Funchal’s New Year’s Eve festival is famous across Portugal for it’s enormous firework display – marking the end of a packed cultural calendar on the island. Here’s our guide to a year of festivals on Madeira.
The year begins with the week-long Madeira Carnival at the end of February. The first event is the Festa dos Compadres in Santana – a parade of gigantic figurines known as the Compadres and the Comadres. After a brief confrontation and public show-trial for their ‘many infidelities and sins’, the figurines are found guilty and tossed onto a large bonfire in the centre of town. Despite this gruesome end, it’s one of the more fun festivals on the island and an excellent opportunity to sample the island’s street food.
Ad-hoc celebrations pop up across the whole island during Carnival week, culminating in the main Carnival street party and parade in the capital Funchal on Saturday.
Carnival ends on the following Tuesday with the Cortejo Trapalão parade – the sillier-side of Carnival and a particular favourite amongst Madeirans.
The Amo Teatro festival in Santa Cruz and Funchal’s Festival Literaio are in March, followed by April’s Fest da Flor. Funchal’s two-day Flower Festival is well-known and well-loved, celebrating the arrival of spring on the island. Festivities begin with the building of the Muro da Esperança – a ‘Wall of Hope’ flower mural at the Largo do Colegio (on the Praça do Município), constructed by the islands’ school children using blossoms from across the globe.
You’ll also see carpets of flowers laid throughout the city, covering almost every street and avenida. It’s a common feature of religious festivals throughout Portugal, and Funchal’s fragrant works of art are arguably some of the most memorable. Sunday’s big event is the Flower Parade – 1500 residents, local children and folk-dancers in spectacularly-colourful costumes parade down the Avenida Sá Carneiro on floats lavishly adorned with spring flowers.
May and June’s highlights include the Madeira Film Festival and Classic Car Revival. June also has two of the island’s most popular music festivals: the world music Raizes do Atlantico festival in Ponta do Sol, and the indie/rock Fica na Cidade festival in Funchal. Madeira’s largest music festival is the NOS Summer Opening in July – it doesn’t have the big international acts that the mainland’s NOS festival attracts, but it’s a great event that showcases the best of Portugal’s homegrown talent.
August is another busy month – there’s the Festa dos Fachos torch festival in Machico, one of the oldest celebrations on the island. Dating back to the 16th Century when Madeira was frequently under attack by French Corsairs, strategically-placed fires were lit on the high peaks and mountains to warn the island’s population of imminent attack. Nowadays, the festival’s fires are formed into the shapes of fish, boats and important religous symbols.
August also sees the start of the wine harvest, celebrated by the island’s Festa do Vinho. The festival can last anything up to four weeks, commencing with the ceremonial pressing of the first grapes of the harvest in the south coast town of Camara da Lobos, followed by music, dance and street food in the capital Funchal. There are four main varieties of wine produced on the island: Sercial is a dry white and a popular aperitif, Verdelho is medium-dry and often served with soups such as caldo verde. Boal is medium-sweet with a strong flavour, great with cheese, and finally there’s sweet Malmsey, which is often served with rich deserts and chocolate.
The most-popular event of the month (and certainly the noisiest) is the Madeira Vinho Rally – one of the more technical and most scenic stages in the FIA’s European Rally Championship calendar.
Calm is restored in September with the Canary-Madeira Sailing Regatta, which attracts hundreds of sailing enthusiasts to the island, as fifty crews race the 500km between the Canary Islands and Madeira.
Also in September, Madeira’s small neighbour Porto Santo plays host to the annual Columbus Festival. It’s a celebration of Christopher Columbus’ time in residence on the island, in the late 1400’s during his marriage to Filipa de Moniz: daughter of the first governor of Porto Santo. There’s street theatre, live music, dances and exhibitions – and a nightly parade reconstructing Columbus’ celebrated arrival on the island at the Praça do Barqueiro.
October’s Nature Festival is a must for lovers of outdoor sports such as mountain biking, diving, surfing, kayaking, canyoning and climbing. Weather-wise, October’s one of the best months for mountain and sea-based activities, and there’s an opportunity to try out a new pursuit for free.
The Feria das Castanhas chestnut festival is at beginning of November. It’s another really popular event with local Madeirans, celebrating the harvesting of chestnut crop in the secluded town of Curral das Freiras. Also know as the Nun’s Valley, this beautiful spot was once a refuge for the nuns of the Convent of Santa Clara, who fled inland from Funchal when the island was attacked by French Corsairs in mid-1500’s. Cherries and chestnuts are the main crops grown on the terraces which line the steep sides of the valley. The cherries are used in the production of the island’s fortified wines, whilst the chestnuts find their way into a number of traditional Madeiran recipes for cakes, sweet puddings and soups.
The Madeiradig Digital Arts Festival is in December – four days of contemporary and electronic music, curated by Digital in Berlin. The line-ups are often eclectic and always interesting, attracting artists from around the globe to the sunny south-coast town of Ponta do Sol. Madeiradig has an excellent compilation available to stream on bandcamp.
The year ends in explosive style with Funchal’s famous fireworks display. The whole of Madeira descends on the city for the big event – families and friends gathered on every rooftop and balcony, whilst Funchal’s bay is filled with cruise ships bringing travellers from around the world to enjoy the festivities. On the stroke of midnight, the cruise ships sound their sirens and every church bell in the city rings out as the epic firework display begins.
Whatever your tastes, pick your event and we can build you bespoke Madeira Festival holiday. We specialise in personalised holidays to Madeira and Porto Santo. If you’d like to talk to one of our experts on the best time to visit Madeira, just give us a call on 017687 721070 or drop us a line via our Enquiry Form.