Madeira and tourism

Funchal, the island’s capital, as seen from the east

Madeira (pop. around 270.000) has one of the oldest tourism traditions in Portugal, due to its benign climate, that was already a magnet for a part of the European aristocracy at the end of the XIXth century. This origin as a sport for the high class in times of quite different social practices, a relative lack of natural beaches on the island (even if in the same archipelago Porto Santo has a large beach) and a singular environment, are all reason for a different littoral tourism model, closer to that of La Gomera or El Hierro in Spain, or to La Reunion in France.

The island of Madeira has a very complex elevation map, with steep slopes. The littoral motorway on the southern coast, with complex bridges and tunnels, does not prevent the use of mountain roads to access the rest of the island. Areas such as the Curral das Freias, a deep valley on the center of the island, configure differentiated landscapes. The northern coast is especially rough.

Funchal as seen from Hotel Pestana, by Oscar Niemeyer, a hotel in which luxury is visible in the organisation of the spaces and their dimension. A must for modern architecture fans

The territorial model for tourism concentrates most of the hotels and tourism venues in Funchal (pop 112.000), the capital and main harbor, and a series of smaller businesses are scattered across the rest of the island, according to a model of daily excursion from Funchal, aimed at contemplating scenic landscapes and a local culture which shows a sketch of what later became the Portuguese colonization of the world. The Plano de Ordenamento Turístico da Regiao Autonoma da Madeira sets a maximum tourism capacity of 35.000 beds in Madeira and 4.000 in Porto Santo; Funchal can get up to 23.000 tourism beds, and the maximum capacity for a lodge in the rural areas is 80 beds.

The environmental tourism, with a special attention to pedestrian trails following the levadas, irrigation canals on the terraced cultivation areas, are particularly popular among clients that include large numbers of Britons. Tourism linked to Madeira wine and food is also important.

Curral das Freias, at the center of the island

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