Madeira is a Portuguese archipelago set in the North of the Atlantic Ocean - 310 miles (560 km) from the African coast and 620 miles from the European Continent (a 90-minute flight from the Portuguese capital, Lisbon).
The archipelago was discovered by Portuguese explorers in 1418. Madeira (the largest island) and Porto Santo are inhabited, while the Desertas and Selvagens Islands are protected areas for wildlife.
These are volcanic islands and Madeira is surprisingly mountainous with peaks of 1,860 metres (over 6,100 feet), but volcanic activity stopped 6,500 years ago. Madeira has a surface area of 459 square miles (741 km2) - 35 miles long and 13 miles wide.
These islands, because of their privileged geographical position and mountainous relief, have a surprisingly mild climate. Very mild average temperatures (25°C for summer / 17°C in the winter) and a moderate level of humidity give these islands exceptional subtropical features. The sea temperature is also very mild, because of the influence of the Gulf current, and averages 18 - 22°C.
Volcanic activity has endowed the island with a fertile landscape, and also covered it in an ancient subtropical rainforest. Parts of this forest (the laurissilva) still remain, mostly on the north side of the island, and have become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Pearl of the Atlantic, as Madeira is sometimes known, has strong traditions in banana, sugarcane and wine production, but now much of the economic growth is from tourism. The north of the island remains mainly rural while the south has developed and progressed. Funchal is one of the largest cities in Portugal.
Madeira is recognised worldwide for the variety of adventure sports activities it offers. Whether by land, air or sea, there is a wealth of activities to choose from: paragliding, surfing, bodyboarding, windsurfing, canyoning, hiking, mountain biking, scuba diving, and dolphin/whale watching.