Madeira Island is a World Apart

Jose Manuel Melim Mendes wrote in his bilingual book Memories from Porto Santo, and Madeira that “A man’s culture is essentially what he remembers.” The collective mental culture of Madeira island, in its entirety, is a kaleidoscopic one. It includes aquamarine waves and violet hydrangea. You will hear crackling shorelines, whale songs, and wind-whistered peaks.

Madeira is a unique cultural and geographical blip. It’s rich in rugged mountains and lush slopes that are bounded by the Atlantic breakers off Africa’s coast. The locals love their organ, philharmonic, and wine festivals. Each year, they display a collection of family heirloom cars that have been meticulously maintained throughout the capital. Their food is healthy and delicious; the air in their area is fresh, humid, sweet and filled with birdsong.

Madeira’s island is three times larger than the U.S. Nantucket island. It also has twice the area of Nantucket and is slightly larger than the British Isle of Wight. Madeira, together with the islands Porto Santo, Desertas and Selvagens make up an autonomous region in Portugal. It is located 550 miles (870 km) west of Casablanca, Morocco. This distance is the same as between Sacramento and San Diego or Geneva to Berlin. It is semi-tropical.

madeira is Portuguese for wood. This is because forests covered the island at the time that navigators first arrived on its shores in 15 th centuries. This mountainous island is beautiful, safe, and has a pleasant climate.

Madeira, however, was not always easily accessible.

It was difficult to explore the island until recently. The rugged coastlines of this mountainous region had few roads and no ports. To visit their neighbors in nearby valleys, residents hiked up steep and rugged mountain trails. The nation’s road network is similar to that of Switzerland, with many tunnels and elevated highways. This engineering makes it possible to travel quickly through the country, instead of climbing over–peaks. It also makes it easy to move from the southern coast to the northern. Each of the longest road tunnels is over 1.9 miles (3 kilometers) long.

Dinarte Fernandes, a thirty-five year-old, is the mayor for Santana, on the northern coast. Madeira’s unique combination of people, landscape and their experience is what he believes makes it special. He also spoke of past development challenges.

“We are a small island. However, topography stopped our development. 40 years ago, everything was quite different. I have known older people who have never been to Funchal, the capital of Portugal. My father was raised in a thatched roofed home with 11 children. Each week, my grandfather would walk one day to Funchal to sell eggs. When Portugal joined the European Community in 1986, that was it.

“Everything” was the access that the island had to development funds.

Mountain roads still run through Madeira despite recent transportation engineering. One road within the city limits of Funchal has a 25% average slope. Many such steep and twisted routes pass through lush landscapes with terraced agriculture–including sugar cane and sweet potato fields–or wild growth, such as kapok and fig trees. These vistas feature tropical greenery, blue skies, and jagged coastal Cliffs. Because of the steepness of their sites, some hillside homes do not have driveways. The levadas are still in use. Their banks provide pathways for hikers or trail runners.

The island was formed five million years ago by volcanic eruptions. It remained uninhabited until 1419 when Portuguese navigators began to visit it. This was in the country’s age of exploration when sea captains like Henry the Navigator and Bartolomeu dias, Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan, and Vasco da Gama sailed the globe.

The island is home to a few sandy beaches (with blacksand) as well as ample forests. Flat areas are rare. The Funchal airport runway had to be extended on elevated piers over an existing shipyard. These topographies offer stunning views, which is why there are seven scenic cable car routes that run along the island’s mountainside. The typical views include misty, serrated ridges that are covered in vegetation.

Madeira’s capital is Funchal. Here, half of the island’s quarter-million residents live. The medians of the roads are lined with palm trees, lush grass, and flowers. Residents love to walk along the sidewalks or meet up for coffee at outdoor patios. Pink is a common color in buildings, which was once a sign that the owner was wealthy.

Nightlife in Funchal is vibrant and beautiful. It’s a smaller version of Lisbon. With its wide streets, cafe culture and art illumination, the main street, Avenida do Mar, is known as Funchal’s Champs-Elysees. The locals wear the Madeiran style of graceful elegance and grace before marching down cobbled streets in the evening.

You can drive up the steep hill to Cabo Girao viewpoint at almost 2,000 feet [589m] elevation from the city. You can see the rugged cliffs and rocky peaks jutting into rough coastline shores supported by turquoise waters.

You can also drive six miles [nine km] west to Camara De Lobos, a coastal fishing village named after monk seals who once inhabited its shores. Winston Churchill visited Camara De Lobos to paint oil scenes of village scenes. Here, you can also find villagers at Bar Filhos D’Mar where they can buy a local liquor with 40%-60% fruit known as Poncha. This liquor is typically made from honey, rum, and citrus fruits. This elixir was originally used to treat irritated throats from sea spray. The drink is often paired today with a snack called tremocos–lupini bean sprinkled with salt, garlic and pepper. This coastal village is known for its boisterous dockside banter and African tulip tree with orange flowers, red hibiscus, and fishermen still visit the chapel every morning to pray before they row or sail out into dangerous waters.

The Madeirans strategically placed their island to embrace change after Covid-19 closed down large swathes of the planet. They targeted young professionals who were less afraid of travel and encouraged them to come to their island. Their airport was described as having efficient but strict protocols that protect against the spread of viruses.

Eduardo Jesus, a tall, well-tanned man, was dressed in a dark jacket, blue shirt and tan slacks to attract tourists to Madeira. He is now Regional Secretary for Tourism and Culture and explains how the island adapted to the pandemic.

