MADEIRA'S ETERNAL SPRING
Maxim|September - October 2020
The island of Madeira is an alluring destination thanks to fine food and wine served up in idyllic scenery
NICOLAS STECHER

It may be a bit hard to envision at the moment, but we will travel again. And when we do, Madeira awaits—a volcanic gem 400 miles off the coast of Morocco whose remoteness might just be its greatest asset. The Island of Eternal Spring reopened in July to visitors offering idyllic weather year round, ancient traditions and folklore, pampering luxury resorts, Michelin-starred restaurants and enough outdoor activities to make Hawaii look redundant. Recently voted Europe’s Leading Island Destination for the sixth time at the World Travel Awards, its relative mystery to Americans only makes it all the more appealing.

First charted in 1419 by Portuguese ships sailing under the flag of Prince Henry the Navigator, the discovery of Madeira officially marked the dawn of the Age of Exploration. When these sailors arrived the laurel forests were so thick they couldn’t even explore the land mass, so they set “Wood Island” aflame. Legend has it that the forests were still ablaze seven years later. Of course Madeira remains dense with natural grandeur: the UNESCO-protected Laurissilva cloud forest crowning its volcanic peaks forms just a fraction of the two-thirds of the island preserved for conservation.

The island quickly grew in esteem as a hub of Portuguese sugarcane. Its location also made it an ideal starting point for transatlantic journeys. Money poured in and vineyards exploded, earning Madeira’s wines— eau-de-vie fortified for the long cross-ocean voyages—global fame, especially in America. The Founding Fathers toasted the signing of the Declaration of Independence with Madeira wine, as did George Washington on his inauguration; lore claims our first POTUS drank a bottle of the island’s finest every day.

Today Madeira is only just beginning to realize the global attraction of its homegrown wines, as a Madeira Wines Route was just recently organized similar to the structured American Whiskey Trail. Although still in its nascent stages, many stalwart houses like Henriques & Henriques, Vinho Barbeito, Justin’s Madeira, Pereira D’Oliveira and Madeira Wine Company have updated their tasting rooms and/or launched tours. If you spend a couple afternoons visiting Madeira’s far-flung vineyards, it quickly becomes clear these unpolished edges aren’t a detraction, but rather add a layer of authenticity often missing in the all-too-precious Napa experience.

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