Madeira, Portugal: Sophisticated Island Life Unlike Any Other

Sophisticated And Affordable Island Living: 
Welcome To The Pearl Of The Atlantic

Just under a two-hour flight out of Lisbon, Portugal’s Madeira Island was named the “World’s Leading Island Destination” by World Travel Awards in both 2015 and 2016. The main island of the Madeira archipelago is one of the few islands in the world capable of offering the zest and vibe of island life without having to give up the buzz of a city lifestyle.

“Of all islands, the most beautiful and free,” is the island’s motto. Backing up this assertion, H.N. Coleridge once said: “I should think the situation of Madeira the most enviable on the whole earth. It ensures every European comfort with almost every tropical luxury.”

Madeira has been receiving international attention since European royalty discovered the wonders of its year-round, springlike climate and the associated health benefits. Empress Sissi of Austria, Emperor Maximilian of Mexico and, later, Sir Winston Churchill stayed for extended periods, bringing this Portuguese island international status and notoriety.

wine barrels lying on their sides on shelves
Madeira wine is a fortified dry or sweet wine that lasts for quite a while…decades even

Before being one of the first tourism destinations in Europe, Madeira was (and still is) famous for its sugar, flowers, and wine production. George Washington himself sipped on Madeiran wine to celebrate U.S. independence.

Madeira’s unique climate is characterized by a yearly average of 68° F. Summers tend to be mildly hot with temperatures reaching an average maximum of 77° F. It’s rare to see temperatures above 86° F. If you’re a beach-goer, Madeira’s sea temperatures are the highest in Portugal, reaching a stunning 74.3° F during summer.

Despite its closeness to Morocco, the island’s nearest continental neighbor, Madeira is blessed with a humid climate (around 75%) throughout the entire year—thanks to its UNESCO World Heritage-protected, prehistoric Laurissilva Forest that covers 20% of the island’s 741 square kms. This forest has more than 1,600 kms of irrigation channels accompanied by footpaths that once connected the entire island’s countryside.

With a population of 111,892, Funchal is Madeira’s only major city. Making up almost 42% of the four-island archipelago’s population, it’s the economic, cultural, and political center of the islands. The other statutory cities—Machico, Câmara de Lobos, Santa Cruz, and Santana—have fewer than 50,000 residents. 

people swimming and lounging by the rock pools of porto moniz
The highlight of Porto Moniz, the natural volcanic rock pools


Just 55 minutes from Funchal, you can explore the wild coastal north and the town of Porto Moniz. Or, in 40 minutes, you can reach the sunny and peaceful village of Jardim do Mar, kissing the vast Atlantic Ocean while walled by mountains. 

Whether you opt for a slower paced capital life in Funchal or a true coastal escape, you’ll always find yourself on an island full of wonder with something new in every corner.

Day-to-day life in Madeira is stress-free for locals, expats, and tourists alike, and the cultural offer is immensely diverse for an island. Museums with Flemish and religious art, churches hosting organ music festivals, monthly symphonic orchestra and chamber music concerts, gastronomical and traditional folk festivals throughout the year, and recurring art exhibitions are just some examples of Madeira’s intense but quiet cultural scene.

If you tire of the cultural agenda, you can always find peace on the neighboring island of Porto Santo. A two-hour ferry trip will take you to one of Portugal’s 7 Natural Wonders: Porto Santo’s 9 kms of healing-sand beach. If you don’t feel like making a boat trip, just indulge yourself in a weekend at Reid’s Palace—Sir Winston Churchill’s outstandingly glamorous hotel of choice.

people lounging on chairs by the ocean
The Atlantic Ocean terrace of Reid’s Palace Hotel in Funchal

Unlike many island paradises, Madeira’s Cristiano Ronaldo Airport connects you directly not only to Lisbon, Portugal’s capital, but also to any major European capital—including Paris, Brussels, London, Berlin, and Zürich. No wonder Madeira is a favorite among British, German, French, and Scandinavian tourists and expats.

As one of the first tourist and expat destinations in Europe, and with a strong British presence on the island, Madeirans quickly adapted to learning English. Madeira was the first territory in Portugal to implement compulsory English education starting with primary school. English, alongside French and German to a lesser extent, is the main second language spoken by locals. 

The strong bond with the British community is also seen in the medical and law sectors in Madeira, in which you can find native or bilingual speakers that cater to the expat community. The language barrier is one thing you won’t need to worry about when moving to Madeira.

people eating at tables with umbrellas at an outdoor cafe in madeira
Cost of living, from accommodations to amenities, are cheaper than in The Algarve

With rent and restaurant prices an average 10.5% lower than those in the Algarve, Madeira is an affordable place to retire. Utilities are lower here, too—electricity is as much as 21.8% lower, and internet 11.2% lower, than in the Algarve. VAT is currently one percentage point lower than on the Portuguese mainland. 

Apart from being able to apply for Portugal’s non-habitual residence (NHR) tax regime—granting full exemption on foreign-sourced passive income—you can also take advantage of Madeira’s unique corporation tax benefits. At 5%, Madeira has Europe’s lowest corporate taxation rate which, unlike its Caribbean counterparts, is fully integrated and supervised under Portuguese and EU law, therefore having never qualified Madeira as a tax haven.

Whether you fancy surrounding yourself with nature, countryside, ocean waves, or the buzz of city life—or a healthy combination of all these—Madeira is the ideal place to enjoy “of all islands, the most beautiful and free.”

Miguel Pinto-Correia