It is perhaps one of the highlights of any vacation: a trip to an exotic and thoroughly Instagrammable market is hard to beat for local colour and atmosphere. Madeira has a gem of a covered market in the middle of Funchal and it’s well worth a visit. It’s a celebrated and popular landmark in the city.
The Farmers’ Market, Mercado dos Lavradores, in Funchal’s old town, was opened in November 1940. This impressive building was designed by Edmundo Tavares. It’s said to be in art deco and modernist styles. Large Batisttini Faience (traditional ceramic) tile panels have great impact and depict scenes of everyday life at the time and were made by João Rodrigues.
The market has a covered area ranged over two floors. One enters to find an open area which is filled with stalls at weekends. Some of the stall-holders are dressed in bright traditional costumes. There are fruit sellers who will tempt passers-by with tastes of several different types of passionfruit and perhaps a nibble of other fresh items that will likely be totally new to most visitors. Prices are not always on view, so do ask the cost before you buy.
Pots of herbs entice
Tables groan with local bananas, apples and unrecognisable exotic fruit. Bowls overflow with bulbs of garlic. Dried chillies are spicy garlands, and pots of herbs entice both the professional chef and the kitchen enthusiast. Buckets of impossibly large blooms assault the eye with their colour and flamboyant forms. Orange Bird of Paradise flowers compete with delicate orchids. Any keen gardener will appreciate a little time with these colourful blossoms. The substantial Proteas steal the floral show. There are also bulbs and seeds, although travellers from outside the EU should check that they can be imported to their home country.
The fish market is best visited early in the day when the icy slabs are covered with the freshest catch. Look out for the regional delicacy of scabbard fish. Scientific name: Aphanopus carbo, this isn’t a pretty creature with its sharp features and rows of menacing teeth. Don’t dwell on the aesthetics but rather order a plate of scabbard fish with bananas for lunch, to truly appreciate why this glossy black dweller of the deep is so loved in Madeira.
Mercado dos Lavradores is a must-visit for any lover of good fresh food. One can also find souvenirs which might be more easily transported. Baskets are a good buy but make sure they are made on the island. There is a basket-making factory just outside town where one can find the full range of items from baby cribs to wine bottle holders. Something for every pocket.
Opening times of the Mercado dos Lavradores at the historic centre of Santa Maria in Funchal Old Town:
Monday to Friday from 07.00 to 20.00
Saturday from 07.00 to 14.00
(Sundays and bank holidays: closed).