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Madeira Holidays

With its endless landscape of lush green valleys, craggy peaks and black sand coastlines, it's no wonder Madeira is known as the 'Floating Garden'. It really is a feast for the eyes, and you can enjoy it all while sampling Madeira wine – a speciality that originated on the island.

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The Floating Garden

Madeira might be a little pinprick in the Atlantic Ocean, but this island has much to offer when it comes to Portugal holidays. It's part of a Portuguese archipelago that's not far from the Canary Islands and Africa – and you can feel it in the weather, which is almost constantly warm.

This tiny island is renowned for its landscape, which is paved with greenery sloping down valleys and up steep peaks, home to waterfalls, caves and a diverse range of flora and fauna. It isn't exactly a hotspot for beaches, though you'll find a few manmade shores and pebbly coasts that are sure to do the trick.

Where to stay in Madeira

CanicalView on Map

Divide your time between the black sand beach, saltwater swimming pools and clifftop walks of Canical. You'll be based near an upmarket marina and have lots of options in seafood restaurants nearby. Just down the road are the towns of Machico and the capital Funchal.

Canico De BaixoView on Map

A charming seaside village with plenty of opportunities for exploring the surrounding landscape, Canico de Baixo is a resort with lots to offer. You can catch a cable car down to the beach, go diving around a shipwreck, play 18 holes at the golf course or visit the spa.

FunchalView on Map

With a classy marina providing bay chic, Funchal provides a sensational selection of modern and old fashioned accommodation, bars and restaurants. Days can be spent by the beach or travelling by cable car to botanical gardens. Then in the evening the nightlife and restaurants will give you plenty of flavour.

Santa CruzView on Map

A relaxed town in the southeastern Madeira countryside, Santa Cruz has a pebble beach and its own waterpark - Aquaparque - plus a lido and surf school. A beautiful 16th-century church adds character to the town and there's a great permanent market.

Quick Tips

  • Roman Catholic
  • Euro
  • Portuguese
  • Approx 250,000
  • GMT - None

Outdoor paradise

The island of Madeira is cloaked in breath-taking natural landscapes that beg for exploration. There are massive mountaintops to be scaled, valleys to hike through and waterfalls to wade past. Within the Madeira Natural Park, there's even a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's the Laurisilva of Madeira, a vast forest of laurel trees – a type of vegetation that's now concentrated in only a few areas around the world.

There are group tours you can join that'll provide transportation to and from these gorgeous parks, plus off-roading and quad-bike adventures. And for those that like the greenery without the sweat, Madeira has a handful of botanic gardens too, such as the one in Funchal that can be reached by cable car.

Madeira specialities

If you haven't yet heard of Madeira wine, prepare yourself. It's a Portuguese wine that originated in the Madeira Islands, and ranges in taste from dry to sweet. What makes this wine different is it's heated continuously for months before being left to sit. Famous around the world, Madeira wine is especially prevalent in its home island, and is readily available to drink.

Another of Madeira's top sips is poncha, a sweet fruit drink made with aguardente de cana, a sugar cane alcohol. Add to the mixture some honey, sugar and lemon, and you've got yourself a strong and refreshing drink to enjoy on a warm Madeira evening.

A handful of beaches

On the whole, Madeira is a volcanic island clad in black basalt rocks. There aren't any natural sandy beaches, but in an effort to compete with its Mediterranean counterparts sand has been imported from Africa, which has been used to make a few sandy beaches to entice holidaymakers booking Madeira All Inclusive holidays.

Praia Formosa is a black, pebbly beach that's reachable from Funchal and is lined with a small selection of restaurants. Perhaps the best manmade beach is the Praia da Calheta, which is up on the southwestern side of the island. It's a Blue Flag award-winner curved bay whose sands were imported from Morocco.

A taste of Portugal

Because Madeira is an island, it's treated to a tantalising array of fresh fish like tuna, marlin and wahoo. Portugal's national dish is salted cod, but you'll find a much wider array of seafood here, mixed up in stews or heated on the grill.

Another popular plate is a hearty meat dish called espetada, which is beer rubbed in garlic, salt and bay leaf, then marinated in Madeira wine. On top of this, there are restaurants across the island serving British eats, Indian cuisine and other Mediterranean flavours to choose from.

Dancing till sunrise

During the week, nights out on holidays to Madeira will be largely low key, but things are sure to heat up come Friday and Saturday. The majority of Madeira's nightlife scene takes place in Funchal, the island's capital. That's where you'll find nightclubs along the waterfront, as well as tucked inside busy casinos. It's these spots that keep the party going until well after sunrise. For those in search of a quieter evening, there are plenty of easy-going bars to choose from in Funchal as well as in all-round quieter resorts like Canical, Canico De Baixo and Santa Cruz.