Cristiano Ronaldo, levadas, and bananas are some of the items we immediately associate with Madeira, but besides these what is Madeira famous for?
Located in the North Atlantic Ocean, Madeira is only under 400 kilometers to the north of the Canary Islands, 520 kilometers west of Morocco, and 900 Southwest of mainland Portugal. Madeira Archipelago includes the islands of Madeira, Porto Santo, and the Desertas.
Before the Portuguese settlement in the 15th century, Madeira was not inhabited. The discovery of Madeira is considered to be the first step of the Portuguese Age of Discovery. Today, despite being small in area, there are about 250 000 people living in Madeira. The archipelago has developed an interesting and unique culture, famous products, and people.
So, without more delays, let’s explore what is Madeira renowned for!
10 Things Madeira is famous for
You may not know that Cristiano Ronaldo was born in Madeira, but unless you live under a rock you surely know him. Or if you like football you have endlessly talked and discussed his games and plays! He is the most well-known Portuguese footballer and one of the best players in the world having won five Ballon d’Or awards.
Ronaldo was born and raised in Madeira and only left the island at the age of 12 when went to Lisbon to join Sporting’s youth teams. Cristiano Ronaldo debuted in the Portuguese league at the age of 17, and he impressed immediately. One year later he was already playing for Manchester United.
During his career, Ronaldo has played for Sporting, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Juventus, and the Portuguese National team. He is considered one of the best players of all time, having scored more than 800 goals. With more than 110 goals for Portugal, he is also the world’s all-time (male) top scorer at the international level.
Besides being a superb football player and athlete, Cristiano Ronaldo is also a superstar. He is the most popular sportsperson on social media with love 500 million total followers across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (as of February 2021).
In Madeira, you will find several references to Cristiano Ronaldo. Madeira’s Airport is officially called the Cristiano Ronaldo International Airport, there’s Cristiano Ronaldo Museum, the CR7 hotel, and a statue.
The laurel forest or the Laurissilva is one of the most famous things about Madeira, particularly to adventure travelers and hikers. It is one of the main and most impressive attractions of Madeira island.
The Laurissilva is a type of subtropical forest found in areas of high humidity with mild and relatively stable temperatures. It is characterized by having mostly broadleaf tree species with evergreen, glossy elongated leaves, called lauroid.
Madeira’s Laurissilva was appointed a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1999 and together with Garajonay National Park in the Canary Islands are considered the best remaining examples of the Atlantic laurel forest. The Laurissilva exist in Madeira for at least 1.8 million years.
Madeira’s Laurissilva develops between 300 and 1300 meters of altitude and it is considered the largest bay forest in the world, converting about 20% of the island, mostly on the north coast. Before colonization, the forest covered more than 60%, but fires, agriculture, and human settlements reduced the area.
The laurissilva is a truly enchanted forest, with unique endemic plants and animals that live exclusively there, such as the long-toed pigeon. The best way to explore this remarkable natural landmark is by hiking it, which takes us to the next item: the levadas and veredas of Madeiras.
What is Madeira known for? The hiker in me immediately thinks about two things: veredas and Levadas. Madeira’s trails are internationally famous and attract trekkers from all over the world.
Veredas are typical hiking trails, they were mainly routes used to go from one place to the other. Many times, they were used to shorten the distance between villages. There are some veredas that are truly breathtaking like PR1 Vereda do Pico Ruivo (an astonishing mountain trek) and PR8 Vereda da Ponta de S. Lourenço which takes us through the coast to the eastern part of the island.
However, It’s the levadas that make hiking in Madeira such a unique experience. A levada is a water channel with a light slope built to transport water from the northern wetter side of the island to the drier and sunnier south. Levadas were constructed for centuries, from the 15th to the 20th century. Initially to supply water to sugar cane plantations, but then to wine production and even electricity.
There are hundreds and hundreds of km of levadas in Madeira. Some people say more than 1400 km, others 3000. Either way, it’s impressive and most of them are still used. They also have hiking trails, some of which are fully marked and perfectly safe. Some levadas take us directly into the Laurissilva forest, others go through canyons and tunnels.
There are levadas for everyone and others a bit more challenging. Levada dos Balcões for example is very easy and accessible to anyone. Levada do rei is also easy, but longer, taking us through a canyon into the heart of the forest. Levada do Caldeirão Verde is spectacular, with tunnels, Laurissilva forest, and waterfalls, while Levada das 25 Fontes is probably the most famous one.
One of the most exciting things about hiking and driving in Madeira is the waterfalls that appear out of nowhere. Wherever you are in Madeira, it is always possible to have a beautiful waterfall around the corner.
There are so many waterfalls in Madeira, that many of them don’t even have a name, or at least not one that many people know of. Others are quite famous like:
- 25 Fontes – translates to 25 fountains because it looks to have an endless number of fountains draining from the walls of the main fall
- Risco – a high waterfall that looks like a risk
- Véu da Noiva – beautiful waterfall that falls from 30-40 meters almost into the sea
- Anjos – small waterfall, but famous for falling into a working road.
If you love waterfalls, then Madeira is a perfect destination for you. The combination of the high humidity and rain with the huge canyons creates a number and diversity of waterfalls that are rare to find anywhere else. The only downside is that many rivers and streams in Madeira are small which means that in the dry season some of the waterfalls will have little or no water at all.
