A New Year celebration to remember

by Jessica Zen
Stripes Europe

Thinking of the upcoming New Year is always such a positive thing. It’s almost like everything starts over and any goal can be achieved, from weight loss to landing the perfect job. Ring in the New Year in a decidedly unique location for 2019. Madeira, Portugal, an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, is in the “Guinness Book of World Records” for being the home to the largest fireworks show on earth on New Year’s Eve. Take your celebration to the next level by hopping on a plane and heading south to experience fantastic explosions of color in the midnight sky!

Madeira’s capital, Funchal, is where the magic happens. On New Year’s Eve, people celebrate well into 2019 with festively lit streets, fireworks, food and fun. For the best views of the fireworks show, head to the marina. Here you’ll get up close and personal with the riot of color exploding in the sky. For an even more unique experience, charter a boat and watch the fireworks from the water. From sailing boats and catamarans to a pirate ship, there are multiple options to watch the pyrotechnics reflect in the water while you celebrate the New Year.

If you want to avoid the crowds and stay in your hotel to view the show, consider the Madeira Panoramico Hotel. Perched on the western slope of Funchal’s amphitheater-like landscape, this hotel is a great place to take in not only the fireworks show, but also the panorama of mountains, city and ocean below. There’s no shortage of things to do here either, as there is a heated outdoor and indoor pool, sauna, gym, tennis court and billiards table. Don’t forget to check out the restaurant and full bar service for the ultimate New Years’ experience.

To get up close with all the action, consider staying at Hotel Porto Santa Maria in the heart of Funchal’s Old Town. This four-star hotel looks right out over the active harbor and is a fantastic place to watch the fireworks. Amenities such as a restaurant with themed buffets, a bar with live music, two pools, a spa, gym and three hot tubs are also included.  

While enjoying the New Year’s festivities is surely a priority, add “exploring the area” to the list! Funchal is known for its gardens, wine cellars and cathedral with a carved wooden ceiling. For a stroll through gardens that bloom year round, head to Palheiro Gardens. With over 3,000 plant species from all over the planet, you’re sure to be dazzled by the colors, manicured walkways, and peacefully flowing waters.

For a “journey between heaven and earth,” hop on the cable car. A 15-minute ride up to Monte will allow you to see Funchal’s amphitheater, bay and the generous amounts of green space in the area. Funchal is recognized as a garden city, meaning the green space and flowers are in abundance here. For a less conventional way down, take a wicker toboggan ride. You’ll be pushed down Carro de Cesto road in a sled with greased wooden runners for about 10 minutes. Today this is a fun event for tourists, but it originated around 1850 as a way for people living in Monte to reach Funchal quickly. Technology takes you up to Monte, while old-fashioned practicality brings you back down!

If you’re feeling adventurous and particularly outdoorsy, lace up your hiking boots and head to Pico do Arieiro, Madeira’s third highest peak. The hike takes about two hours each way, but will grant you amazing views of the area. On clear days you can see all the way to Porto Santo, an island that sits 30 miles away!

For wine aficionados, consider going on a tour of Blandy’s Wine Lodge. This winery has been family owned for over 200 years and in the business of producing fine Madeira wines. Take a premium tour that covers how the barrels for wine are made, how the grapes transform into wine and a tour of the museum. Of course, the tour ends with a tasting of some of the tantalizing products.

From fireworks to colorful gardens, fine wines and fantastic views, Funchal is the place to be for New Year’s. Get away from the cold and enjoy long walks on the beach, the fresh sea breeze and everything else the island of Madeira has to offer this holiday season. Who knows, maybe traveling off the coast of Portugal will become a standing tradition in your family this year!  

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