Most people have heard of the Portuguese island of Madeira, but not many know exactly where it is. Located more than 600 miles (966km) southwest of Lisbon, and off the west coast of Morocco, it is a mere speck in the vast Atlantic Ocean. Madeira, along with its sister island of Porto Santo, is actually the summit of an undersea mountain, rearing up with craggy cliffs from the warm blue Gulf Stream waters in one of the deepest parts of the Atlantic.
It features one of the world's highest ocean cliffs, soaring 1,933ft (589m) above the sea, which presented a forbidding sight to the ancient Portuguese mariners who first discovered the island archipelago in the 15th century. In fact Porto Santo and Madeira were the first 'new worlds' that were colonised by Henry the Navigator in his quest to explore the world.
Madeira is tiny, just 13 miles (21km) wide and 35 miles (56km) long, and has no beaches, but it does have an Eden-like beauty with its rich volcanic soil having turned it into a botanical wonderland and agricultural treasure house. Most of the indigenous thick forest was destroyed in a fire created by the first Portuguese colonialists to clear it for farming. Today however, the fragrant island blooms with colourful masses of orchids, bougainvillea, frangipani, wisteria and geraniums. Fruit and herbs grow in profusion on the hillsides and in ravines, and the mountain slopes are terraced with orchards and vineyards. The island has been termed a 'floating garden'.
Madeira's most famous export is its fortified wine, and with nearly 14,000 plots, there is a variety to try. Vineyards like Fajã dos Padres and Silva Vinhos offer tours and tastings, and the Funchal Wine Walk is a good way to get a taste of this historical delicacy without leaving town.
Get away from it all on the picture-perfect island of Madeira
Head to beautiful Madeira this December and discover a diverse, beautiful and fascinating island, defined by scenic coastline, exotic inland landscapes, charming villages and a proud cultural heritage.
With short flight times and a wonderful year-round climate, the island of Madeira is the ideal choice for a relaxing winter sun holiday. Arriving into Madeira on the 2nd December, you’ll be in perfect time to experience the magical Christmas light decorations, which will be switched on on the 1st. Spending seven nights in Madeira at this most magical time of the year, you’ll be able to experience the pretty streets and charming buildings of Funchal all beautifully dressed up for the festive season with thousands of lights in numerous colours twinkling and shimmering in the night sky.