“Covid makes it more difficult for older people to travel. People who traveled again when they were younger were the first to do so. With a new concept, we changed the brand. We wanted to emphasize simple points. We are an all-year destination and an active destination for different age groups. You can also enjoy the sea, mountains and culture. This strategy is booming in culture. Today’s travelers travel to experience something new, something authentic, and the authenticity of their culture.

“We also used the pandemic period to improve processes. Covid allowed us to promote Madeira’s reputation as a safe place. Trust is the biggest problem with the pandemic. All decisions made in Madeira must build trust. We issued a certificate against biological risks for hotels and buses, as well as cars and busses.

Many classic and antique cars are displayed along Funchal’s streets during the Festival of Flowers.

Jesus said, “Ancient cars form part of the identity of Madeira,” When he was 18, he bought and rebuilt his first car, an Austin 10. He is a collector of classic cars and the author of The First Motor-Car on Madeira.

“We’re on an island that it is difficult to transport cars to. The relationship between cars and families is strong here. Children keep the cars of their grandparents. Madeira is home to hundreds of classic cars, many of which are well preserved.

Madeira considers tourism a key part of its economic development. Luxurious hotels are also available to complement local lodging options, including apartments and rentals rooms in rural houses. Savoy Signature, for example, has six hotels in the island, three of which are within walking distance from each other via a footbridge. Covid-19 has changed the focus of this hotel group’s clientele. It is less inclined to retirees than it is for young digital nomads. Because many young IT professionals moved to Madeira at the peak of the pandemic.

Promotion is now also available for active visitors, who wish to spend less time poolside lounging and more time paragliding or scuba diving.

The majority of Madeira’s visitors are from Scandinavia, the U.K. and Germany. Americans will be increasingly targeted by the weekly eight-hour international flight from New York’s JFK Airport to Funchal, which is scheduled to start at the end of November and end at the end May.

Madeiran celebrations include Poncha liquor, fresh island flowers, and musical instruments such as accordions and organs. It is a safe, socially friendly country that allows women to leave their purses on the chairs and go about their daily lives. Respect and decor are interwoven into a sophisticated cultural legacy that emphasizes personal intimacy, historical traditions and fierce loyalty to wild geography, local food and wine, and music.

Scuba diving can also be done here (and off the island Porto Santo which is two hours by boat). There are many species of marine life in the ocean, including giant anemones, brown moray eels, Atlantic trumpetfishes, yellow barracuda and flaming reef lobsters.

Here, you can find a lot of seafood. You can also try parrot fish or lapas-grilled limpets. Seared scallops, salted cod loin, and passion fruit and banana dessert are some other winning combinations. Black scabbardfish is also a popular choice. This fish can be caught at depths of up to 4,000 feet (1300 meters). A staple flatbread that is served with many island dishes is bolo de caco made from flour, sweet potatoes and water.

U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, along with many other heads of state, enjoyed Fortified Madeiran wine centuries ago. This sweet food is increasingly popular in China. It is worth looking into a dry white wine made on the island.

Santana, located in the hills nearby, is an area that can be reached by following steeply winding roads. This area is serene and beautiful. Terra Bona winery can be reached by following a one-way driveway that leads to the beach. Continue walking a few hundred meters to reach a magnificent promontory with a view of the Atlantic.

Marco Noronha Jardim, Maria-Joao Velosa and their assistant Manuel, together produce white wines. Maria-Joao and Marco are both bankers. Marco fell in love with the Cardo Valley’s coastal property soon after their marriage. They bought it to build four luxurious country rental apartments. They began to tend the vintages after realizing that the land also contained an old vineyard. The grapes are grown between the Atlantic ocean, the UNESCO world heritage Laurasilva primary forest and both have an impact on the wine’s flavor by adding hints of saltiness and herbaceousness. The white grape of Arnsburger is a Riesling cross. It can be grown on less than 3 acres (one hectare) of land.

Marco explained.

“This grape is rare and unique, with very few production in Madeira, Germany, and New Zealand. We use French-made clay barrels to age some wine, which weigh less than 200 liters (52 gallons).

Three wines are produced: one in steel, one in clay amphorae, and one in French oak. Tony Kitchell, a British artist who fell in love during a visit to the property, painted the labels.

“You can see the beauty of nature here. The ancient laurel forest is above us so we can see the ocean and plants. This biodiversity is a great advantage for our vineyard. It is the biggest challenge for us to position the Cardo Valley brand and the Cardo Valley within the international marketplace. The greatest reward? Happiness. We will be opening four villas with our children and spouse over the next five year. We also plan to add five more in the upper vineyards. We are taking it slow here.

The unique marketing advantage they have is due to their Arnsburger grape use. The wines have a soft and oily texture, with aromas of tropical fruits and toast. The Family Harvest is aged in French oak and has aromas of honey and eucalyptus as well as butter and lemon drops. Flavors include orange segments, mild salinity, and a touch of cardamon. The wine is also bursting with herbs like sage, tarragon and coriander.

The family suggests pairing their wines with cod or octopus, cheese, or bread with passionfruit jam.

These professionals work hard to create a wine from a special valley with unique terroir. They hope to share some of the island’s unique identity with others and make a profit that will help their family. Today’s navigators are descendants of Portuguese seafarers. But they don’t travel far to find the best places or oceans. They explore their own backyard and then share the findings with the rest of the world. They are descendants of explorers and now the planet is their home. The memory of exploration, as Mendes pointed out, is also their culture.

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