The Madeira Islands Are Portugal's Best-kept Secret

In 1419, when Portuguese seafarers happened on an uninhabited island in the North Atlantic, around 500 miles off the African coast, they were awed by the dense covering of greenery. Even today, after 600 years of human encroachment, their amazement is easy to understand. The variety of flora is astounding: groves of local mahogany, bushy stands of indigenous lily of the valley, and a laurel forest, the largest surviving relic of the vegetation that covered much of southern Europe at least 15 million years ago. Those first men who arrived on the island called it Madeira—the Portuguese word for wood.

But those 15th-century sailors were perhaps indifferent to what struck me most forcibly when I first visited this summer: the insistent presence of the ocean. Madeira—the largest island in an archipelago of the same name—is so steep that even inland, when I walked through a vineyard or dined on a hillside, bright water framed the view. Read full travel article here.