Top facts about Madeira

This small Portuguese island has unique character, wine like no other and is home to perhaps the greatest footballer of our time.

Lying south of Portugal, off the coast of Morocco, it’s close to the Canary Islands but is far more green and less arid. Of course it has plenty of Portuguese influences but read on to see what else makes Madeira tick in our round-up of top Madeira facts.

The home of Ronaldo

That football great we mentioned who hails from Madeira is of course Cristiano Ronaldo, and the Madeirans make the most of this claim to fame.

Born in Funchal, Ronaldo has his own museum based at the boutique Pestana CR7 Hotel that he co-owns, with a bronze statue of him outside. And this year Madeira International was renamed Cristiano Ronaldo Airport in his honour, in case any visitors didn’t realise where he was raised.

Its namesake wine

Probably Madeira’s best known export – sorry Ronaldo – is Madeira wine. It owes a lot of its success to the primitive shipping conditions of the 17th century as, when being transported to the New World, Madeira wine passed through the Tropics and got baked in the intense sun.

This produced a soft, deep and pleasant burnt quality. Nowadays the wine is heated in stainless steel vats, but it still produces the same rich flavour, be it a dry or sweet variety.

Unusual landscape

An island of cliffs, pebble beaches and undulating green hills, Madeira’s landscape is both unusual and beautiful.

In order to tame the contours of the land for agricultural use, the Madeirans built a network of mini-canals in the 17th century called levadas. Still in use today, the irrigation channels bring water from the rainy north to the drier south and, combined, cover a distance of 2500 kilometres.

Many paths run alongside the levadas that allow stunning walks across the island.

As Madeira has the largest surviving area of primary laurel forest in the world, known as the Laurisilva of Madeira, you’ll get some impressive views. This rare forested area is why a vast area of central Madeira has been decreed a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site.

Toboggan in the capital

The capital of Funchal is far from a metropolis, in fact its colonial architecture and lush gardens make it feel very homely.

Due to the subtropical climate of Madeira, botanical plants thrive here and you can visit the Monte Palace Gardens by taking a cable car up to the village of Monte.

To change things up a bit, head down the hill a more traditional way – on a toboggan no less. A wicker sled with wooden runners might not sound very safe but you’ll be steered by two guides with rubber-soled shoes who know what they’re doing.

Another thing Funchal is famous for is its spectacular New Year’s Eve fireworks, which gained the Guinness World Record for the largest fireworks display.

You can enjoy the fireworks due to pleasingly warm winter temperatures in Madeira, but if you’re visiting for a summer holiday, there’s also the popular Atlantic Festival fireworks competition. Set to music, it’s held every Saturday night in June.

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