12 Fun Facts I Found Damn Cool about Madeira, Portugal

Far away from everything and immersed in the Atlantic Ocean, Madeira is a Portuguese Island holding many nicknames: the “floating garden of Europe”, the “pearl of the Atlantic”, the “golden island”, the “European Hawaii”, the “Land of Eternal Spring”… and the list goes on!

In the past, I’ve been talking widely about Madeira and I also gave you precious tips about when to visit, the best Madeira car rental on the island, trekking routes, and all the things to visit in this gorgeous corner of the world!

As I believe that traveling and learning go hand in hand, today I decided to share with you 12 curiosities about Madeira that I discovered while on my journey through the island, which I hope will enrich your visit and understanding of this incredible island!

If you’re a happy freak and a know-it-all-wannabe like me, I am sure you will LOVE this article about all the less-known secrets of Madeira 😀

Let’s dive right in!

15 fun facts about madeira, portugal

 

Discover 12 Curiosities about Madeira

that will Enrich your Visit! 🙂

1. Madeira is not just ONE Island,

but a Region…and a Whole Archipelago too!

madeira archipelago - map of all islands

With the name “Madeira“, people might be referring to three things: the Madeira island (the one we are talking today about!), the Madeira archipelago (composed of Madeira Island, Porto Santo Island and the Desertas Islands), or the Madeira Autonomous Region of Portugal.

In addition to that, the name “Madeira” is also used to describe a special type of fortified wine (18-20%) produced in Madeira: so you could actually be in Madeira, in the Madeira archipelago, drinking Madeira while watching the panorama while taking photos of a lot of Madeira (read the next point to understand this last part! 😉 ).

 

2. “Madeira” in Portuguese means “Wood”,

and you can guess why they named it that way!

laurissilva forest in madeira - portugal

The word “Madeira” in Portuguese means “Wood”, and it was given to the island by the first three captains-explorers landing on Madeira (João Gonçalves Zarco, Bartolomeu Perestrelo, and Tristão Vaz Teixeira).

The three explorers did not expect in their wildest dream to find such heavily wooded islands right in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and so decided to name the island “Madeira”.

In addition to that, they decided to name the first campsite “Funchal” (now the capital of Madeira), because of the large amount of fennel in the area (in Portuguese: “Funcho”).

 

3. The First Explorers that Reached the Island in 1420,

thought it was the Gates of Hell

gates of hell in madeira

According to a local legend, the initial view of the three highest peaks of Madeira (Pico Ruivo, Pico do Arieiro” and “Pico das Torres” – all three over 1800m high) immersed in the red sunset lights, scared the first explorers coming to Madeira in 1420, making them presume to have reached the “Gates of Hell”.

It seem very silly for us today I know!

Still, I can tell you, that when you are there, and you stare at the dark and intimidating cliffs of Madeira as the sun goes down, and you think back at how would an explorer without our current knowledge of the world fell…

Well, I think it’s easily relatable and not so silly anymore!

Luckily for us, in the centuries we found out that Madeira is not hell at all, but the opposite: a true paradise on Earth for sea and mountain lovers alike ready to be discovered!

4. Madeira is just the Tip

of a Submerged Shield Vulcano

MADEIRA is the tip of a submerged vulcano - satellite map

Ok, we agreed that there’s no hell under Madeira: great! xD

Yet, the underworld of Madeira still hides a secret: a volcano!

If you look closely at the satellite image I inserted just before this paragraph, you can see how Madeira, Porto Santo, and the Desertas Islands are just the tips of a submerged shield volcano formed hundred of thousands of years ago! 😀

If you’re already starting to worry that the volcano might explode while you’re visiting, worry not: the island saw its last volcanic activity around 6,500 years ago, but today, it is considered to be dormant and extremely unlikely to erupt 🙂

5. The Weather in Madeira

is Pleasant All-Year-Round!

flowers of madeira

Madeira is often nicknamed the “Island of Eternal Spring” for a reason: here, temperatures never get too cold (5-7°C is the lowest in winter) nor too hot (24-26°C in summer).

Because of this, Madeira is an ideal destination to visit the whole year round for hardcore hikers, beach lovers, and curious explorers!

The mix of warm Atlantic currents, forests, an extremely mountainous topography, and a subtropical location, cause the different parts of Madeira to enjoy entirely different micro-climates, with the extremes being the west-coast (more windy and cold), and the South-East coast (facing South and protected from the wind by the mountains on the West).

6. Madeira is one of the

Best Places in the World for Whale Watching

whale watching

Did you know that Madeira is one of the best places in the world to spot cetacean species such as whales and dolphins?

Lost in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and far from both Europe and Africa, the Madeira archipelago is chosen as a nesting area for more than 35% of the world’s whale species!

The best time to see whales in Madeira is from Spring to Autumn, although also in winter with some luck you can spot some 🙂

The most common whale species you can expect to spot off the coast of the archipelago include the Sperm Whale, Bryde Whale, False Killer Whale, Fin Whale Sei Whale, Pilot Whale, Humpback Whale and even Orcas (also known as Killer Whales).

