Beyond the Beach: Class and Culture in Madeira

The delightful archipelago of Madeira is renowned for its gorgeous beaches, balmy subtropical climate and, of course, for its outstanding wine. In my personal experience, all three of these come highly recommended. But for my clients looking for a little more substance, I usually steer them in the direction of Funchal, the region’s capital. This wonderful city, renowned for its vibrant explosion of floral displays, is not only bursting with colour, but also packs a very pleasing cultural punch.

Every time I come to Funchal, I fall a little more in love with it. Situated on Madeira‘s picturesque south coast, it’s one of the best cities to explore on foot. There’s always somewhere cool and green (or yellow, blue or red!) to stop and catch your breath, and strolling along the waterfront promenade offers not just lovely views, but also a very authentic slice of local life. But for lovers of the arts and culture, this small but perfectly formed city really comes into its own.

Madeira for Culture Lovers

Staying in or around Funchal opens up some very pleasant opportunities for exploring the region’s extensive heritage in depth.

The Madeira Story Centre

Set amidst the ancient streets of Funchal’s Old Town, the Madeira Story Centre (aka the history museum) has a surprisingly contemporary façade. The complex contains the museum, as well as a handicrafts shop and a restaurant, so set aside at least a couple of hours to get through it.

The museum has been brilliantly curated to make visitors feel like they’re part of the displays. During your visit, you’ll be taken on a journey through Madeira’s history that uses all five of your senses. It’s a fantastic and innovative concept, and one that captured my imagination during my first of several visits.

Top Tip: I recommend having a look at what’s on offer at the Story Centre before you visit to ensure you don’t miss anything you’re particularly interested in.

Visit the Galleries

There is a good selection of galleries to visit in Funchal. Although your personal interests may differ from mine, I consider two of the city’s museums to be must-see attractions: the Museum of Sacred Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Museu de Arte Sacra do Funchal

This museum is situated in the stunning Old Episcopal Court of Funchal, which boasts an ancient watchtower. Although that’s almost reason enough to visit the venue, the artworks within its worn, historic walls are even more impressive. Prepare to be wowed by a cache of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century artworks from some of the most important Portuguese, Flemish and Madeiran artists of their time.

Find it: Rua do Bispo 21, 9000 Funchal

Fortaleza de Sao Tiago

Challenging its humble roots, this is in fact one of Portugal’s most important art galleries. For lovers of contemporary art, the exhibits of modern works from both Portuguese and international artists are sure to delight you. In addition to its permanent collection, the gallery stages regular “pop-ups”, featuring emerging local artists.

Find it: Fortaleza de Sao Tiago, 9050 Funchal

Recommended Hotels

For my clients looking to experience the ultimate degree of luxury, culture and fine dining, I am thrilled to be able to recommend these impeccable hotels from Prestige Holidays’ collection.

Belmond Reid’s Palace

Set amidst the warm Madeiran embrace of nature, the Belmond Reid’s Palace is an exceptionally elegant hotel that’s been welcoming guests for over 125 years. It is the undisputed “Grand Dame” of the city and its old-world ambience and fastidious attention to detail ensures a stay of unparalleled luxury. From the chandeliered formal dining room to the beautifully appointed rooms and manicured private gardens, this dignified hotel leaves nothing to chance.

Top Tip: If you’re not familiar with the Belmond brand, this post will give you an idea of what to expect.

Melia Madeira Mare

Staying on the beach doesn’t mean you have to opt for bucket and spade accommodation. Instead, you can stay at the fantastic Melia Madeira Mare, which is a contemporary 5-star hotel with lots of luxury accoutrements. Along with taking in magnificent sea views from your private balcony, you’ll enjoy getting pampered at the onsite spa and a choice of formal and informal dining. What’s more, this lovely beach hotel is just a short bus ride away from the centre of town and all of its cultural attractions.

Royal Savoy

The Royal Savoy is another beachside beauty that’s only a ten-minute walk from the town centre. This holiday haven blends 5-star luxury with a warm and welcoming ambience. The views from the hotel are absolutely outstanding, and it’s hard to drag yourself away to take advantage of the luxurious suites. With its sophisticated décor, two pools, onsite health spa and a choice of dining and entertainment, you may never want to leave. Oh, and have I mentioned the wonderful cocktail bar?

If your interest has been piqued by the wonderful culture of Madeira, allow us to help you find your perfect base from our handpicked portfolio of luxury accommodation. Our friendly experienced advisors are ready and waiting to assist you with planning your ideal holiday. Get in touch today.