The Island of Flowers, the Pearl of the Atlantic, the Isle of Eternal Spring - these are just a few of the names that, over the years, Madeira has acquired from those captivated by its beauty. Close to Africa, yet part of Europe, the island mixes the two, creating something exotic but sophisticated, the ideal holiday combination. The island has a truly enviable climate, its temperature fixed in a narrow range that means overcoats can be left behind, but the occasionally overpowering heat of nearby Africa never troubles. The volcanic origins of the island have left a high, jagged interior which attracts clouds and rain, the rain watering a fertile volcanic soil which, with the ever-present sun, produces textbook conditions for plant growth. The Island of Flowers is an appropriate name - Madeira's gardens are its great joy as the annual Flower Festival makes amply clear. Garden lovers will find more than enough to satisfy them, and will also find that away from the formal gardens, where the orchids that are the island's speciality bloom, Madeira is alive with colour at all times of the year: if there is a an uncultivated patch of earth it will soon be colonised by an exotic flower.