Guest Author - Ann Carroll Burgess
Travelers have known Madeira as a paradise for more than two centuries. After all, the island's temperatures are warm year-round, the sun shines nearly constantly, and there are plenty of world-class hotels and activities to fit everyone's tastes. Beaches, however, have never been the island's strong suit. Sure, you can swim in the ocean--many of the major hotels have swimming pools built into the sea. But for a really good beach, hop across the water to Madeira's "sister island," Porto Santo, you won’t be disappointed.
Porto Santo is a dry crescent, unlike lush and green Madeira. Its year-round temperature averaging between 66 and 73 degrees, is combined with a dry and stable climate with a warm sea. The six-mile-long beach here is made of a light yellow sand rich in a magnetic rock that is thought to have healing properties. The clear waters of the bay are always warm with no undertow (but that’s no reason not to remain careful in the ocean). You'll find the beach turns into dunes with vineyards yielding the grapes used for local wines.
Porto Santo's downtown is charming, with a 17th century museum dedicated to Columbus (he lived on the island) and a central square from the 16th century You'll find about four cafés and restaurants here, and a few boutiques surrounding the central square. Mid-summer here can feel relaxed and sleepy.
The interior of Porto Santo is uninhabited, making it ideal for easy hikes along trails that have a gentle rise and fall. Hikers can go along the rocky cliffs of the northern coast, stopping in at the Fonte de Areia Park for a picnic and a view of the cliffs. The island has four peaks that are easy climbs. You can bike across the southern coast or along the wilderness trails. Paragliding off the peaks, horseback riding on the beach or renting a 4-x-4 for off-roading are other popular activities.
Porto Santo Golf Course, designed by the Spanish champion Severiano Ballesteros, currently offers two circuits with 9 holes with a total par of 72. Another set of 9 par-3 holes and a pitch-and-putt course are part of the complex A planned expansion of another 18-hole course is set to make the Porto Santo Course the largest in the islands. The course is north of Pico Ana Ferreira, where 8 tennis courts will soon be added near the Porto Santo Horse Riding Center.
Beyond swimming, water sports are especially popular on Porto Santo, including sailing, surfing, kite surfing, canoeing, sport fishing, snorkeling and diving. Snorkeling is popular just south of Porto de Abrigo, where the wreck of the "O Madeirense" is found.
That’s just a taste of what you can find. Have some Madeira, my dear?