A Highbrow Holiday: Capital Culture in Madeira

For those who want their holidays to Madeira to come with more than just a dash of cultural stimulation, I can think of no better place to focus your attention than Funchal. Along with an excellent collection of museums – some less traditional than others – that offer year-round intellectual nourishment, each March a bevy of literary heavyweights, no doubt partly tempted by the outstanding climate, come every year to participate in the Funchal Literary Festival. While their presence may be fleeting, the city’s feted floral displays are always on show, providing an extra layer of warmth to an already enticing island.

Enjoy World-Class Art

I know that a visit to an engaging museum is often the defining experience of my holidays; to Maderia, offering tourists more than beaches and wine is clearly high on its agenda, and the best art galleries are undoubtedly found in its capital. The Fortaleza de Sao Tiago can rightly claim to be in the upper echelons of Portugal’s galleries, in no small part thanks to its outstanding exhibits of domestic and international contemporary art. As it’s not description to base its reputation entirely upon its collection, the Fortaleza de Sao Tiago also encourages local talent by hosting frequent “pop-ups”.

Enthusiasts of the Old Masters will find much to delight in at the Museu de Arte Sacra do Funchal. Its collection focuses on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century masterpieces by notable Portuguese, Madeiran and Flemish artists; the presence of so many Flemish pieces is a happy by-product of the sugar trade between the islands and Flanders during that era.

Touch the Past

It’s almost obligatory that any self-respecting town should have its own local history museum. Funchal does not fail in this regard, and in fact goes further with a museum that has taken an innovative approach to telling the story of Madeira. All five senses are teased at the Madeira Story Centre, which can be found in Funchal’s Old Town. Without being gimmicky or compromising on detail, the Story Centre vividly illuminates Madeira’s history and culture – I can thoroughly recommend spending at least a couple of hours there.

Indulge Your Literary Leanings

While Madeira may be geographically on the periphery of Europe, Funchal’s Literary Festival has never been description with languishing on the edge of the literary world since its inaugural edition in 2011. The presence of such names as Naomi Wolf and Jean-Luc Godard at past events attests to the ambitions of the organisers. Over six days in March, highbrow talks and panel discussions form a busy programme of events, supplemented by book signings. When our clients ask us how they can make the most of their holidays to Madeira, we always say that you can’t go wrong if you make the Literary Festival the centrepiece of a break.

John Dixon is an experienced world traveller and the Managing Director of Prestige Holidays. For over 30 years, he has been providing luxury holidays to Madeira, Bermuda, Sicily and many other destinations around the globe. John tries to visit each of the destinations regularly in order to ensure the quality of his properties, and stay up-to-date about the latest local news and events. He has a taste for the finer things in life and has an interest in arts, history and culture.

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