7. Madeira is Closer to Africa,

than it is to Europe

MADEIRA MAP - CLOSER TO AFRICA THAN EUROPE

Politically speaking, Madeira belongs to Portugal, which in turn is a member state of the European Union.

Said that geographically speaking, Madeira is much closer to the coast of Africa (689km from Morocco), compared to Europe (Portugal).

If you look closely at the map above though, you might be surprised to see that the closest country to Madeira, is neither Morocco nor Portugal, but Spain!

Of course, we are not talking about mainland Spain, but about the Canary Islands (those little islands on the bottom of the map), with Santa Cruz de la Palma being the closest to Madeira (still a good 425km away!).

8. Cabo Girão in Madeira

is the Highest Seacliff in Europe!

cabo girao balcony - highest cliff in europe - madeira

If you suffer from vertigo, brace yourself, because Cabo Girão will make your head feel dizzy!

Located on the Southern Coast of Madeira, Cabo Girão is the highest seacliff in Europe (and one of highest in the world too!), with an incredible height of 580m!

On top of the cliff, an experience you can’t miss is the Skywalk, a glass balcony above the ocean from which you can stare straight down at the impressive precipice below!

The experience is free and there’s no entrance ticket, you just need to be bold enough to walk on it! ;D

9. New Year’s Eve’s Fireworks in Madeira are Humongous…

and they made it to the Guinness World Record Twice! 

fireworks in madeira - portugal

Many South-European islands are quite dead during winter months, but that’s not the case for Madeira!

As we said, the mild winter climate makes it an ideal destination for trekkers and nature lovers… but what about party lovers?!

Well… if you don’t know where to spend New years eve in Europe, you’ll be surprised to know that Madeira hosts one of the greatest (if not THE greatest!) New Year’s Eve celebration in Europe.

Despite its relatively small dimension, Madeira is indeed famous for its huge fireworks displays, which have been recorded twice in the Guinness World Records (in 2006 and 2010) as the largest Fireworks show in the world!

10. Cristiano Ronaldo was Born in Madeira!

cristiano ronaldo museum cr7museo in madeira where he was born

Yes, Cristiano Ronaldo was born in Funchal, Madeira on the 5th February 1985.

He is probably the most famous “export” of Madeira, and surely the number one fact, locals are most proud of!

“Messi or Ronaldo, which is greatest?”

If you want to survive enjoy a pleasant holiday in Madeira, I can warmly suggest you to always answer with the latter (that’s my pro tip! ;D) as locals are VERY VERY VERY proud of Ronaldo, they like to show it a lot and they will defend his talent strenuously! 🙂

Ah, also don’t forget to visit the Cristiano Ronaldo Museum if you’re visiting Funchal! ;D

11. The Airport of Funchal in Madeira,

has been Renamed as “Cristiano Ronaldo Airport”!

cristiano ronaldo airport in madeira

You scrolled without believing me when I said that locals are very, very, VERY proud of Cristiano Ronaldo?

Here is another proof: the International Airport of Madeira, formerly known as “Santa Catarina Airport” until 2016, has been renamed Cristiano Ronaldo International Airport!

In 2016, the locals thought of removing the name of St. Caterina (one of the most important saints for the island), to replace it with one of their favorite football players! If that’s not love, I don’t know what love can be! 😉

12. On Madeira, there are more than 3000km of “Levadas”,

and 40km of Tunnels!

TREKKING SULLE LEVADAS DI MADEIRA

The Levadas (as the one you see in the photo above) were once simple irrigation structures used to carry water from the mountains to the coastal cities of Madeira, built with the work of slaves since the 16th century.

Today, these waterways are one of the most beautiful tourist attractions on the island: endless trekking paths with breathtaking views immersed in greenery and nature!

The most impressive thing about the Levadas is their extent: imagine that on an island with a diameter of 50km like Madeira, there are well over 3000km of irrigation channels with attached trails! In short, a paradise for anyone who loves walking, hiking, or trekking!

Last but not least, part of the levadas passes through tunnels, which total length surpasses 40km: amazing!

Conclusion

madeira, portugal, view of the cliffs

And here we come at the end of the article!

In this post, we’ve seen 12 curious fun facts about the island of Madeira 🙂

Now you know that Madeira is not only an island (but also a wine, wood and an archipelago!), that it doesn’t hide the gates of hell underneath but only a dormant volcano, that here you can find infinite hiking paths, a comfy climate year-round, whales, dolphins, 580m-high cliffs and New Year’s Eve celebrations worth a Guinness World Record.

All in all, Madeira has all the ingredients for a memorable trip: you just need to remember (and agree!) that Cristiano Ronaldo is god, and much better than Messi!! 😉

Before going, I would like to ask you:

Did you like the article?

Did you already know some of these curiosities?

Do you know more curiosities about Madeira that could make it to this list?

Let us know in the comments below! 😀

If you want to know more about Madeira, be sure to check out my Practical Guide to Madeira too 😉

Thank you for reading, and see you in the next article!

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