Portugal close to Africa: Madeira – which, together with the neighboring country Porto Santo and a few uninhabited mini-islands, belongs to the autonomous region of Madeira – is known for its year-round spring-like climate and its rich flora, to which it owes the nickname Flower Island. Around 700 kilometers off the Moroccan coast in the Atlantic, you will find green parks and gardens full of hydrangeas, strelitzia and caplilies, rugged cliffs and extensive laurel forests all over Madeira.
Because Madeira was created through volcanic activity and was never connected to the mainland, some special species developed here, such as the Madeira cabbage white butterfly or the Madeira lizard, which can only be found here. It is believed that the island of Atlantis, which the Roman historian and writer Pliny the Elder mentions in his “Natural History” around 77 AD, is Madeira.
The name of the island’s capital, Funchal, means something like “a lot of fennel” – that is what the Portuguese saw when they landed on the island in 1419: a thick vegetation with wild fennel.
The most promising way to get around on the 741 square kilometer island is to use one of the eleven cable cars that connect interesting places, such as the botanical garden with the village of Monte above the island’s capital. The most idiosyncratic means of transport is a basket sledge, with which the return journey through the narrow and steeply sloping streets can be covered in record time – pushed by the carreiros, men dressed entirely in white with straw hats and leather boots.
Awarded as the world’s leading island destination for the sixth time in a row at the “World Travel Awards” in 2020, Madeira is currently one of the few areas in Europe for which there is no travel warning from the German Foreign Office.
A negative PCR test must be presented for entry. Alternatively, you can have yourself tested at the airport, but then you have to be in isolation for around twelve hours before the result is available.
A statue in honor of the world footballer Cristiano Ronaldo
Madeira’s most famous son is without a doubt Cristiano Ronaldo. Born in Funchal in 1985, the five-time world footballer opened his own hotel with the “Pestana CR7 Funchal”. There is also a museum and a statue dedicated to him on the island.
“The statue is more beautiful than me,” said Ronaldo in 2014 at the unveiling of the three-meter-high, bronze monument near the harbor – more beautiful than the abundantly unsuccessful and now revised bust that was on view for a long time at the airport named after Ronaldo it at most.
The step, which visitors love to touch, is particularly striking that it now shines golden. The „CR7 Museum“, in front of which the monument stands, is solely dedicated to the numerous prizes and awards the athlete has won so far.
The black scabbard fish is a delicacy
Definitely try: the island specialties Espetada (a meat skewer) and Espada (an eel-like fish found in the North Atlantic). The black scabbard fish, as it is called in German, is one and a half meters long when fully grown, lives at depths of up to 1700 meters and only rises to higher water layers at night, where it is sometimes used by fishermen.
Due to the pressure difference, it changes its color from a copper tone to black in the air. He is the most popular with banana, so served with the Madeira native banana.
Sisi made the luxury hotel “Reid’s Palace” famous
„Reid’s Palace“ is Madeira’s most famous hotel – and one of the most expensive. Built in 1891, the luxury house quickly attracted wealthy Europeans fleeing the cold and damp winter – especially after the Austrian Empress Sisi spent a month and a half here two years after opening and made Madeira a trendy destination. The Irish playwright and Nobel Prize winner George Bernard Shaw took dance lessons here in order to be able to take part in the Saturday (and still held) dinner dance.
When business was down in the post-war period, the idea of inviting former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill came up. He came in the 1950s, wrote his memoirs here, regularly strolled through the terraced gardens with its mimosa and bougainvillea, and in the following years attracted British tourists to the island. The “Reid’s Palace”, now part of the luxury brand Belmond, is celebrating its 130th birthday this year.
The laurel forest is a Unesco World Heritage Site
Madeira’s laurel forest, the largest in the world, measures 150 square kilometers. It covers about a fifth of the island. The forest, also known as Laurisilva, which thrives on the island from an altitude of 300 meters, consists of subtropical plants that were native to large parts of the Mediterranean region in the warm Tertiary age 66 to 2.6 million years ago and disappeared there during the ice ages.
In the Atlantic, laurel forests can also be found in the Azores and some Canary Islands. Because of its size and uniqueness, Madeira’s laurel forest, which in remote locations still has the character of a primeval forest, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Seafarers brought Madeira wine from Portugal to the United States
Madeira’s most important export is a wine that bears the island’s name. It is made from four grape varieties called Sercial, Verdelho, Boal and Malvasia and then stored in wooden barrels for at least three years. But there are also wines in the “Over Forty Years Old” class, which have matured for more than 40 years.
The grape harvest takes place in August and September, when the smell of must penetrates the around 4,000 wine cellars and many private houses. Due to its high alcohol content (up to 22 percent) and its large residual sweetness, which makes it the perfect aperitif or digestif, it has a long shelf life even in opened bottles.
Madeira wine was popular with seafarers centuries ago and was often taken to America – in 1776, George Washington toasted with it to celebrate the US Declaration of Independence. In 1903, Madeira sauce was invented on the occasion of a banquet for the Belgian Prince Albert, which includes Madeira wine in addition to white wine and veal stock.
“Between two huge beauties, this city smiles like a sleeping little child, safe and warm, between its parents”
With these words the mainland Portuguese Júlio Dinis, a 19th century writer who is widely read to this day, praised Madeira’s capital Funchal and its location between the Atlantic Ocean and the mountains. In fact, parts of the city are located on cliffs by the sea – such as the airport, which is therefore a difficult destination to fly to and which can only be approached by pilots with the appropriate experience. Dinis, whose real name was Joaquim Guilherme Gomes Coelho, visited Madeira three times from 1869. He lived in Rua da Careira 90, where a statue reminds of him today.
Quirky, record-breaking, typical: You can find more parts of our regional geography series here.
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