With everything from tropical gardens to hiking trails worth lacing your boots up for, a holiday to Madeira puts the ‘great’ in the Great Outdoors.
It’s a tough call to name Madeira’s most famous export. On the one hand, there’s the sweet dessert wine that goes down a treat – especially when it’s splashed into a trifle. On the other, there’s the fancy footwork of footballer, Cristiano Ronaldo. Real Madrid’s headline-grabbing midfielder was born in the capital, Funchal.
Wine and football aside, though, there’s no question what brings people to this good-looking Portuguese isle. Its gardens. The whole island is so packed with plants and tropical flowers it’s been dubbed the Floating Garden. For the best, try Funchal on the south coast. It’s home to the Madeira Botanical Gardens – an 80,000-square-metre patch showcasing something green from every continent.
Câmara de Lobos and Santa Cruz
But this place isn't just for towel-in-hand types. The pretty landscape of Câmara de Lobos, a fishing village that's a ten-minute drive west of Funchal, prompted Winston Churchill to put paintbrush to canvas. And Santa Cruz, in the east, is a big hit with families, thanks to its pebbled beach and bustling pavement cafés.
Families and arty types aside, Madeira’s rapidly becoming the destination of choice for the trendy twenty-something crowd. For one thing, the island is forging a reputation as one of Europe’s top spa destinations, so it’s girlie getaways a go-go. And, while it won’t wipe Ibiza off the nightlife map any time soon, there’s an up-and-coming club scene to boot.
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Funchal gets a ringside seat on Madeira’s south coast. Set on a hillside, this colourful capital city divvies up the old and new. You’ve got modern shopping malls and a cosmopolitan marina happily sharing space with the cobbled streets and traditional restaurants. And it’s all overseen by a cable car that serves up impressive views.
Canico de Baixo
The relaxed town of Canico de Baixo – also known as Lower Canico – stretches along Madeira’s south coast, just east of Funchal. Its rugged beaches are backed by cliffs, a pretty prom and a collection of chic hotels and villas. Just a few minutes’ drive up the hill is Canico de Baixo’s other half – the hushed old town of Upper Canico.
As resorts go, this one’s rather a charmer. Set on Madeira’s east coast less than 2 kilometres from the airport, Santa Cruz is a small, colourful place where whitewashed churches sit relaxing between the green hills and the blue sea. There’s a very laid-back vibe here, but the island’s livelier capital, Funchal, is only 15 minutes down the road.
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