Madeira, Portugal
Photo by Zdenek Svoboda  –  Link

Madeira

Portugal

With its dramatic scenery, volcanic terrain and wild, boulder-covered shorelines, Madeira is not exactly a beach holiday destination. But this unique archipelago off the coast of Africa has won the hearts of intrepid travellers ever since it was discovered by Portuguese explorers in the early 1400s.

Thanks to its rich volcanic soil, Madeira is a hotspot for vegetation, its most famous export being fortified Madeira wine. A visit to Madeira isn't complete without a taste of this aperitif, which comes in a few different varieties including dry, smoky and sweet. For a truly authentic experience you can pair it with espetada, a signature local dish of beef skewers rubbed with garlic and salt and then roasted over hot coals.

Where to go in Madeira?

Most of the cultural activity takes place in Madeira's capital, Funchal. Here you can tour the Gothic cathedral, stroll through the farmers' market, and attend one of the city's many festivals. If you visit Madeira during the winter time, you might be able to see its annual fireworks display, a magnificent show that draws visitors from across the globe.

Some other attractions worth visiting on Madeira are the Sacred Art Museum of Funchal and the Casa das Mudas arts centre in Calheta, which houses an impressive collection of contemporary Portuguese art.

Outdoor activities

The best things to do in Madeira undoubtedly involve taking in all of its breathtaking natural wonders, from rugged high cliffs to lush gardens and cavernous canyons.

The adventurous types among us will be spoilt for choice. Hiking the main island's numerous trails is a popular pastime, but you can also go surfing, paragliding, mountain biking, kayaking... the list goes on! And a boat trip offshore will likely involve a dolphin spotting or two.

If you simply can't do without a bit of sun and sand, the island of Porto Santo is located just 15 minutes away by plane from the main island. Here you'll find a six-mile stretch of golden sand and crystal blue waters.