5 things you didn’t know about Madeira
1. It’s an archipelago, not an island
The popular perception is that Madeira is a lone outcrop, adrift off the coast of Morocco – but, in fact, this volcano-born fragment of the eastern Atlantic is merely the biggest segment of a broader archipelago. The “second” island, Porto Santo, hides 44 miles (71km) to the north-east of Funchal – and is so off the beaten track that Christopher Columbus once lived here.
2. You can visit a ‘mini Galapagos’
Comparisons to Ecuador’s wildlife havens are not wholly far-fetched in the case of the Desertas Islands – three narrow slivers in the sea, the biggest of which, Deserta Grande, lurks 16 miles (26km) south-east of Madeira. Largely uninhabited, they are home to eight species of seabird, the Madeiran wall lizard – and a colony of Mediterranean monk seals. Ventura Nature Emotion (venturadomar.com) offers day trips from Funchal for €80 (£70) per person.
3.Seven is a magic number
Madeira has a very famous son, and Cristiano Ronaldo wants you to know this. Not only is the island’s airport named in honour of the Real Madrid superstar, but he was one of the founding forces behind Museu CR7 (museucr7.com), which opened in Funchal in 2013 as a not entirely hubris-free tribute to his achievements. It houses replicas of his (many) trophies, such as the European Championship he won as Portugal captain in 2016.
4.The capital is colourful
Funchal catches the eye at the heart of the Zona Velha (Old Town) with its Painted Doors Project (arteportasabertas.com) – a swirl of public creativity, which has seen the entrances to buildings along the Rua de Santa Maria adorned with bright paintings and imaginative scenes. Images include everything from a fisherman sitting by his boat in the moonlight to a dislocated eye peering from behind a cracked “window” of yellow glass.
5. February tends to be fun
Madeira is not the sole Atlantic island to throw itself into feather headdresses and general flamboyance when the second month of the year appears (Tenerife throws an epic party). But its annual carnival is one of Europe’s best cases of Mardi Gras mayhem – revolving around a parade, held on the Saturday before Shrove Tuesday. Find details of the 2019 event (Feb 27-March 6) at visitmadeira.pt.