The Madeira archipelago is an autonomous region of Portugal located in the Atlantic Ocean.

978 km away from Lisbon and 700 km away from the African coastline. It comprises 8 islands.

The Madeira Island is the biggest and comprises the capital – the city of Funchal. It’s very hilly and it encompasses one of the highest Portuguese peaks: Pico Ruivo is 1862 meters tall and it’s the country’s 3rd highest.

Porto Santo is the second biggest island of the archipelago. It’s flat and was a great reputation do its beach with fine and golden sand, one that extends itself for 9 km, and a beautiful turquoise sea.

You also have the Desertas Islands, with these being Chão, Deserta Grande and Bugio. Of volcanic origin, they have a coastal strip with 37.700 meters, with very steep cliffs.

The Madeira archipelago also comprises the Selvagens Islands, i.e., two major islands and several islets. They are of volcanic origin as well and rather wild, thus they are a bird sanctuary.

Both Desert and Selvagem Islands are uninhabited.

The archipelago’s first island to be found was Porto Santo, in 1418.

It was found after the vessel of João Gonçalves Zarco was blown by storm, leaving its original route. Its name may have been given by the explorer a sign of gratitude, since he found shelter in the island.

Porto Santo is the place where you can find the house which was inhabited by Cristopher Columbus. This Genovese explorer spend some time there before marrying the noblewoman Filipa de Moniz, daughter of Bartolomeu Perestrelo (1st Capitão Donatário of Porto Santo).  Throughout his stay, he outlined the sailing that would later become the Exploration of North America.

A year after the discovery of the Island of Porto Santo, Madeira was found. The Portuguese explorers responsible for it were Tristão Vaz Teixeira, Bartolomeu Perestelo and Zarco. “Madeira” (wood) was the name given to it because the amount of that raw material was plentiful. The remaining islands of the archipelago were explored a couple of years later.

In 1425, the archipelago’s settlement was started, by people of Algarve, Portugal’s southern region. The first settlers had to blaze the Madeira Island’s dense forest and build water channels, called levadas. This irrigation channels conducted the water from the island’s northern part to the southern. Currently, they are one of the island’s main attractions.

Around that time, the sugarcane was introduced in Madeira. With this crop, Funchal prospered and during the 15th century was a mandatory port of call for the main trading routes.

IN the 17th and 18th century, a new crop was born, one extremely important for the economy – the wine. Shakespeare mentions the Madeira wine in the play “Richard III”, in which a character drowns to death in a wine barrel.

More recently, Madeira has become a mandatory reference for the European aristocracy and currently it flourishes due to its tourist industry.

Visiting Madeira is really worth it. It was considered the world and Europe’s leading island destination… Check it.

Read about Azores, the other Portuguese archipelago, here.