Madeira rewards those who brave the hair-raising approach at its cliff-top airport with a dizzying variety of volcanic landscapes to explore, stately Baroque churches, and, for football fans, a museum dedicated to native son Cristiano Ronaldo.
A remote Portuguese outpost marooned in the North Atlantic, roughly 700 kilometers off the Moroccan coast, Madeira rewards those who brave the hair-raising approach at its cliff-top airport with a dizzying variety of volcanic landscapes to explore, stately Baroque churches, and, for football fans, a museum dedicated to native son Cristiano Ronaldo.
The mild climate and fertile soil make this island an agricultural wonderland; grapes grown here are harnessed in Madeira’s namesake fortified wine.
Today, local vinho undergoes a unique oxidation process to mimic the long voyages that transformed the taste of vintages shipped out in centuries past.
Oenophiles can get a closer look at traditional production methods and even tread grapes at the Madeira Wine Festival, an annual jamboree held during the harvest. This year, the event runs from August 25 to September 8, coinciding with celebrations to mark 600 years since the island’s discovery.
TAP Airlines Portugal flies from Lisbon to Madeira’s capital, Funchal, multiple times a day. The island is also connected to major European cities like London and Frankfurt.
Where to Stay
Ensconced in lush cliff-top gardens above the Atlantic, the 128-year-old Belmond Reid’s Palace (351-291/717-171; doubles from US$332) has hosted the likes of Winston Churchill and Gregory Peck. It emerged from a facelift two years ago, but retains a retro feel and classic experiences like high tea on the terrace.
A meal of espada, or black scabbard fish, at Funchal’s Restaurante Casa Madeirense. This local specialty is often battered and fried with a banana, then served in a passion-fruit sauce.
Local outfitter Madeira Outdoor provides a multitude of ways to take in the island’s natural beauty, from canyoning and jeep tours to dolphin-watching cruises.
This article originally appeared in the August/September 2019 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Madeira Magic”).