There is a little Portuguese island in the North Atlantic Ocean known as Madeira that is famous for its mild climate, beautiful scenery and a certain type of sponge cake. What is less widely understood are the traditions and history of the place, which all help to add to its fascinating culture.
From old legends through to the instruments used to accompany folk dancing, the island has plenty of secrets to unearth, making holidays to Madeira a wonderful opportunity to get immersed in a different way of life.
With this in mind it is worth highlighting things about Madeira that most visitors to the island do not know prior to their trip. And here are five of them.
The legend of Robert Machim and Ana d’Arfet
Local legend states that two lovers by the names of Robert Machim and Ana d’Arfet were fleeing from England under the reign of King Edward III to France in 1346 when their ship was blown off course during a violent storm.
The island that it is thought they ended up being shipwrecked on was Madeira and the two lovers took shelter in what is now Machico, years before it was officially discovered in 1419. There are varying accounts as to what happened next, with most suggesting that Ana died and some saying that Robert went the same way.
An alternative version of events says that he was captured and imprisoned by Henry the Navigator, a Portuguese prince, to whom he gave the coordinates of the island. It was sailors in the prince’s service who went on to discover Madeira several years later.
Record breaking firework show
Madeira is also a great place to see in the New Year and in 2006 it was recognised as having the biggest firework show in the world to mark the occasion. The official Guinness World Record just confirmed what many islanders already knew, that it is a fantastic place for a party.
But fireworks are not just reserved for once a year on Madeira as extravagant explosions of colour can be seen every Saturday night in June lighting up the sky above Funchal Bay. These spectacular shows are even set to music for an added wow factor.
There are a variety of places from which the displays can be seen, but to make it extra special chartered boats allow visitors to see them from the water.
Madeira boasts its own musical instruments
The musical instruments of Madeira have evolved in order to perfectly accompany the traditional folk dances, which are still practised on the island to this day. The most popular of such jigs is the Bailinho da Madeira.
As a result, visitors can expect to hear the likes of the sarronca, a friction membraphone created by stretching a skin over a jug and played by rubbing a stick against it. Instruments known as cavaquinhos are also widely played, which somewhat resemble the ukulele.
Madeira’s waters are a paradise for whales
Due to its location in the Atlantic Ocean and directly in the migratory path for a number of different whales, Madeira is a great place to see several species of this astonishing mammal. Sperm whales, fin whales, pilot whales, sei whales, beaked whales and humpback whales are all spotted not far from the island’s coast.
The deep waters surrounding Madeira are also home to several types of dolphin, making a boat trip to see this rich and diverse marine life an absolute must for all visitors to the island.
Last emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire buried in Funchal
Charles I of Austria, the last emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was buried in Monte in Funchal after seeking exile on the island. He had failed in his second attempt at a coup d’etat in Hungary and had tried to negotiate peace with France, but to no avail.
He died on April 1st 1922 and his remains are still in the Igreja do Monte, which can be reached by cable car right from the centre of Funchal.