Madeira is made of two main Islands, Madeira and Porto Santo. The main island, Madeira, is 56 Kms. long and 19 Kms. wide but it would take a day to drive around the island due to its volcanic peaks that soar up to 1.862 metres, then in places dropping sharply into the ocean and down another 1.000 metres to the seabed. This island in the Atlantic Ocean has a land area of about 797 square kilometres, and about 600 Kms. away from the coast of Morocco.
The Islands were known about by earlier sailors than the original settlement of people which took place in the early 15th Century led by the Portuguese explorer João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira.
Sugar cane was grown and by 1514 there were already some 5.000 permanent inhabitants. It became a fought over prize for both the French and the Spanish. The French sacked Funchal in 1566 and it was not until 1662 when the Portuguese regained permanent control.
In 1801 An English fleet arrived and temporary took Funchal by ousting the Spanish and French defending forces. This action was repeated by the English in 1807 and again returned it to Portuguese control. There is a romantic story which records that the ship carrying the famous pirate William Kidd and his immense treasure, sank in a location close to the Deserted Islands.
By 1890s the island had attracted tourists and many English residents and has since continued as a very popular location due to the temperate climate of never being too hot nor too cold.
Two notable English families were the Blandys and the Leacocks, both of which placed the island on the international map with the export of Madeira Wine and Madeira Lace.
The later family were once surprised by Napoleon. who on his way to his future Island imprisonment, laid anchor in order to trade some very valuable paintings for Madeira wine.
Today, the total resident population has greatly expanded and exceeds 100,000 whilst emigration which has been been long practiced is now in the past due to the growth of the tourist industry.
The town and port of Funchal is the main town of the Ilha de Madeira. The port is architecturally pleasing with the added attraction of its decorative paved streets. Visitors to the island are usually smitten by the impressive rugged beauty of its peaks in comparison to the lush semi-tropical vegetation around its coastline.
The hidden valleys and peaks of the Island all deserve a visit together as do the several botanical gardens, some of which are part of old private residencies opened to the public.
A trip around the island has to to take in the village of Santana on the north coast where the visitor will still see the traditional triangular shaped homes of the islanders. For the healthy at heart is a trip to Pico do Areeiro and climb to the highest point on the island at 1.862 metres.
For fun there is the special and unusual dry toboggan ride on the Monte in the main town. Most visitors find too much to do on the island, and too little time! A very special time to visit Funchal is over the New Year’s Eve which is world famous for the quality of its celebration.
About two hours by boat will take you to the island of Porto Santo that has what the main island mainly lacks – sandy beachs of 9 kms. in length.
Here, there is museum to Christopher Columbus who is said to have lived on the island after marrying the daughter of the first governor.
Porto Santo has become very popular as a holiday destination in the last five years with its golf course and Hotels which have stolen the peaceful past beauty of the island.
The Ilhas Desertas(Deserted Islands) can also be reached by taking a boat trip. The Island are now a nature reserve due to the killing off of wildlife by the local fishermen. The Islands is curiously the only home of the black wolf spider that is deadly to humans.
Most world travellers find the Madeira Islands so attractive and interesting that they tend to return more than once.