There are many reasons to visit the green Atlantic island of Madeira. Some come for the excellent walking trails, others to enjoy the slow pace of life and the fresh food and wine for which the island is well known. Stay for a while and you’re bound to encounter one of the island’s many festivals. These offer a great opportunity to watch (and participate in) some of Madeira’s rich and diverse cultural heritage. Here are just a few to look out for:
This celebration of sound and light takes place throughout the full month of June. Many visitors come for the rich selection of live music performances that can be enjoyed around the island at churches, civic buildings and a variety of outdoor venues. Be sure to include a Saturday night as part of your visit to the Atlantic Festival as it’s on these evenings that the sky is set ablaze by the famous international fireworks display competition, often choreographed to dance to the accompanying music.
Madeira Wine Rally
Alcohol and driving do not mix of course, but thankfully the wine rally does not involve the drivers sampling the local tipple before jumping speeding around the island. What is involved is a three day race around the twists and turns of Madeira in early August. Throw in the unpredictable Atlantic weather and you have a race that challenges some of Europe’s finest rally drivers. There are dedicated viewing areas from which spectators can marvel at the skills of the drivers from a safe distance.
This celebration of devotion to the patron saint of Madeira, Our Lady of the Monte, takes place on August 15th each year. The main events begin a day earlier at the hillside Nossa Senhora do Monte Church, which is specially adorned with flowers for the occasion. As with all good celebrations, a full night follows of eating and drinking, singing and dancing before the islanders can rest during the public holiday that follows. It’s a great time to be on Madeira to observe the locals in full party mode, but don’t expect to see anything open on the 15th.
Madeira Wine Festival
Madeira has a long history of cultivating vineyards and the production of wine is an important element of the island’s economy. It is only fitting therefore that the islanders should celebrate the start of the grape harvest season in late August and early September. The festivities begin in the village of Camara de Lobos, where traditional techniques for grape harvesting are celebrated and shared with islanders and visitors. The party then moves into the centre of Funchal, with live musical performances, traditional dances and an abundance of food and drink on offer.
The island of Madeira boasts a strong historical connection with Columbus. It was here that he landed in 1478 and it was in Porto Santo that he stayed long enough to marry the daughter of Bartolomeu Perestrelo, the Governor of the island. All things Columbus are celebrated in mid-September in a manner of which any famous seafarer would be proud: drink, music, dancing and then plenty more drink. The highlight of the festival is a reenactment of the arrival of Columbus and his band of men in the harbour at Porto Santo.