With two nicknames as evocative as these – the Pearl of the Atlantic and the Island of Eternal Spring – it comes as no surprise that Madeira offers one of Europe’s most charming destinations for a family holiday. This speck of an island in the Atlantic, off the coast of North Africa, benefits from a balmy climate year round, while its volcanic interior provides a dramatic backdrop that offers lots of options for an active holiday.
The island was discovered in 1418 by Portuguese sailors after a storm which pushed their ship off course. After many days adrift they sighted a small island they named Porto Santo, literally meaning holy harbour, which saved the crew from a watery death. Madeira is the Portuguese word for “wood”, and was named after the great tropical forest the Portuguese found when they arrived.
Nowadays, the very mild winters and warm summers make it an ideal holiday destination all year round, offering beautiful beaches, ancient forests, lush botanical gardens and delicious food, as well as all sorts of cultural activities. And the people are friendly, welcoming and love a party – there are colourful festivals throughout the year.
Why is Madeira perfect for families?
The gorgeous weather makes Madeira an incredible family-friendly destination with a wide range of outdoor activities. For those with an adventurous streak, the “Levadas” hiking trails wind through the countryside and into the extraordinary and ancient Laurisilva forest, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. En route, you’ll discover waterfalls, centuries-old trees, breathtaking views above the clouds and cute cottages built in harmony with their surroundings.
Swimming in Madeira is another highlight. From natural volcanic pools to golden beaches, there is a wide range of options across the island. The majority of the beach fronts have pools that are perfect for children; don’t miss the wondrous natural swimming pools in Porto Moniz and Seixal, which have the added benefits of playgrounds, bars and sun loungers or umbrellas for rent. For golden sandy beaches, take the boat to Porto Santo, with its palm trees and volcanic sands.
Funchal, where most tourists tend to gravitate, has a new marina offering a wide range of boat trips to see whales and dolphins. The old town, meanwhile, has a fabulous food market – Mercado dos Lavradores – selling exotic fresh fruit and vegetables, spices and tropical flowers. The food in Madeira makes the most of the surrounding waters and fresh produce that grows easily in the volcanic soil: fresh fish, Madeiran barbecues, typical Bread called “bolo do caco”, and the famous Poncha, a traditional drink made with the distilled alcohol from sugar cane, mixed with honey and a squeeze of lemon and orange.
Laura Bonito & Frederico Baptista
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