Funchal is the capital city of sunny, lush Madeira, Portugal’s craggy outpost in the Atlantic, and rises from the sea in a half-moon of red roofs that cling to the hillsides around the bay.
The two-mile (3.2 km) Lido Promenade wends along Funchal’s seafront and is backed by tropical gardens; the walkway links bars, restaurants, and swimming pools with the three small, pebbly beaches at Praia Formosa. As Madeira is a volcanic island, the pocket-sized beaches are mostly black sand or stony, although there are two golden sandy beaches at Machico and Calheta (the sand’s imported), and natural rock pools to swim in at Doca do Cavacas.
Funchal’s busy marina is host to a fleet of vessels on which to explore the dramatic Funchal coastline and seas warmed by the Gulf Stream. Catamarans, yachts, and inflatables ply their way out to sea to spot whales and dolphins frisking in the waves, or head across to the Desertas Islands to spy on rare monk seals basking in the sun.
Glass-bottom boats and diving expeditions explore the marine reserve at Garajau on the east coast of Madeira to spot turtles, rays, barracuda, and grouper on the reef. Wreck- and cave-diving trips are also available, along with a raft of water-sports including ski-ing, surfing, wake boarding, and canoeing.
Back on dry land, take the winding road west from Funchal through Câmara de Lobos to the Cabo Girao; these bluff cliffs are Europe’s highest, soaring steeply out of the sea to 1,900 feet (580 meters), with villas spread over their eastern flanks. Here join the paragliders flinging themselves out over the sea or step out onto the glass viewing platform for views over the waves way below.