 digit number.
Your Canadian /US mobile phone works in Portugal if it GSM enabled or quad band and on a calling plan that includes international calls.
If you have an unlocked phone you can pick up a European SIM card for much less and put it into your own mobile phone. Visit any mobile phone shop in Portugal to determine if this is possible with your phone.
Calling Over the Internet:
If you have an I-pad or Laptop or Smart-phone you can call using the internet to another wireless device for free. The major providers are Skype and FaceTime( Apple) .
Best of Madeira
Beth Poad is a graduate of McMaster University and a retired English Teacher. She has written curriculum documents for public and private schools and travelled as a tourist to destinations all around the world and as a volunteer to China, Africa and India. When not travelling, she reads, writes and plans her next travel experience.