Not many people would be able to point out the island of Madeira on a map, but most know about the wine that comes from there. The Madeira archipelago is about 1000km southwest of Lisbon, in the middle of the Atlantic, north of the Canaries and southeast of the Azores. Prince Henry the Navigator (Infante Dom Henrique) colonised the island with families from the south of Portugal after his maritime explorers happened upon it in around 1420. These days, like the Azores, Madeira is another autonomous region of Portugal with its own regional government.
Apart from the capital Funchal, Madeira is primarily an agricultural island sustained through the farming of smallholdings. Other industries include embroidery, wine making, wickerwork and the production of honey, rum and sugar.
Madeira is an attractive destination for tourists because of its mild climate, scenic countryside and accommodation that suits all budgets and tastes. Average winter temperatures are 13 degrees centigrade and in the summer the average temperature is 24 degrees centigrade. This rises to 33 degrees when the easterly wind from the Sahara blows: it is called the 'Leste' and gusts for a couple of days every summer. The bay of Funchal is sheltered from the sea breezes and so retains a nice warm temperature throughout, whereas more exposed areas such as Ponto do Sol reach higher temperatures but are at the mercy of the winds. And of course, as in all sub tropical places, you can expect a certain amount of rain to fall during your stay.
Planes fly into Funchal airport from England, Germany and Scandinavia, full of people hoping to escape the colder climes in Northern Europe and relax in the sunshine. Southern Europeans come here when their own countries are overrun with tourists during the summer as Madeira has not succumbed to the onslaught of tourism in quite the same damaging way as some other islands. There are ferries to Funchal, which hark back to the days when the only tourists arrived by cruise ship on their way across the Atlantic.
Some popular activities on Madeira include fishing, surfing, walking and mountaineering, not to mention just kicking back and enjoying the welcoming and laid-back atmosphere.
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