The Portuguese island of Madeira is a true garden paradise. Sat in the Atlantic off the West African coast is this beautiful land of flowers, the landscape dominated by lush greenery set against dramatic mountains and the sparkling deep blue waters of the ocean.
Perfect for those that want a little culture with their holiday Madeira has beautiful churches, great museums and many places of historical interest, this is all as well as having one of the most charming capital cities in the world – Funchal with its 16<sup>th</sup> century streets, beautiful colourful views and delightfully British feel is lively without ever shouting at you, making Madeira a destination that really does have it all.
Most of the population of Madeira is concentrated around the city of Funchal and although there are many rural villages they have little in the way of accommodation, at less than 30 miles in length every part of the island is accessible without having to stay anywhere outside the capital making Funchal the most popular choice for hotels; the city itself has fabulous views and the best of the cities hotels make the most of these staggering views.
The Cliff Bay Hotel gives a huge hint to its location and it is indeed perched atop a cliff, although close to the promenade it has probably the best possible view over the Bay of Funchal, this isn’t the only draw of this luxurious hotel though, the restaurant holds the only Michelin star awarded on the island. Porto Santa Maria is another great hotel, not quite as grand but with a perfect location in the heart of the old town close to the Fortress and set in its own sub-tropical gardens this ocean front hotel is a strong contender in the title of best hotel.
Madeira is a culinary delight, not only are some of the best fresh fish caught in the surrounding waters but the locals really do know how to prepare them properly, fresh tuna is sublime when freshly cooked with nothing more than a squeeze of lemon juice.. One of the favourite of all dishes is surprisingly not fish but beef cubes marinaded in the local Madeira wine and then cooked on skewers; order Espetada and you won’t be disappointed.
Il Gallo d’Oro at the Cliff Bay Hotel offers an extravagant dining experience with its Michelin starred gourmet menu, most restaurants offer great local food generally cooked exceptionally well, but this is a whole different experience that will be remembered for a long time to come.
Walking is a popular activity in Madeira and with the levada irrigation network providing ready made paths that span the island it is easy to find a route that suits your ability, those that are a little more experienced will find no lack of tough terrain with the volcano and mountainous interior of the island presenting quite a challenge.
Even if you are not much of a flower lover it is hard not to be impressed by the huge variety of species on display at the world renowned Funchal Botanical Gardens, the wonderful climate, clever irrigation systems and the islands location on the seafaring routes of yesteryear has led to the enviable array of plants and flowers both native and imported; the very best of these can be seen in the Botanical Gardens which has a heady scent and an unrivalled beauty.
The climate in Madeira is fabulous throughout the year but the lush greenery is only possible with the occasional downpour, so rain is always a possibility; the south of the island is the place to head for real winter sunshine but the north even though cooler has some of the most picturesque views on the island.
There are many celebrations on this island that although never raucous does love a good party; and throughout the year there are many many festivals, notably the Madeira Carnival (March/April), the Flower Festival (May), Festival of the Popular Saints (June) and of course the huge party that celebrates the coming of the new year with world beating firework displays..