Madeira – Portugal

Pearl of the Atlantic

With a subtropical climate warmed by the Gulf Stream, this volcanic outcrop off the coast of Africa is Portugal’s own floating garden. The early 15th-century discovery of Madeira by Prince Henry the Navi­gator launched Portugal’s golden age.

It was “discovered” again by the vacationing winter- weary British in the 19th century, Anglo loy­alty became almost legendary, so taken were terrain terraced and farmed by gentle people; the dark, sweet wine—and “days of perpetual June.”

Dramatic peaks and a crisscross network of signposted walking paths encourage forays into the verdant countryside. A longtime favorite hike follows the old levadas—a manmade web of irrigation channels that carried water from the mountaintops down through the farms to the fields and villages below.

The 36-by 14-mile island (70 percent is national park) packs more into its chaotic terrain than most areas five times its size. A corkscrew drive into the dramatic interior up and over its razorback spine, the Serra de Agua, is a white-knuckle thriller, with rewarding views of Pico Ruivo— at 6,109 feet, Madeira’s highest mountain.

The distinguished Reid’s Palace is the undisputed queen of Funchal, Madeira’s capi­tal, created to accommodate every visiting aristocrat’s need since opening in 1891. High on a promontory that commands a sweeping panorama of the harbor city and the craggy, verdant mountains beyond, Reid’s is enveloped in acre upon flowering acre of tended gardens, a fragrant riot of flowers, palms, and birds of paradise.

Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, and countless other dignitaries and celebrities have made this tum-of-the-century hotel the roosting spot of choice. The hotel’s Les Faunes restaurant is considered the best on the island, and late-afternoon high tea—like most things at this Mediterranean villa—is something of an island institution.

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