Funchal’s New Year’s Eve festival is famous across the whole of Portugal, particularly for it’s enormous firework display:
However, the famous fireworks tend to overshadow some of the island’s lesser-known cultural festivals. One of my favourites is the Chestnut festival in Curral das Freiras. The village was once a refuge for the nuns of the Convent of Santa Clara, who fled inland when the island was attacked by French privateers and pirates in mid-1500’s. Cherries and chestnuts are the main crops grown on the terraces that you’ll see lining 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 annual Chestnut festival is on the 1st of November, celebrating the harvesting of chestnut crop – it’s a really popular event which culminates in a parade of almost six-hundred people in national costume, accompanied by the islands’ folk musicians:
Funchal’s Fest da Flor in April celebrates the arrival of spring on the island. The streets of the capital are closed to normal life for the weekend; instead they’re filled a colourful parade of over a thousand children from across the island – the parade begins on the Avenida Arriaga and ends in the Praça do Município where each of the children ads a flower to the city’s “Wall of Hope”:
There’s a pretty full calendar right throughout the year. There’s the Orienteering Festival in February, the Festa dos Compadres that kick-starts Carnival season. The Amo Teatro and Festival Literaio festivals in March, followed by April’s festival of Embroidery and Handicrafts.
May’s highlights include the Madeira Film Festival and Classic Car Revival, and June has two of the island’s most popular music festivals: the festival Raizes do Atlantico, focusing on World Music, and the Fica na Cidade which is a bit more indie/rock.
Madeira’s largest music festival is the NOS Summer Opening in July – it doesn’t have the big international acts that the mainland NOS festival attracts, but it’s a great event that showcases some of Portugal’s best bands:
August is a busy month – there’s the Festa dos Fachos torch festival in Machico, one of the oldest celebrations on the island; way back in the 16th Century torches were used to warn of attacks by pirates:
The start of the wine harvest kicks of the island’s Festa do Vinho (which often continues into September). The biggest event of the month (and certainly the nosiest) is the Madeira Vinho Rally:
Calm is restored in September with the International Canary-Madeira Sailing Regatta, the Folklore Festival and the Columbus Festival on Madeira’s neighbour Porto Santo. October’s Nature Festival celebrates the island’s landscapes and levadas, with specially organised walks and events. It’s a great time to visit if you love your outdoor activities – particularly canyoning and mountain biking:
Together with the fireworks, the year ends with December’s Madeiradig Digital Arts Festival – four wonderful days of contemporary electronic music, curated by Digital in Berlin. (There’s an excellent compilation from the 2014 festival on bandcamp):
Whatever your tastes, just pick an event and we can build you bespoke Festivais holiday.