When Christopher Columbus described these islands, he said that they look like a scrunched up piece of paper. He came here in 1478 to get married to Filipa Moniz. There are no railways, here. Contrary to popular belief, The Madeira Cake is actually an English creation, named after Madeira wine, popular in England at the time and often drank with the cake. The traditional cake of the islands is the ‘bolo de mel’, considered Madeira’s oldest dessert. The islands have the largest surviving area of laurel forest on Earth. Football (soccer) player Cristiano Ronaldo was born here, in the capital city of Funchal. And in the 1880s, the ukulele was created, based on two small guitar-like instruments of Madeiran origin. Oh yes, today we’re in the pearl of Portugal, Madeira.
The Região Autónoma da Madeira is a Portuguese archipelago in the North Atlantic Ocean, one of the two autonomous regions of Portugal, the other being Azores. The Madeiran archipelago includes the islands of Madeira, Porto Santo and the Desertas, as well as the Savage Islands. The islands have a population of 270,000 and cover an area of 309 square miles. The name comes from the Portuguese word ‘madeira’, meaning ‘wood’, because the islands were previously thickly wooded. The Cross of Christ appears on the flag alluding to the fact the islands were discovered by two knights of the Household of Henry the Navigator (an important figure in Portuguese political history). The cross was the symbol of the Household. Many have claimed the design of the flag is inspired by the flag of the Archipelago Liberation Front, a now defunct terrorist group whose main goal was to achieve independence from Portugal. And Madeira’s motto is wonderful. ‘Das Ilhas as Mais Belas e Livres’, or, ‘Of all islands, the most beautiful and free’.
Folkloric music is hugely popular, constructed with native instruments, regularly performed in proud and joyous occasions. They’re famed for their native wine and beer, and fish, meat, pastry and coffee are hugely popular. Sport here is exuberant – football, basketball, rugby, surfing, handball, diving, walking and hiking are all practised regularly among the islanders. Whale and dolphin watching is incredibly popular, too. Many species of both can be found just off the islands. Islands that are characterised by cliffs that rise dramatically from the sea. As Júlio Dinis once said of the capital city, Funchal, “The sea on one side, the mountains on the other, and between these two majestic splendours, the city smiles like a child sleeping, safe and warm, between its parents.”
There are many great places to enjoy. Monte Palace Tropical Garden is a luscious green oasis, a tropical paradise of sumptuous delight. You have the Eira do Serrado, a valley surrounded by some of the most stunning mountain scenery you’re ever likely to see. Sweeping vistas of majestic grace, pulchritudinous in an exciting tohu-bohu of elegant equilibrium. And the countless levadas that are draped over the islands, waterways now enveloped in moss and other greenery, looking resplendent as if in an oneiric fairytale.
I think the greatest sight to behold is Pico do Arieiro. A wondrous isangelous mountain range, a muckle majesty so breathtakingly empyrean it’s almost viewless. Almost unreal. It’s hard to imagine such blithesome art can exist outside of heaven, but clearly, it does. It is utterly awesome. A sight filled to the brim with brio and beauty.
Madeira. The islands of unearthly gorgeousness, wine and the ukulele.
Images: 1) The flag of Madeira (credit: wikimedia.org), 2) Pico do Arieiro (credit: becausetheyrethere.com), 3) A typical Madeiran levada (credit: wikimedia.org)
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