Although it’s part of Portugal, Madeira is actually closer to North Africa. Famous for Christian Renaldo, Madeira cake and deliciously sweet wine, the island has gained a reputation as a holiday destination of choice for retirees. But in the past few years, it’s started to become popular with a new generation of travellers looking beyond its beaches and cruise port. Known as the ‘Pearl of the Atlantic’, Madeira is popular for its lively towns, beach resorts and hiking – as well as its year-round sunshine. But how much do you know about the lovely, laid-back destination? From flower power to endangered seals, put your knowledge to the test, with these interesting facts about Madeira.
Interesting facts about Madeira
1. It’s not an island, it’s an archipelago
Most people think that Madeira is a lone island adrift in the Atlantic Ocean, but it’s an archipelago. Located just under 400 km (250 miles) from the Canary Islands and 520 km (320 miles) from the west coast of Morocco, the area encompasses Madeira, Porto Santo and Desertas. It is the outermost part of the European Union.
2. Flower has superstar power in Madeira
Madeira is teeming with endemic species. Spring is the best time to see the archipelago in full bloom when the jasmine, begonias, freesias, magnolia and camellias carpet the island.
The annual Madeira Flower Festival, which kicks off in May is a huge celebration of the country’s native and exotic flora and fauna. There are flower carpets, kiosks selling flowers, and a flower pavilion. It culminates in the Flower Festival Parade, which sees flower floats race across the capital. There’s also a Madeira Flower Classic Auto Parade and the Madeira Flower Collection, a mesmerizing fashion shop.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo is from Madeira
Possibly Madeira’s most famous cultural export, Cristiano Ronaldo was born in the Sao Pedro Paris of Funchal in Madeira. His presence is everywhere – they even named the airport after him. At the CR7 Museum on the marina in Funchal, you can see trinkets from his early days and major league trophies he’s picked up since then. He also owns a sprawling €7 million mansion on the island.
4. Madeira hosts one of Europe’s best Mardi Gras parties
In the second month of the year, Madeira goes mad for Mardi Gras. Held on the Saturday before Shrove Tuesday, the streets transform into a colourful street party. There are parades, parties, children’s carnivals and “robberies”, where disguised groups of friends pretend to “steal” traditional carnival delicacies.
The festival dates back to the late 19th century when traditional “mascarados” (street revellers) would dress up in old rags and have a good old jolly. Those with more money would host a fancy dress ball or a masquerade party. By the early 20th century, the event had developed into a full-on fiesta. Then, in the 1970s the festivals moved to the streets. The rest is history.
5. Madeira is home to a tiny Galapagos
The Desertas Islands is a tiny archipelago floating out in the Atlantic Ocean. It’s part of the wider Madeira Archipelago, just 25 kilometres (16 miles) from the eastern tip of Madeira island. These three long and narrow volcanic slivers are known as “the Galapagos of Europe”, for good reason. It’s a haven for rare and endangered wildlife. There are lots to see here, but most people hotfoot here to see the Mediterranean monk seals, which can reach up to three metres in length and 300kg in weight. There are only a few hundred left in the world.
6. Madeira is one of two autonomous regions in Portugal
Madeira is one of Portugal’s two autonomous regions. Azores Islands and Madeira, combined with Continental Portugal, form the whole of the Portuguese Republic.
7. Madeira makes some excellent fortified wines
Winemaking in Madeira dates back to the late 15th century. Apparently, on ships headed to the East Indies, they would add spirits to the wine barrels to prevent the wine from spoiling on the long journeys. When these barrels returned to the island, having aged and been exposed to the heat, they found the wine had improved. Today, some of the most famous styles of Madeira wine include Sercial, Verdelho and Bual, as well as Malvasia.
Madeira wines have had some popular champions over the years too. Thomas Jefferson allegedly toasted the US Declaration of Independence with a bottle of Madiera.