Madeira Island, also known as the "Island of Forests," is the
larger of two inhabited volcanic islands in the Portuguese Madeira
archipelago. The island's prolific and treasured laurel, or
"laurisilva," forests are designated World Heritage sites. One of
Prince Henry the Navigator's captains discovered Madeira Island in
1419 as he sought refuge from a violent storm. Today it serves as a
refuge of another sort.
Its geographic locale makes for a mild, subtropical climate
perfect for sightseeing, water sports, scenic horseback rides and
golf with a spectacular view. The 27-hole Santo da Serra Golf Club,
designed by Robert Trent Jones, is the site of the Madeira Island
Open, part of the PGA European tour.
Europe has celebrated Madeira wine since the 16th century and
the island still produces more than a dozen cultivars on the same
fertile hillsides. Over the years, the Portuguese built more than
2.000 kilometres of aqueducts, or "levadas," to transport water to
the agricultural regions. They provide a seductive web of walking
paths through the resplendent countryside.
The Monte Palace Tropical Gardens sit on the site of an
18th-century English Consul's former estate, aptly named "Quinta do
Prazer," or "Pleasure Estate." The gardens surrounding the original
stately manor brim with exotic and indigenous plants and encompass
koi-filled lakes, Japanese gardens and a world-renowned ceramic
tile collection, dating from the 15th century.
Madeira Island is known as "The Pearl of the Atlantic" and, like
a pearl, it is a rare and fascinating find.