The Floating Garden
Nicknamed the Floating Garden, Madeira is Portugal’s answer to the Garden of Eden. Fuchsia bougainvillea, scarlet poinsettias and lilac jacaranda trees blanket the landscape, turning entire villages Technicolor.
The good looks aren’t limited to the island’s interior. Make your way down to Madeira’s coast and you’ll come across small rocky coves and pebbly bays. Sand is in limited supply here, but there are a couple of exceptions to the rule. You’ll find a volcanic sweep of sand in Ribeira Brava, and a man-made stretch of beach in Calheta, where the sands have been especially shipped over from Morocco.
Madeira’s capital, Funchal, is made up of colonial buildings, basalt churches and slumbering squares. The narrow backstreets of the old town are packed with wine bars and family-run tavernas, while the marina is lined with cafés and seafood restaurants.
Canico De Baixo
Just east of Funchal is the area of Canico De Baixo, which has made a name for itself as a luxury holiday spot. The parish’s old quarter is built around an 18th-century church and a sleepy square, while the new quarter is filled with boutique hotels and cliff top villas.
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Since its founding back in 1424, the capital city of Funchal has settled in nicely on Madeira’s south coast. It’s a real jigsaw of a place with its famously colourful gardens and a cobbled old town that comes with a 15th-century cathedral and traditional restaurants. And pieced between these are modern shopping malls, stylish clubs and a smart marina ringed with upscale places to eat.
Canico de Baixo
Canico, on Madeira’s southern coast, is a real 2-parter. Up on the hill you’ll find a traditional old village, complete with square and 18th-century church. But head 2 kilometres down a steep, winding road and you’ll reach Canico de Baixo, a modern resort area that’s all chic hotels and villas. The steep cliffs and winding roads make for some dramatic views, too.
Peaceful, pint-sized Calheta is tucked into the base of southern Madeira’s rugged green hills. It’s one of the few places on the island that lays claim to its own proper beach, after a haul of sand was shipped in from Morocco. These days, it flies its Blue Flag with pride. Sheltered by two sea walls, the water’s calm and current-free. And the marina next door is the launching point for whale-watching boat trips.