The capital of Madeira is named after the fennel (funcha) that once flowered there in profusion. The largest island in the Madeira Archipelago was discovered in 1419 by Portuguese explorers venturing south into the Atlantic. The island is nearly equidistant from Lisbon and the African coast, and its unique geographical position allowed Madeira to play a pivotal role in European discovery. Seamen such as Christopher Columbus gained knowledge and experience plying the routes of the island's sugar trade. When sugar declined, the island's famed wines continued to provide a robust trade. By the late 18th century, Madeira's mild climate, rocky peaks, and lush valleys provided a winter haven to Europe's aristocrats. Visitors still flock to the island today, drawn by its scenery and its weather.
Funchal is noted for its superb hand-embroidery and wicker ware, both Madeira specialties. The island, of course, is also noted for its superb wines: they are perhaps the world's most complex and long lasting wines.