Coast near Ponta Delgada, Madeira, Portugal
© Jan Wlodarczyk/Alam
Pearl of the Atlantic. Ponta Delgada
Today we're taking a trip to the verdant cliffs at the edge of Madeira, the principal island of the Portuguese archipelago that's also called Madeira, roughly 320 miles west of Morocco in the North Atlantic. These terraced hillsides are just outside the village of Ponta Delgada, on the north coast of the island. Originally uninhabited, Madeira and the other islands in this chain were settled by the Portuguese in the early 1400s and became a main stopover for European explorers during the so-called Age of Discovery.
These days it's mainly tourists who make the voyage to Madeira, drawn by gorgeous views and natural landscapes. The 'Pearl of the Atlantic' is especially popular for those seeking outdoor adventure, with world-class hiking, diving, and sailing. But cultural treasures await the visitor as well, some hinting at the island's history as a major wine exporter—its distinctive fortified wines became especially prized in Europe and the Americas during the 18th century. Several of the wealthy Madeira landowners and vintners built beautiful mansions here in Ponta Delgada, some of which have been converted to museums. With so little changed over the centuries, a glass of madeira wine on a terrace overlooking the ocean might transport a visitor back to an earlier age.