Madeira Top 10 Sights See the Best of Portugal's Garden Island

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Madeira Top 10 Sights See the Best of Portugal's GardenIslandA mountainous island 559 miles off the coast of Portugal, Madeira is a year-round destination, withspring-like weather in all seasons, but the best time of all to plan a trip there may be in April, whenthe jacaranda and flame trees are in bloom and Funchal's main street is canopied in purpleblossoms.Begin in FunchalSeveral sights are right in the capital, a manageable city that's a popular port of call for cruise ships.Mercado dos Lavradores - Women in colorful traditional dresses sell flowers in front of this art decomarket, designed by Portuguese architect Edmundo Tavares, while inside stalls are piled with fruitsand vegetables from nearby haciendas, along with local crafts. Santa Clara Convent - lined with theblue glazed ceramic designs that adorn churches and public buildings throughout mainlandPortugal, the convent also has a stunning silver tabernacle from Madeira's colonial era. So PedroChurch - Also from Portugal's Golden Age of Discoveries and also lined in these glazed ceramics -called azulejos, San Pedro is among a surprising number of buildings that survive from the 15th and16th centuries. Cable Car to Monte - One of several cable cars to ride, this one rises to the town ofMonte, 1800 feet above its base in the center of Funchal. Along with views of the city, the ride givespassengers a look at what lies beyond the rim of the natural amphitheater in which Funchal nestles,mountains that rise in ridges cut by deep ravines, and to the island's central mountain chain over6,000 feet in elevation.Elsewhere on Madeira Monte Palace Tropical Garden - Although not uniqueto Portugal - they are in Spain, too - azulejos are found so widely in the country that they are one ofPortugal's artistic icons. Jos Berardo built these gardens to display his extensive collection of thesetiles salvaged from palaces, churches and estates not just in Portugal but across her former empire.The tropical flowers and greenery provide a stunning setting, while the Japanese garden houses hiscollections showing Portugal's historic cultural and commercial ties with Japan. Laurissilva Forest -Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, these rare trees are best seen from another cable car, fromMonte to Funchal's Botanical Gardens, over the ravine of Joo Gomes River. Along with the ravine,the ride also offers panoramic views over Funchal Bay. Walking the Levadas - Perhaps the signatureexperience of the entire island is a walk along the paths that border Madeira's unique system ofnarrow waterways built in the early 1500s to bring water from mountain springs to irrigate farmsand vineyards. Offering some of the best views of the lakes, dramatic rocks and waterfalls in theinterior, and of the terraced vineyards, levadas are often carved into steep rock cliffs that offerunparalleled perspectives. Porto Santo - Fly or take a ferry for a day on the golden sand beaches ofMadeira's satellite island, an entirely different experience from the main island. Cabo Giro - Thesecond highest cliff face in the world drops straight into the Atlantic from this mountain village. Ironrailings at the viewpoint on the edge are being replaced this year with a glass skywalk similar to theone at the Grand Canyon, but the experience will be no less heart-stopping. So Vicente Caves - In avillage on Madeira's north coast, the Volcanism Centre shows how the island formed, withaudiovisual demonstrations of volcanic eruptions before visitors explore the volcanic caves, a seriesof lava tubes left by an eruption 400,000 years ago.And Madeira WinesDon't leave the island without sampling the world-class wines that are its best-known product. Theycan also be found in a martini take at Reid's Palace Hotel, the Madeirini, which replaces thevermouth with local dry Madeira.Getting To MadeiraSATA airlines now flies to Madeira from Boston; TAP flies from New York and other cities, viaLisbon, in mainland Portugal. here for more information.