Porto Santo Beach
Madeira Island is a hiker’s paradise, known for the levadas and laurisilva forest. It is not a beach island, as it has few sand beaches and nome particularly amazing. Porto Santo is the opposite – its beach is wonderful and the main attraction of the island.
With roughly 9 km of beautiful yellow sand, the Porto Santo beach is one of the best beaches in Portugal. The water is warm and has lovely shades of turquoise. As it is a huge beach, there’s always space for everyone, even when one wants to be away from everyone else.
The size, the lovely sand, and inviting water made Porto Santo beach well-known but the island is small and calm. Even with a world-class beach it rarely gets hectic making it perfect for romantic escapades and families looking for a place to rest and relax.
What food is Madeira Famous for? Well, there are quite a few… we couldn’t pinpoint which is the most famous one, so we decided to share a few of those.
For obvious reasons, Madeiran food shares a lot of characteristics with Portuguese food, but it also has many distinctive dishes, ingredients, and techniques. Let’s explore some of the most well-known Madeiran food:
- Bolo do Caco – traditional Madeira bread. It’s served as an appetizer or as a sandwich. It’s delicious when warm with butter and garlic.
- Espetada – Madeira beef skewer in laurel branches and cooked over hot coal.
- Black scabbardfish – The most typical of the Madeira fishes. There are dozens of recipes.
- Exotic fruits – Madeira is home to some exotic fruits. You can buy them at local shops and farmer’s market. Bananas, Anonas, passion fuits, Papayas, Mangos, Guavas, Pitangas, Tamarillo… there are a lot of delicious fruits to try in Madeira
The restaurants in Madeira usually serve a mix of Madeiran, Portuguese and international dishes. So, you probably won’t have much trouble finding food of your liking.
What is Madeira famous for producing? Wine, Madeira wine. In general, Portugal is famous for producing Wine. Madeira Wine is perhaps the second most popular Portuguese wine, only after the world-famous Port Wine produced in the Douro Valley.
Madeira is a fortified wine, produced in a variety of styles, from dry to sweet wines. The dry wines can be consumed on their own or as an aperitif, while the sweet wines are more commonly used as a dessert wine.
Wine was introduced in Madeira right after its discovery and colonization. The winemaking process of Madeira is rather unusual and involves oxidizing the wine through heat and aging. Because of it, the wine flavor and amora are unique but it also makes it extremely durable. It is said that some varieties survive for decades and even centuries, even after being opened.
Madeira is very popular among European and American elites. In fact, Napoleon stopped in Madeira on his way to Santa Helena to buy Madeira wine to make his exile smoother. And, on the 4th of July of 1776, the independence of the USA was celebrated by Thomas Jefferson and his peers with a glass of Madeira Wine.
Another famous export from Madeira is the banana. Madeira Bananas are typically smaller than the South and Central American ones, but they are usually delicious, and highly regarded for their intense flavor and aroma.
Originally from Southeast Asia, Banana production in Madeira started in the 16th century. There are historical records of the fruit on the island dating back to 1552, but the exact year of introduction is unclear. It is estimated that Madeira produces about 18 tones of Bananas per year, exporting about 80% of them.
High temperatures, sun exposure, and abundant water from the levadas mean that the Island has good conditions for producing Bananas, particularly in the South. Most of the farms are small and made of small parcels of land but together make up more than 700 hectares of land.
When visiting Madeira, you’ll easily find these farms and it is even possible to visit some of them. They are mostly located in the south, between sea level and 200 meters altitude. The sea, sun, mild climate, volcanic soils, irrigation, and seed selection created a fruit with exceptional attributes that is well-known in Portugal and increasingly popular worldwide.
The toboggan rides are one of the most iconic things to do in Madeira, and one of its most famous peculiarities. Madeira’s toboggan ride is so peculiar that it was destined to become a famous tourist attraction.
Originally used as a quick downhill means of transportation from the Monte village to the city of Funchal, the Toboggan sleds were developed at the beginning of the 19th century.
Today, and for a long time, they are a tourist attraction and a rather unique one. Where else can you find wood and wicker toboggans sliding for up to 30 km/h, driven by two runners, dressed in white and wearing typical straw hats? It surely is a different, fun, and memorable experience, which is why they are so famous.
The whole descent is approximately 2kms, and takes 10 minutes, going from Monte to Livramento. It costs about 30 euros for 2 people. You can take the Cable Car to climb to Monte and descend by toboggan.
Year-round nice weather
Finally, Madeira is well-known for its warm, nice, and sunny weather all year round. It is obviously warmer and drier in Summer, and wetter and cold in Winter. However, it is rare to rain continuously for several days and it has a small thermal gap than other regions.
Madeira is particularly known as a sunny winter destination and one of the best European regions to escape the winter cold. Though, not as inviting as in Summer, it is perfectly possible to find winter days that are warm enough to walk around in shorts and t-shit and even dive into the ocean.
Nevertheless, we need to mention that the warm temperatures are mainly at sea level. Madeira high mountains in its interior where temperatures are much lower and rains frequently. It even snows in winter. Keep this in mind when heading there and always pack for the four seasons.