Madeira Island is one of the islands in the Madeira Archipelago, and was discovered by the Portuguese in the early 1400's. It's still part of Portugal today, and is a popular holiday destination with tourists from all over Europe. The stunning coastal scenery with a backdrop of soaring mountains, mixed with a rich heritage and artistic culture, make it a fascinating place to visit and stay awhile. Here are seven little known places to visit on Madeira Island - discover them for yourself!
Whaling has always been part of Caniçal's history, and in the past it was the center of Madeira's whaling industry. Whaling ceased in 1981, and now the waters around Caniçal have become a marine mammal sanctuary. It is illegal to kill whales, seals or dolphins here now. The old whaling company's offices have been converted into a very interesting whaling Museum (Museu de Baleia), and if you've watched John Huston's movie Moby Dick (1956), you might recognize some of the local scenery.
This is a fascinating area on Madeira Island, and is a perfect place to see the triangular thatches houses unique to Madeira. These houses were originally built in the 16th century, although currently the oldest examples are only around 100 years old. The steep triangular shape protects the house from the rain, and they are mainly for sleeping in, with bathrooms located well away from the houses. There are thatched cow byres dotted around the hillsides, and the valley is home to fruits, vegetables and willow trees in abundance.
Ilhéu da Camara de Lobos
Did you know that Winston Churchill enjoyed painting? Ilhéu da Camara de Lobos was one of his favorite subjects. It's still home to fishermen today, and still manages to maintain the feel of a picturesque fishing village. There's a 15th century chapel named after St Nicholas, which contains some fascinating decorations. Overlooking Ilhéu da Camara de Lobos is the highest sea cliff in Europe, Cabo Girão, which rises 589 m above sea level.
When the Portuguese first settled the island, it was divided into two parts. Funchal, the current hub of Madeira Island, became the center of the western part, and Machico the eastern side. Unlike Funchal, Machico developed slowly and quietly into a primarily agricultural town. There's a beautiful 15th-century church, the Igreja Matriz, and also the lovely Chapel of Miracles (Capela dos Milagres).
Golf is very popular in Madeira, and in face that Open da Madeira is part of the European PGA Tour. It's held around March, and is held at the Santo da Serra Golf Club. This course was originally designed by Robert Trent Jones, and currently contains 3 nine-hole golf courses. A new clubhouse with every possible amenity was opened in 2000. There are other golf courses dotted around the island, including the recently completed Estalagem do Santo.
Teleférico - Cable car
Catching a cable car is always fun, and if you're wandering around the old part of Funchal, give this one a go. It travels up to Monte, which is near the tropical gardens of Caminho das Babosas. It takes about 30 minutes return, and gives you a unique birds eye view of the city and surrounding hills. In colder months, it's even possible to toboggan back down to Funchal.
This now the official residence of the Regional Government, and is a magnificent old building. It was originally built in 1662, and has received many illustrious guests over the centuries, including Princess Adelaide (Queen Victoria's daughter) and the Empress Sissi. It has charming gardens, and along with the house itself makes it worth a visit.
These are seven highlights worth visiting on Madeira Island, but there are plenty more to explore. Give yourself plenty of time to discover everything this beautiful and historic island has to offer.