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About Madeira Island

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The island of Madeira has a surface area of 459 square miles (741 km2, 35 miles long and 13 miles wide).
Thanks to their excellent geographical location and mountainous relief, these islands have surprisingly balmy weather, with moderate humidity and pleasant average temperatures of 25ºC in the summer and 17ºC in the winter.
The sea temperature is also very mild, thanks to the influence of the warm Gulf Stream, averaging 22ºC in the summer and 18ºC in the winter.
This archipelago is formed by the Madeira Island with an area of 740.7 km², Porto Santo with 42.5 km², the Desertas Islands with a total of 14.2 km² comprising the three uninhabited islands, and by the Selvagens Islands whose set of 3 islands and sixteen uninhabited islets make up an area of 3.6 km². Of the eight islands, only the two largest (Madeira and Porto Santo) are inhabited and can be accessed via the Madeira Airport in Funchal and Porto Santo Airport.
Funchal, the capital city of Madeira, has access by sea, through a port with a modern station that stands out on the national scene, with regard to cruising. More than half a million passengers disembark here per year. The remaining islands are nature reserves.
For hundreds of years, Funchal was the only city of the Autonomous Region of Madeira, until 5 other cities gained this status between the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the next century: Câmara de Lobos, Caniço, Machico, Santana and Vila Baleira.
The island of Madeira has a very rugged terrain, with the highest point being Pico Ruivo (1,862 m), the Pico das Torres (1,851 m) and Pico do Arieiro (1,818 m), respectively the third, fourth and fifth highest points of Portugal. The northern coast is dominated by high cliffs and in the western part of the island you find a plateau region, the Paul da Serra with altitudes between 1,300 and 1,500 m.

One of the greatest tourist attractions of the Island of Madeira lies in its spectacular landscape. Its luxurious vegetation continues to fascinate all those closely drawn to nature.
This archipelago, included in the bio-geographic region of Macaronesia, retains a natural heritage of great scientific value, distinguished by UNESCO as World Natural Heritage.

Madeira’s indigenous Laurissilva forest, occupying an area of 15 thousand hectares, forms part of this vast layer of vegetation that covers the island. This ancient forest dates back to the Tertiary Era and includes very large trees amongst which is the Til, (Ocotea foetens), the Laurel-Tree, (Laurus novo canariensis) and the Brazilian Mahogany, (Persea indica). Surrounding the trees are mosses and many other bushes, including heather and ferns.
Amongst the bird life there are rare species such as the Long-toed pigeon, (Columba trocaz) and Zino’s petrel or the Madeira Freira petrel, (Pterodroma madeira).

Considered a living relic, almost all of it has been classified as part of the Madeira Nature Reserve, and is deemed a Total Preservation Area.

The prevailing weather conditions in the region of the Madeira Islands, found in the eastern part of the North Atlantic and south of 45°N, are mainly determined by the subtropical anticyclone of the Azores.

Air temperature
The annual average air temperatures for the coastal areas of Madeira Island are higher on the southern coast than on the northern coast and fall as you move inland according to altitude. Thus, the annual average temperature is 19.4 ºC in Lugar de Baixo (15 m), 18.8 °C in Funchal (58 m), 17.8 °C in Ponta Delgada (136 m), 15.2 ºC in Santana (380 m), dropping to 9.7 ºC in Arieiro (1,610 m). On the other islands, which are small and have lower altitudes, one can see that the average values are more uniform, in Porto Santo the average temperature is 18.7 °C.
The monthly average temperature varies little throughout the year, though it is higher during the summer (22.2 ºC in August in Funchal) and lower in winter (15.9 °C in February in Funchal).
The daily atmospheric temperature range is small, with average monthly values between 4.8 °C and 5.6 °C in Funchal, 4.6 °C and 7.9 °C in Arieiro and 4.0 °C and 5.3 °C in Porto Santo.

