Like its fine sparkling wine, Madeira ‘pops’ its cork to welcome in the New Year. Madeira holds its own with the ‘big boys’ of the World and knows how to put on a New Year firework spectacular. From London to Sydney, New York to Paris, the fireworks of the world light up the sky at midnight, but whether you see the fantastic display from land or sea, it is a sight to behold. Nine cruise ships filled the harbour and joined together to play a ‘tune’ on the ships horns to welcome the New Year. All the ships were lit up like Christmas Trees, all of which added to the excitement of being in Madeira at New Year.
Madeira is a mature, sophisticated island, the image of it just being for the ‘older’ age group(!) is receding quickly into the past, a vibrant fun-loving atmosphere is being generated. Winter sun is high on the agenda, walking and festivals are still what brings in the tourists. Cruise ships line up in the harbour on a daily basis and bring in the much-needed support for this lovely island.
Madeira is now a most popular place to be at Christmas and New Year’s. The streets are full of Christmas markets, singers that fill the air with carols and Madeira Folklore music. A giant model of Father Christmas fills the pedestrian area, and children – and adults too – climb on his knee to have their photographs taken. As the weather is so mild and pleasant it is surreal to walk around in the sun two days before New Year’s Eve. Christmas Markets serve hot drinks and sell local crafts to the visiting guests. The harbour area is lively and has beautiful recently finished walkways and sitting areas. Cafes spill over on to the pavements to attract the weary shoppers from the cruise ships. The large star decorations on the pavements and Christmas trees sparkling encourage a festive feel to the area.
Take the stress out of the festivities and celebrate in style – enjoy your most relaxing Christmas and New Year by letting someone else do the hard work for you. Our journey to Madeira did just that as we sat in 24 degrees and thought about all the people rushing around at the January Sales, we just chilled out and let the world go by.
The hotels are up to speed with the demand for the Christmas and New Year period, so whatever your taste or ‘pocket’ Madeira has it all.
Our first taste of undiluted luxury started at the Belmond Reid’s Palace Hotel which is set amongst beautiful sub-tropical gardens, enjoying the spectacular views over the Atlantic Ocean from its cliff top position (it is a good walk from the centre of Funchal so the best way to get there is by taxi or take the hop on hop off bus which drops you off opposite the main gate). Reid’s is still regarded as the crème de la crème of the hotels in Madeira, it has an outstanding ‘pedigree’ of the rich and famous crossing its threshold. Its famous cream teas are some of the best I have ever tasted, and of course the champagne is exceptional! The classic surroundings, the attention to detail, plus the quality of the service puts this hotel in a league of its own. The quality of the hotel is reflected in the prices and at approximately 500 euros per night this gives it the exclusivity and standards it has achieved over the years. But don’t be dismayed if this is out of the price bracket you require, you can visit the hotel and ask at the reception if you may go to the bar for a drink and enjoy the beautiful surroundings, there is a dress code, no shorts allowed and smart casual for the cream teas balcony area is required, but which ever way you visit this hotel it is a stunning experience.
The Royal Savoy Hotel is another well-placed hotel. It sits below the Belmond Reid’s Palace and is situated on the coast. All the rooms face the sea, and the hotel looks like a giant wave that is resting on the shore. Beautiful rooms or suites are available, you could stay for a month in the suites that have a kitchen area providing self-catering amenities, and if you don’t fancy self-catering a chef can be employed to cook a superb meal in your suite. The hotel has a calm relaxing ambiance that exhibits furniture from all over the world – including a pygmy bed and doors from African that are now works of art. The lounge and bar areas are friendly and functional, with areas to listen to music or just to enjoy the company of strangers that have now become friends. The hotel is one of the best on the island of Madeira, the price does reflect the position on the coast with its amazing views, and the roof-top bar that gives you a prominent position whilst watching the firework display with your glass of sparkling wine on New Year’s Eve.
The Hotel do Carmo (which we sampled) was clean, well-cared for and economical, and its plus was that it is only one minute from the Centre of Funchal – and that is a real plus. The rooms are basic and the breakfast adequate, the hotel has sixties feel with rooms decorated with pictures of icons from that era. The hotel has a roof-top swimming pool, and if you want a simpler New Year’s break then take your sparkling wine to the roof terrace and let the New Year in with the other guests.
Our New Year’s Eve was spent at the amazing Quinta das Vistas Palace Garden Hotel, higher up the valley of Funchal, and this sophisticated, elegant hotel had the five star quality and service that has made this stunning hotel famous. The hotel has 71 bedrooms and 3 junior suites, and a fabulous swimming pool set in beautiful gardens. It also has amazing views over the Atlantic Ocean. Funchal Bay is an amphitheatre that is transformed with thousands of twinkling lights, setting the scene for the spectacular firework display. Our six-course meal with accompanying wines was wonderful. Everyone dressed up and looked amazing from tuxedos to smart evening and cocktail dresses – everyone was ready for the big night. The food was excellent and the wine divine, music was played by a very talented lady that kept us entertained throughout our meal, hats for the men and coronets for the ladies all added to the fun of the evening. At 11.45pm we all went out on to the La Belle Terrasse with our glasses of sparkling wine. At midnight, a large sign that was lit up on the hillside changed to 2016, and we toasted the New Year, not forgetting the tradition of eating 12 grapes and making twelve wishes – one for each month of the year. After the celebrations, the ships in the harbour started to set sail again, to party on into the night. Another tradition is to eat chicken broth and have a light sandwich to help you continue the celebration for longer – soup no – bed yes!!
Now if you want an ‘Away From it All’ Hotel then the Quinta do Lorde Resort is the place for you. This hotel complex is a ‘village’ with its own church, marina and an infinity pool that flows into the Atlantic. It is ideal for weddings and honeymoons but choose out of season as the main season gets rather busy around the complex’s three pools and restaurant. It is a 30 minutes’ drive out of Funchal, so a car is essential if you stay there and want to explore the island. It has good-sized rooms, and the food is varied and plentiful, it is mainly buffet style but on New Year’s Eve it is a 6-course meal served at the table. Also, the hotel does take guests into Funchal to watch the firework display at a very good vantage point. This hotel has got a lot to offer the guests and it also has a harbour where many boats are moored and a lovely bar for light snacks and drinks called The Captain’s Bar. You can access diving at the Dive Centre situated on the harbour, and small boats can be hired for fishing or just for a short trip around the headland. The hotel is ideal for walkers as the surrounding area is dramatic and encourages you to get your boots on!.
The Christmas and New Year’s celebrations start early at the ‘Night at the Market‘ on the 23rd of December, which has always been a traditional day on which the thousands of locals go there to buy fresh vegetables and seasonal fruits for the holidays, along with flowers, sweets and typical Christmas gifts. This is ‘party night’ for many locals. The invention of fridges and freezers have stopped the rush to buy fresh food, but the tradition carries on. On New Year’s Eve there are parties everywhere, the bars are open all night and the town is very lively and full of people. The festivities continue on the 5th of January, the eve of the Three Wise Men, when the locals gather in groups to sing Twelfth Night Songs at the Municipal Garden of Funchal.
The past is past and the present is a ‘Present’, the gift of life to enjoy, so travel to see the wonderful sights that the world and Madeira have to offer on New Year’s Eve with some fizzy sparkling wine in hand – cheers!!
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Visit Madeira.