Direccao Regional de Turismo
Avenida Arriaga 18
Tel: 22 90 57 - Telex: 72141 DTM FNCP
Fax: 232151

Physical geography

In the North Atlantic, not far from where the Strait of Gibraltar links it with the Mediterranean, a group of massive rocks rises from the sea, the peaks of lofty mountains springing from the ocean floor.

The Archipelago of Madeira lies some 360 miles away from the African coast, at roughly the same latitude as Casablanca. It belongs to Portugal, whose capital, Lisbon, is a good 500 miles away. Named after the largest of the islands, Madeira, the archipelago forms a triangle whose apex is the island of Porto Santo and whose base stretches from Madeira in the northwest to the long chain of the Desertas in the southeast. Porto Santo, the most northerly island of the archipelago, is about seven miles long and three to four miles wide. On the north side, the land falls abruptly to rugged cliffs, while to the south the coast is graced by a gently curving bay. At one end of the six-mile beach of fine, golden sand lies the capital of Porto Santo, which is the second largest island of the group. Madeira, the largest and the most important island, has an area of 308 square miles. Its length is 36 miles and the extreme breadth of the island is 14 miles. The central mountain chain rises to a height of around 6,000 feet, the lower slopes falling away steeply to end in precipitous cliffs at the ocean's edge. Funchal, its capital, is a colourful town, full of gaiety and kindness, with a tapestry of roofs and gardens from the mountains to the sea.


