Picture Perfect
Global Traveler|April 2020
Explore Madeira in all its mesmerizing natural beauty.
IRENE RAWLINGS

DRAMATIC MOUNTAINS. INTOXICATING VISTAS.

Spring-like weather. And 5-star hotels. All this originally attracted an older, moneyed crowd to the Portuguese island of Madeira — located in the Atlantic, 700 miles from the Portuguese mainland. George Bernard Shaw learned to tango on the lawn of the iconic Reid’s Palace Hotel (now a Belmond). Sir Winston Churchill came here to paint the island’s staggeringly beautiful seascapes.

But recently the picture on this verdant 35- by 13-mile volcanic island has begun to change.

The silver-haired aristocrats are still here, but so are entrepreneurs attracted by the EU’s favorable business climate for startups, young families escaping the cold northern winters, and hardy adventure seekers. These include surfers looking for world-class waves, cave divers exploring the underwater caverns, distance runners getting fit on ocean trails (think Chariots of Fire) and cyclists braving gravity-defying inclines and the ever-changing weather. Local outfitters like Terras de Adventura and LokoLoko can provide gear and guides.

Start your visit in Funchal, Madeira’s capital city. The name comes from the fragrance of wild fennel (or funchal) that perfumed the air 600 years ago, when the Portuguese discovered the island. Today visitors flock to the old town with its narrow, cobbled streets. Stop at the interactive Madeira Story Centre for a glimpse of Madeira’s colorful past, including numerous attacks by pirates. Have lunch on the rooftop restaurant. Children of all ages will enjoy Museo do Brinquedo; the toy museum features more than 20,000 cars, dolls and even vintage Star Wars action figures. Stroll down Rua de Santa Maria to admire the Art of Open Doors Project, with imaginative scenes depicted on the front doors of each little house and shop.

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