Did you know…? Fantastic facts about Madeira

Facts about Madeira

Madeira is without a doubt one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Its carpets of forests, menacing mountains and exotic wildlife is a world away from the islands of Menorca and Majorca that we all know and love, yet its dramatic, unexplored landscapes and year-round, warm climate makes it an enviable holiday destination in Portugal. So this made us think. What do we actually know about the spectacular shores of Madeira?

What means "Madeira"?

‘Madeira’ means ‘wood’ in Portuguese.

The most famous export? Cristiano Ronaldo!

Perhaps Madeira's most famous, as well as the most expensive export, is world class footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, who was born in the capital city of Madeira, Funchal. Need we say more?!

It has six different climates

Maderia is a semi-tropical island and as a result of its mountainous terrain, this gives the island six distinct climate zones! The Laurissilva Forest is at the highest point of the island and has been labelled as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The gates of hell?

When explorers first came to Madeira in 1420, they believed the dark looming cliffs of the archipelago signalled the gates of hell. Nowadays, they characterise the island's natural beauty.

Plants grow here that cannot be found anywhere else in the world

Madeira Botanical Gardens is world-famous for its beautiful array of unique tropical plants. The island's sub-tropical climate and rich volcanic soil makes for the perfect growing conditions for 2,500 exotic plants. These gardens are also responsible for the conservation of indigenous Madeiran plants, some of which are very rare and extinct in the wild.

Off the beaten tack

The summit of Madeira's tallest mountain and highest point on the island is Pico Rivo, which can only be reached by foot. At 1,861m tall, you may want to stay overnight at the tiny hut at the top after the gruelling hike!

It's wine tastes like no other

Infamous Madeira wine gets it's unique flavour from repeatedly heating it, which was historically believed to deepen the flavour. Enjoy wine tasting in the mountain villages, surorunded by ribbons of vineyards, and you will encounter sweet as well as dry flavours, plus incredible notes such as roasted nuts, toffee and caramel.

It's one of the best places in the world to see whales

The waters surrounding Madeira are teeming with marine life, which gives you the chance to see birds, dolphins and 15 different species of whales up close! The whales often use this area as safe passage for breeding. Indeed, the sperm whale can be seen all year round.

We really know how to party

It's in the Guinness Book of World Records that Madeira hosts the largest New Year's Eve fireworks display in the world!

The best beach in Europe

The archipelago of Madeira is known said to be known as the 'Golden Islands' and having been said to have one of the best beaches in Europe, Porto Santo is perhaps the most golden of them all. There is very little rain here so therefore Madeira makes for the perfect beach holiday.

Nature reserve

The Desertas Islands are small, volcanic islands that are a part of the Madeira archipelago, now designated as a nature reserve. They serve as the last refuge of the rarest type of seal in the world; the Mediterranean monk seal. Another 180 miles from Madeira, the Selvagens Islands are a recognised bird sanctuary and nature reserve for some of the rarest plants on the planet. Here, the number of human visitors are limited by law.

It’s an archipelago, not an island

The popular perception is that Madeira is a lone outcrop, adrift off the coast of Morocco – but, in fact, this volcano-born fragment of the eastern Atlantic is merely the biggest segment of a broader archipelago. The “second” island, Porto Santo, hides 44 miles (71km) to the north-east of Funchal – and is so off the beaten track that Christopher Columbus once lived here.

Flower power is a thing

Madeira is known for the fertility of its soil, but it proves particularly in tune with Mother Nature. Madeira have glimpse of cattleyas, cymbidiums and paphiopedilums and much more. These grand blooms are visible throughout the year, but have an extra shimmer during the Madeira Flower Festival – which includes parades and exhibitions.

You can visit a ‘mini Galapagos’

Comparisons to Ecuador’s wildlife havens are not wholly far-fetched in the case of the Desertas Islands – three narrow slivers in the sea, the biggest of which, Deserta Grande, lurks 16 miles (26km) south-east of Madeira. Largely uninhabited, they are home to eight species of seabird, the Madeiran wall lizard – and a colony of Mediterranean monk seals.

February tends to be fun

Madeira is not the sole Atlantic island to throw itself into feather headdresses and general flamboyance when the second month of the year appears. But its annual carnival is one of Europe’s best cases of Mardi Gras mayhem – revolving around a parade, held on the Saturday before Shrove Tuesday.

The capital is colourful

Funchal catches the eye at the heart of the Zona Velha (Old Town), a swirl of public creativity, which has seen the entrances to buildings along the Rua de Santa Maria adorned with bright paintings and imaginative scenes. Images include everything from a fisherman sitting by his boat in the moonlight to a dislocated eye peering from behind a cracked “window” of yellow glass.

You can plunge to the depths

The Madeiran archipelago’s Atlantic location makes it an obvious – and yet less-heralded – destination for scuba tourism.

When was Madeira discovered?

People often claim that the island was first discovered by the Portuguese at the beginning of their colonial Age of Discovery between the 15th and 16th centuries. But there seems to be ample evidence that sailors knew about the island well before that since it is sometimes included on maps from the 14th century. The oldest mention of the island seems to go back to the 1st century AD, to the Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder, but this is yet to be proven. Madeira was officially discovered in 1419.


The Madeira region has a total population of nearly 270,000, most of who live on the main island of Madeira. About 5,000 people live on Porto Santo island. The Desertas and Selvagens are inhabited only by park wardens, military and Maritime Police.

Mountainous island

Madeira island is mountainous with peaks reaching 6,100 feet. When claimed in 1419, the island was covered with laurel forest, leading to its name. ‘Madeira’ means ‘wood’ in Portuguese.

Levadas length

The island of Madeira has more than 1,350 miles of levadas created to transport water from the mountainous part of the island to the drier agricultural regions in the south.

Local beer

Coral, the local beer, has been produced at the Madeira Brewery since 1872. The brewery also produces the Brisa brand of soft drinks and Laranjada.

Meat on a spit

Espetada is traditional dish made from beef rubbed in garlic, salt and bay leaf and marinated for 4 to 6 hours in Madeira wine, vinegar and olive oil. The pieces of beef are then skewered onto a bay laurel stick and grilled. The meat is often served with milho frito, fried squares of corn meal and kale that’s similar to Italian polenta.


Embroidery was originally introduced to Madeira by the Phelps family from England who settled in Madeira in 1784. In 1854, Elizabeth Phelps established a small school in her home and taught children and women to embroider with her original designs. These embroideries became popular and sought-after by tourists. By the 1860’s embroidery had become a major industry with 70,000 women embroiderers “bordadeiras” in Madeira.