Madeira has exceptional climatic conditions which make it a tourist resort all the year round. It is mild, varying between 70°F in summer and 62°F in winter. The sea temperature is also mild, due to the Gulf Stream current: average of 72°F in summer and 62°F in winter. <P><IMG SRC="../NEWPICS/Strip.gif" WIDTH="532" HEIGHT="3"><H3>Economic geography</H3> Primary resources of the Madeira archipelago besides tourism which is the key industry, are agriculture and fishing. Red mullet, bream, mackerel and tunny fish are all to be seen, but the most remarkable fish is the 'black espada' fish, delicious to eat, and only found off Madeira and one other area in the whole world - near Japan. They are caught on long, multi-hooked hand lines and hauled from depths of up to 3,000 feet. Grapes, bananas and sugar cane are still the island's principal crops, but it also grows a variety of vegetables, fruit and flowers. And, of course, there are still the local industries: hand-made embroidery, tapestry, handicraft and wickerwork, well-known all over the world, as well as the famous Madeira wine. A new free trade zone with an offshore centre, commercial and industrial areas is being set up by the regional government. <P><IMG SRC="../NEWPICS/Strip.gif" WIDTH="532" HEIGHT="3"><H3>Demography</H3> The two inhabitable islands of Madeira and Porto Santo have a total population of about 300,000, corresponding to an average density of 140 persons to the square mile. How little living space there actually is, especially for those engaged in farming, becomes clear when we see that this number rises to 400 per square mile when only the economically useful surface of the islands is concerned. <P>Funchal, its capital, has about 120,000 inhabitants.</P> <P><IMG SRC="../NEWPICS/Strip.gif" WIDTH="532" HEIGHT="3"><H3>A brief history</H3> Around 35 million years ago, a volcanic eruption in the Atlantic Ocean produced the archipelago of Madeira. The warm, moist climate ensured a growth of dense and luxuriant vegetation. The islands of Porto Santo and Madeira were discovered by Portuguese ships in 1418 and 1419 respectively, thanks to the pioneer work of Prince Henry the navigator. Prince Henry planted vines and sugar cane. The wine and fine quality of sugar attracted merchants from all Europe, and the island of Madeira became an invaluable port of call on the long sea voyages to Africa and India. The British occupied Madeira during the Napoleonic wars and stayed for nine years. Some made it their home. One began importing coal from England to supply the first steamships, and the age of steam saw the arrival of the first luxury passenger ships. 'Aquila Airways' started with flying boats and operated for ten years, connecting Madeira, Lisbon and Southampton. At last, in 1964, Funchal Airport was opened. The late arrival of tourists' flight services allowed Madeira to plan its subsequent development much more carefully than other more accessible locations. Madeira was able to keep its charm intact. Elegant, original hotels have now been joined by the most up-to-date ones, operating on the same high standards and also offering a wide choice of facilities and services. The result? A destination where the international tourist rules supreme. But Madeira got its charm untouched; nowhere, on the European travel map, could one be further removed from the frenetic, concrete, holiday jungles of so many resorts. <P><IMG SRC="../NEWPICS/Strip.gif" WIDTH="532" HEIGHT="3"><H3>Religions</H3> The great majority of the population is Roman Catholic. <P><IMG SRC="../NEWPICS/Strip.gif" WIDTH="532" HEIGHT="3"><H3>Languages spoken by nationals</H3> Portuguese. Many people speak English and French and, in the tourist business, German is also spoken. <P><IMG SRC="../NEWPICS/Strip.gif" WIDTH="532" HEIGHT="3"><H3>Time</H3> Greenwich Mean Time. <P><IMG SRC="../NEWPICS/Strip.gif" WIDTH="532" HEIGHT="3"><H3>Currency</H3> The Portuguese Escudo. For exchange rates see Portugal sheet. <P><IMG SRC="../NEWPICS/Strip.gif" WIDTH="532" HEIGHT="3"><H3>Official holidays (all offices and shops closed)</H3> <P>1 January, New Year's Day - Carnival (movable) - 25 April. Liberty Day - 1 May, Worker Day - 10 June Portugal Day - 1 July, Madeira Day - 15 August, Assumption - 5 October Proclamation of the Republic - 1 November, All Saint's Day -1 December, Restoration of Independence - 8 December, Immaculate Conception - 25 and 26 December, Christmas Days.</P> <P><IMG SRC="../NEWPICS/Strip.gif" WIDTH="532" HEIGHT="3"><H3>What one should not fail to see</H3> <I>Funchal:</I> Funchal Cathedral, Museum of Arte Sacra, Quinta das Cruzes Museum, Municipal Theatre; Quarter of Santa Maria, called the 'old part of town', the International Casino the Market. <P><I>Madeira:</I> Cabo Girao, the second highest sea cliff in the world Eira do Serrado, a belvedere over the village of Curral das Freiras situated on the island's deepest valley and the floor of an extinct crater; <I>Camara de Lobos</I>, a typical fishing village; <I>Camacha</I>, the wickerwork centre; <I>Pico do Areeiro</I>, the island's second highest point (1810 metres) with spectacular view of the surrounding mountains. <I>Porto Moniz</I>, with its natural swimming-pools; <I>Santana</I> and its typical houses; <I>Machico</I>, facing the beautiful 'Zarco' Bay and the very typical toboggan ride from <I>Monte</I> down to <I>Funchal</I>.</P> <H3>Museums </H3> Contempoary Art Museum, Museum of Sacred Art, Whale Museum, Mario Barbeito de Vasconcelos Museum - Library, Henrique e Francisco Franco Museum, Frederico de Freitas Museum, Quinta das Cruzes Museum, Funchal Municipal Museum, Vicnetes Photographic Museum, Madeira Wine Museum, Museum of Natural History, Wine Museum-Wine Institute, Museum House of Christopher Coluombus, Ethnographic Museum of Madeira, Sugar Museum. <P><IMG SRC="../NEWPICS/Strip.gif" WIDTH="532" HEIGHT="3"><H3>Most favourable seasons for sojourns and touring</H3> Madeira being an island of everlasting spring, anytime of the year is good for tourism. For sojourn, we would advise March to November. <P><IMG SRC="../NEWPICS/Strip.gif" WIDTH="532" HEIGHT="3"><H3>What to wear</H3> Light clothes (cotton, light washable materials). For mountain sightseeing it is advisable to take a sweater. <P><IMG SRC="../NEWPICS/Strip.gif" WIDTH="532" HEIGHT="3"><H3>Main holiday resorts</H3> Madeira has 17,831 beds divided among five-stars hotels (3,393 beds), four stars hotels (7,407 beds), other ones (7,031 beds) covering all the island. The main resort is Funchal, where almost all hotels are located, followed by Canico and Machico. The island of Porto Santo has 907 beds. Four four-star (546 beds) and two three-star (192 beds) and other inns (169 beds). <P><IMG SRC="../NEWPICS/Strip.gif" WIDTH="532" HEIGHT="3"><H3>Main holiday sports</H3> <I>Game fishing:</I> Costa do Sol, Lda, Missiltour, Turipesca, Clube de Tiro, Caca e Pesca da Madeira <BR><I>Water skiing:</I> Hotel Savoy (Funchal) <BR><I>Sailing:</I> Centro de Treino Mar da Madeira, Associacao de Vela, Remo e Canoagem, Clube Naval do Funchal, Assocacao Nautica da Madeira, Clube Naval do Porto Santo <BR><I>Surfing:</I> Clube Naval (Funchal), Hotel Madeira Carlton (Funchal), Hotel Savoy (Funchal), Hotel Dom Pedro aia (Machico) <I>Boat trips:</I> Costa do Sol Lda Marina, Madeira Dive, Diving Center Porto Santo, Clube Naval do Porto Santo <BR><I>Jet skiing:</I> Diving Center Porto Santo, Clube Naval do Funchal <BR><I>Golf:</I> Campo de golfe de Madeira, Palheiro Golfe <BR><I>Hunting:</I> Direcca regional de Florestas, Clube de Trio, caca e Pesca da Madeira <BR><I>Tennis:</I> Quinta Magnolia, Club de Tenis do Funchal, Associacao de Tenis da Madeira <BR><I>Squash:</I> Quinta Magnolia, Pavilhao dos Trabalhadores <BR><I>Scuba diving:</I> Attalaia Diving Club, Club/Mergulho, Manta-Rainer, Scorpio Divers, D Pedro Hotel <BR><I>Horseriding:</I> Associacao Hipica da Madeira, Centro hipico do Porto Santo, Excola de equitacao JCC <BR><I>Windsurfing:</I> Clube Naval do Funchal, Desportos Aquaticos do Porto Santo <BR><I>Canoeing:</I> Terras de Aventura & Turismo, Associacao regional de Vela, Remo e Canoagem, Centro de Treino Mar de Madeira, Clube Naval do Funchal, Clube Naval do Porto Santo. <P><IMG SRC="../NEWPICS/Strip.gif" WIDTH="532" HEIGHT="3"><H3>What to eat and drink</H3> In hotels and restaurants of the main resorts it is common to find menus written in English, French and German, as well as in Portuguese. There is a wide variety of fish from which we point out delicious dishes prepared of 'black espada fish'. As far as meat dishes are concerned, we can recommend the 'espetada' and the 'carne the vinho et alhos'. A soup made of tomatoes and onions and a special honey cake are also typical for Madeira. Mention should be made of the very famous Madeira wine, that can be drunk as an aperitif (very dry and medium dry) and as a dessert (sweet and medium sweet). <P><IMG SRC="../NEWPICS/Strip.gif" WIDTH="532" HEIGHT="3"><H3>What to buy