"Lush and incredibly beautiful, Madeira lives up to its 'floating garden' description. Everything from bougainvillea to poinsettias, jacaranda to frangipani, blooms in its volcanic soil." Madeira has long been the island of choice for discerning travellers. In decades past, they'd flock to the island's grand hotels and elegant manor houses. Winston Churchill and Charlie Chaplin loved it, and Margaret and Denis Thatcher honeymooned here.
And that genteel, colonial elegance is still very much in evidence - especially in the capital, Funchal. The city steps down a steep hillside to a café-lined promenade that hugs the bay. And it's a riot of colour, with more gardens than you could hope to tick off in one visit. You can't go wrong whichever you choose, but the Jardim Botânico da Madeira, spread across 35,000 square metres of hillside, and Santa Catarina Park are especially good.
It's not just about amazing gardens, though. Madeira has got a rugged edge, too. The centre is wild and mountainous, with 1,800-metre peaks that are the tip of an extinct volcano. Elsewhere, you'll find banana plantations and a World Heritage forest, with villages hidden among terraced hillsides. A great way to explore the island is to take to the levadas. These paths run alongside canals and were built to carry water from the wetter north to the plantations and vineyards of the south. Over 1,300 miles of them criss-cross the island.
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