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Why Madeira’s Lush Ecosystem and Sweet Wines Make It Ripe for a Visit

There’s history, adventure, and world-class food and drinks, all on one tiny island.

Reid’s Palace hotel in Funchal.

Reid’s Palace hotel in Funchal.

Source: Belmond

Vanessa Santos never planned to return home. Born and raised on Madeira, a Portuguese territory in the middle of the Atlantic that’s about half the size of Oahu, she left in 2016 to pursue her studies in advertising and didn’t look back. “Growing up, I felt like the island was only for retirees. I wanted to fly away,” she says. Then, in 2020, “suddenly I found myself back living with my parents—everything changed. Even Madeira changed.”

When a faint glimmer of travel’s return sparked in the second half of 2020, the island eagerly reopened its borders and became a sanctuary for weary urban dwellers, recasting its reputation as a haven for British pensioners into a wondrous ecological marvel for travelers eager to move again. On social media, these new visitors broadcast their discoveries of dappled trees in the highland mists of Fanal Forest and the banana patches bursting onto the streets of the tropical seaside villages. “Suddenly a whole new generation of traveler—a younger generation—was visiting Madeira,” Santos says. “We finally got into the world’s mouth.”