Portugal's ever-growing popularity is leading in-the-know travelers to look outside the mainland. With a slew of new spots on the horizon, this little archipelago is ready for its close-up.

By Heidi Mitchell
June 21, 2019
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The Madeira Botanical Garden, in Funchal, Portugal.
| Credit: Getty Images

Portugal’s Madeira Islands are best known for their namesake fortified wine. But there are many other reasons to visit, as a growing number of travelers to the archipelago — a collection of volcanic chunks off the coast of Morocco, about 750 miles southwest of Lisbon — have been discovering. The latest: the main island is undergoing a round of development just as Madeira celebrates 600 years since its discovery.

The Cliff Bay hotel, in Funchal.
| Credit: Courtesy of Cliff Bay

In the island capital of Funchal, at least three hotels cut the ribbon this spring, including the much-anticipated Savoy Palace, with 352 rooms, five restaurants, six bars, and an 11-room spa. The 16-story property curves toward the sea, so every suite offers a view out to the horizon. Nearby, the popular Cliff Bay has a new sister property, Les Suites at the Cliff Bay, set high on a promontory, with 23 villas and access to the Cliff Bay's Michelin two-starred restaurant, Il Gallo d'Oro, which is helmed by French chef Benoît Sinthon. The 57-room Pestana Churchill Bay is the first retreat in the seaside town of Câmara de Lobos, one of Winston Churchill's cherished painting spots.

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If you're not feeling woozy from the wine or marveling at the A-frame straw houses woven into the lush emerald landscape, lace up your hiking boots. There are endless trails to choose from, but if you're game for a moderate challenge, the seven-mile route from Pico do Arieiro will take you over Madeira's three tallest peaks, offering some of the best views of the island. Or visit the Madeira Botanical Garden, a 20-acre plot of land planted with endemic species and vibrant geometric flower beds.

The Levada das 25 Fontes hiking trail passes through Madeira’s Laurisilva forest.
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Massachusetts-based Sagres Vacations specializes in crafting singular experiences through all of Madeira's six microclimates. The company can also arrange a private dinner of traditional espetada beef skewers and ponchas, cocktails made with sugarcane liquor, in a 17th-century fortress; a wine tasting with a fifth-generation producer; a bike tour along the levadas (historic water channels that once fed the banana, sugarcane, and grape plantations); or a trek to the Laurisilva forest, a UNESCO World Heritage site within the Madeira Natural Park, some 4,500 feet above sea level.