Floral scents fill Madeira's sea-washed air. Bird-of-paradise flowers grow wild; pink and purple fuchsia weave lacy patterns up pastel walls; and jacaranda trees create purple canopies over roads and avenues. The natural beauty of this island is like no other, from the cliffs that plummet seaward to mountain summits cloaked in silent fog. The magic has captivated travelers for centuries.
Wine connoisseurs have always savored Madeira's eponymous export, but a sip of this heady elixir provides only a taste of the island's many delights. Made up of a series of dramatic volcanic peaks rising from the sea around 600 km (373 miles) off the west coast of Morocco, the island has an alluring, balmy year-round temperature, ensured by warm Atlantic currents. Other draws include the promise of clear skies, the carpets of flowers, the waterfalls that cascade down green canyons, and the great hiking along the island's famous network of levadas. These irrigation canals have been adapted into superb walking trails, many of them passing along the dramatic coast or through an Alpine-like interior of lush woodlands.
Thanks to its position on shipping routes between Europe, Africa, and the Americas, Madeira grew up as an important trading post. The British have had strong ties to the island thanks to a 16th-century royal marriage. Today they still flock to Madeira, mainly over winter, as do other northern Europeans, especially Germans and Scandinavians. In summer, the island is also popular with visitors from mainland Portugal, when an adventurous crowd puts Madeira's magnificent blend of sun and seascapes to good use. The island also has some excellent museums, tranquil gardens, and a range of good restaurants.