Sea water temperature
The monthly average temperature of sea water is relatively high and varies regularly throughout the year between about 17ºC in March and 22ºC in August and September.
The values observed for sea water temperature in the region rarely drop below 15°C and rarely exceed 25 ºC.

Relative Air Humidity
The relative air humidity is generally greater on the northern coast than on the southern coast of Madeira Island; on the other islands this variation is smaller. In the coastal regions of Madeira Island the average monthly values of relative humidity vary little throughout the year and are lower in winter than in summer.
On the island of Porto Santo, relative humidity is also higher in winter than in summer and the month of August has the lowest monthly average value.
Fogs are rare below 500m of altitude, but in the highlands (above 600m) they occur frequently, about 250 days a year.

Precipitation
The annual average rainfall on Madeira Island is greater on the northern coast than on the southern coast and increases with altitude; generally these values are higher on the north-facing slopes than on the south-facing ones for regions at the same altitude. Annual figures range from 553 mm in Funchal to 3,084 mm in Arieiro, 1,182 mm in Ponta Delgada and 1,527 mm in Porto Moniz.
On the other islands the amount of rainfall is lower: Porto Santo has an average annual value of 362 mm. Average monthly precipitation values vary greatly during the year, the months from October to March are the wettest, with the highest average monthly value occurring in the month of November on the south coast, and in some areas of the north coast, and sometimes in the month of January (Arieiro, Santo da Serra and Porto Moniz). On the island of Porto Santo the wettest month is January.

Wind
The annual wind regime is different on the north coast and on the south coast of Madeira Island, with prevailing winds from the NE at Ponta do Pargo (42%) and in Arieiro (40%), E in Ponta Delgada (40%) and SW in Funchal (21%), but in São Lourenço the prevailing wind is from the N (39%). In Porto Santo the prevailing wind is from the N (29%). In summer, the frequency of N and NE winds increases, passing 50% in August in Arieiro.

Insolation
Insolation is the time during which the sun is shining and is expressed in decimal hours.
The monthly average insolation varies throughout the year, both in Funchal and in Porto Santo, with maximum levels in May and in August. From April to October, Funchal recorded fewer hours of sunshine than Porto Santo, a situation that is reversed in the remaining months of the year (November to March). The months with the highest values of insolation in Funchal are August (240 h) and July (228 h); December is naturally the month with the fewest hours of sunshine (140 h).
In Porto Santo, August (245 h) and May (223 h) are the months with the fewest hours of insolation. Annually, Porto Santo has more hours of sunshine (2241 h) than Funchal (2165 h), probably due to its location at lower altitudes, where cloud cover does not have as strong an influence.

Cloud cover
On Madeira Island, cloud cover is greatest in the months from October to March and least during the months of June to August, with little variation on the north coast. In Porto Santo, the cloud cover values are higher in the winter months and lower in September. The diurnal variation of cloud cover is distinct and generally the lowest values occur during the night or morning and the highest values in the afternoon.

The island of Madeira was discovered by Tristão Vaz Teixeira, Bartolomeu Perestrelo and João Gonçalves Zarco, two Portuguese explorers, in 1419, which dubbed the island ‘Madeira’ (“wood” in English) due to the abundance of this raw material.

Noticing the potential of the islands, as well as its strategic importance, the colonization of the islands began in 1425.

At the beginning of its settlement, some agricultural crops, such as cane sugar, were introduced, which quickly afforded the Funchal metropolis frank economic prosperity. This meant that, in the second half of the fifteenth century, the city of Funchal became a mandatory port of call for European trade routes.

The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were marked by the emergence of a new culture that would boost the Madeira economy again: wine.

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Madeira flourished for the birth of the tourism sector, quickly becoming a mandatory reference for the European aristocracy that has set temporary residence here, attracted by the natural therapeutic qualities of the island.

In 1976, Madeira became an Autonomous Region of Portugal, thus having the power to legislate.

For more information about our beautiful islands, please visit the Madeira Tourism Bureau official website at www.visitmadeira.com

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