They know how to party in Madeira – they invented carnival and exported it to Rio or at least that’s what the Madeiran's would have us believe. We were there for Carnival in February this year – in fact there are 2 carnivals. The Saturday night is Rio style with lavish costumes, music from huge sound systems on the decorated floats, dance troupes and an element of competition. The theme was “horoscopes” but it was difficult to recognise it in some of the displays. The streets were crowded with onlookers all out to party.
The second carnival, known as the chaos carnival was on Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras. As the name suggests this was fun and frantic with lots of children involved. It was mostly home-made costumes, still lots of music and many humorous or satirical subjects. Two of my favourites were a Land Rover with notices saying “Tourists, help us” but how or why I have no idea. The other eye-catcher was the front half of a car being driven along quite happily. The event was fast, furious and fun; much less formal and organised than the Saturday night.
Walking the Levadas
It’s not easy to explain the Levadas but I’ll attempt a summary. Madeira is a small island with mountains in the middle. It rains in the north but not much in the south. Centuries ago the enterprising Madeirans dug through the mountain to channel the water from the north and distribute it through a network of successively smaller channels to the land in the south.
All the channels have a path, often precipitous, running alongside forming a network of walks around the island. The system is still going strong fulfilling its original function. We had some great walks along the Levadas enjoying some fabulous views though, in places, you need a good head for heights.
We found some lovely, unspoilt seaside places including Ponta do Sol in the south and Sao Vicente in the north. The buses were fairly good if sometimes a little erratic. There are deep valleys, cliffs and rugged mountains. We found the weather in February a very pleasant low to mid-20s but we also had some rain. The main town/city of Funchal has a cable-car to take you up to Monte in the mountains above. It was a bit scary but gave good views over the city and the cruise ships in the harbour.
From Monte you can take your life in your hands and descend on the famous toboggans controlled by 2 strapping young men. You travel on ordinary roads and the only brakes are your drivers’ feet. We loved the hop on hop off, open-topped buses that travelled around Funchal and out to Camara de Lobos, another attractive harbour village. The people everywhere were very welcoming and the food was of a good standard. We stayed about 10 miles west of Funchal enjoying sea views. There is a good range of accommodation on trivago with excellent discounts and reviews to help you choose.