Madeira's dramatic landscapes are moving indeed, with a mix of rugged mountains and volcanic peaks, plunging gorges and the distinctive Laurisilva/primeval laurel forests which exist here on Madeira and on the Canary Islands. Nicknamed the floating garden, the botanical and tropical gardens are found aplenty around Funchal the capital particularly. Move to the interior though, and Madeira tells a different, ruggedly wild story. Choose the south Madeira resort hotspots for a outdoor leisure on the water, plus diving, golf, and fishing and historic sights in Funchal. Choose the interior for challenging trekking, climbing, and birdwatching. Plenty of surfing choice too up on the wild north coast of Madeira.
The Azores, consisting of 9 stunning volcanically formed islands, are where the activity holiday crowd head. If you love sport, great beaches, a choice of watersports including surfing in the Azores, a spot of whalewatching in Faial, walking in Terceira, boat trips and sailing tours galore, diving, fishing, windsurfing and more, then the Azores are for you!
The drama of Madeira's steep, rugged mountainous landscape has a history. Maderia was formed around 20 million years ago - the direct result of enormous volcanic eruptions underneath the Atlantic Ocean. Like the Canary Islands, a large part of Madeira is buried underwater (about 60%). Above land igneous rock built up over a long period, and today resembles a steep cone-shaped island. There hasn't been volcanic activity on Madeira for around 400,000 years - the last activity was responsible for creating the Sao Vicente caves to the north.
Funchal, Madeira's capital to the south, is a delight with a compact and largely pedestrianised centre, making it a pleasure to stroll around. The seafront is lined with a promenade dotted with restaurants, cafes and bars (great place to chill this with views out to sea!). Another highlight in Funchal is its bustling Marcado dos Lavradores towards the eastern fort end of Funchal centre. Fridays is big market day, but its alive most days, especially weekends. Funchal town centre has a historic cathedral and adjacent convent, various English connections via an English church and some excellent museums, notably the Sugar Museum. Although compact, the centre can get quite hilly in places - particularly up to Santa Clara convent. Funchal has a bustling marina and large hotel resort zone to the west of the centre.
Porto Santo, the little islet 40km to the north east of Madeira is relatively flat, although there's a few peaks you can walk up. Most visitors come for the glorious stretch of long sandy beach along Porto Santo's south coast! Porto Santo has developed a reputation as a health resort. The pace is leisurely here - hiring a bike is the best way to see parts of the island which is just 6.8 miles/11km long and 4.3 miles/7km wide. Porto Santo tends to get the all year round guaranteed sunshine. Being so flat, it doesn't have the microclimate variations pertaining to Madeira. Relaxation and lazy beach holidays are on the menu here, with if you can muster a visit to Christopher Columbus' house here, walking and some bike riding and boat trips. Sounds good hey!
The nine volcanically formed Azores Islands (Sao Miguel, Terceira, Pico, Santa Maria, Sao Jorge, Faial, Graciosa, Flores and Corvo) are a playground for outdoor leisure, particularly watersports and surfing holidays. The Azores sit in the middle of the North Atlantic around 1500km from the European coast.
As there's quite a few Azores islands, they're divided into groups. The eastern cluster includes Santa Maria and Sao Miguel, the central Terceira, Craciosa, Sao Jorge, Pico and Faial and in the West Flores and Corvo. Sao Miguel Azores Island is the biggest of the nine, and the Autonomous Regional Government of the Azores is based here at Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel.
The Azores benefits from a temperate maritime climate with some fluctuations in weather patterns. July and August are the warmest months with pretty much sunshine all the way.
The Azores are volcanically formed islands, and 12 active volcanoes are spread across them. Pico Island has the highest volcano peak, indeed Pico volcano is Portugal's highest peak.