Madeira and Porto Santo appear on a Genoese map of 1351, so there is no doubt that sailors had long since known about the islands. They remained unclaimed however until 1418 when João Gonçalves Zarco was blown out into the Atlantic by violent storms while exploring the coast of Africa. He then landed on Porto Santo and returned a year later on a voyage sponsored by Henry the Navigator which is when he saw Madeira on the horizon. Within seven years the island had attracted a pioneer colony and the early settlers exploited the fertile soil and warm climate to grow sugar cane. The islanders grew rich on this and slaves were brought in to work the land and create the terraced fields and irrigation channels.
In the late 19th century, Madeira became a popular winter holiday spot for northern Europeans and today it appeals to keen walkers, plant lovers and sun seekers.
The island is blessed with an excellent location in the northern half of the Atlantic ocean. It is approximately 700km from the coast of Africa and 1000km from mainland Portugal. and covers an area of 741 square kilometres.
Unlike the Açores the volcanic activity of Madeira is considered to be extinct. The original activity gave origin to the central mountainous massif formed by Pico Ruivo, the highest point on the island at 1,862m, Pico da Torre at 1,851m and Areeiro at 1,818m amongst others. At 1.500m there is the only plateau of the island, Paul da Serra. The coastline of Madeira is predominantly high and scarped. Fajãs and pebbly beaches occupy narrow spaces between the cliffs and the sea. The northern coast is highest and steepest of all, and access to the sea is easier on the southern coast.
The pearl of the Atlantic has one of the most perfect climates in the world, making it an all year round destination. It is never too hot, averaging maximums of 24ºC during the summer months and minimum's of 17ºC during the winter. This benevolent climate enhances every leisure pastime, be it mountain walking, touring, hiking, etc.
Today, the Pontinha terminal, as it’s commonly named, is the place for cruise business, where the largest vessels are accommodated, with about 1092 meters of quay-side and drafts ranging from 6 to 11 meters, some 770 meters of suitable berth is reserved for cruise ships. The Pontinha sea wall is subdivided in three sections that are classified as piers and following a logical sequence of variable depths along the Harbour.