The Madeiran capital
Funchal was apparently named after the abundance of fennel on the island. Although its great sea trading days may be over, today there’s a new form of trade in the form of visitors in search of off-season sun, natural beauty, fortified wine and, interestingly, migrating birds.
Funchal’s shops and markets brim with Madeiran needlework, fortified wines, ceramics and basketry. For hand embroidery, head for Patricio & Gouveia (Rua do Visconde de Anadia 34) or Casa Oliveira (Rua da Alfândega 11), which have on-site workshops and shops selling everything from embroidered towels to nightwear. Catch-all souvenir shop Casa do Turista (Rua do Conselheiro José Silvestre Ribeiro 2) has handicrafts and keepsakes galore, while Madeira Wine Company (Avenida Arriaga 28) is best for liquid mementos. Meanwhile, the Workers' Market off Rua Hospital Velho is a riot of colour, with flower vendors in traditional Madeiran outfits tending crafts and food stalls.
Food & Drink
Fresh fish, steaming hot soups, honeyed cakes and Madeira’s famous fortified wines are some of the treats on offer in Funchal’s restaurants and cafés. Many of the best eateries are found in hotels, such as high-end Il Gallo d’Oro (Cliff Bay Hotel), which boasts a Michelin-starred chef and stunning ocean views. A more economic option is the rustic O Celeiro (Rua dos Aranhas 22), which dishes up generous helpings of regional fare. Another backstreet gem with a traditional Madeiran-Portuguese menu is Armazem do Sal (Rua da Alfândega 135), which occupies a centuries-old salt warehouse.
Samba troupes, parades and pounding rhythms take over the streets of Funchal each spring during carnival. The Saturday procession is a riot of colourful costumes, while Tuesday’s ‘fun parade’ is ripe with satire.
The heady scents of azaleas, bougainvillea, agapanthus and mimosa flood Funchal during this kaleidoscopic festival. Floral carpets spring up on the pavements, flower-smothered floats parade the streets, while concerts, folkloric music and dance troupes add to the fun.
Volta à Madeira Classic Rally
Classic cars roar around the rollercoaster dips, rock-cut tunnels and hillside hairpin turns of Madeira every summer during this four-day rally event. It kicks off in spectacular style along Avenida Arriaga in Funchal’s historic centre.
Madeira Wine Festival
The grape harvest goes hand in hand with this celebration of Madeira’s famous fortified wines. The harvest and procession takes place in Estreito de Câmara de Lobos, while central Funchal overflows with wine tastings, food stalls, music and wine-related exhibitions.
New Year’s Eve
“Oohs” and “ahhs” mingle with bangs, whizzes and crackles from all sides of Funchal Bay at New Year. The bay is a spectacular natural forum for fireworks, and the city takes full advantage, laying on one of the world’s biggest annual pyrotechnic extravaganzas.
From picturesquely ramshackle old quintas (country estates) to top-notch deluxe hotels, Funchal has a wide range of places to lay your head down. Whitewashed and colonnaded Quinta da Fonte (Estrada dos Marmeleiros 89) has terrific views, idyllic gardens and mid-range rates on a hilltop. Also flirting with the edge of town is 200-year-old hunting lodge Casa Velha do Palheiro (Rua de Estalagem 23), now a five-star retreat beside a golf course. If you’d rather stay near the centre of town, family-run Quinta da Penha de Franca (Rua Imperatriz Dona Amélia 85) has a pool overlooking the sea, lush gardens and affordable prices.