Buy­ers warm­ing to the sweet taste of Madeira

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

When in 1950 the sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian politi­cian Win­ston Churchill asked for some­where “warm, paintable, com­fort­able and flow­ery”, the per­fect re­treat was Madeira. Sit­ting off the north-west coast of Africa, the Por­tuguese is­land of­fered a sub­trop­i­cal cli­mate, lush botan­i­cal gar­dens and tea dances at the el­e­gant ho­tels of its his­toric cap­i­tal, Fun­chal. It was, as the say­ing goes, a place for the “new­ly­weds and nearly deads”.

Sixty-eight years later, the Bri­tish are the most pro­lific vis­i­tors to Madeira and its sis­ter is­land, Porto Santo – mak­ing up 31 per cent of ar­rivals. Tourism on the ar­chi­pel­ago is no longer just about tast­ing madeira (the is­land’s fa­mous for­ti­fied wine) or gen­tle hikes, but in­creas­ingly about wa­ter sports, moun­tain bik­ing and ul­tra marathons up and down its cloud-shrouded green peaks.

Madeira’s lack of sandy beaches and lively re­sorts may have kept it off the radar of Bri­tish prop­erty hunters seek­ing a cheap place for win­ter sun – they tend to head to the Ca­nary is­lands 300 miles fur­ther south. But 600 years after it was dis­cov­ered by the Por­tuguese, its softer vibe and dra­matic beauty are be­gin­ning to be more widely ap­pre­ci­ated.

“We have seen an in­crease in de­mand from wealthy buy­ers, who are pri­mar­ily at­tracted by the cli­mate, safety and the qual­ity of life, but also the tax ben­e­fits,” says Lina Ramos of Por­tu­gal Sotheby’s In­ter­na­tional Re­alty. His­tor­i­cally, many Madeirans have mi­grated to Venezuela and South Africa for work but sev­eral thou­sand have re­turned re­cently and bought prop­erty. Other buy­ers are from Nor­way, Ire­land, Eng­land, France and Ger­many.

Be­ing part of sta­ble and in­creas­ingly fash­ion­able Por­tu­gal is clearly part of the ap­peal. In 2009 the Por­tuguese gov­ern­ment in­tro­duced tax in­cen­tives for part-time res­i­dents (the Non-Ha­bit­ual Res­i­dent Scheme, or NHR), and this also ap­plies to Madeira, as does the Por­tuguese prop­erty pur­chase process and Golden Visa pro­gramme that of­fers non-EU in­vestors a res­i­dency per­mit when they buy a prop­erty worth €500,000 (£445,000) or more.

One Bri­tish cou­ple who have one eye on re­tire­ment there are Hay­ley Davis and Colin Watts from Der­byshire, who bought a four-bed­room apart­ment in the east coast vil­lage of Santa Cruz 18 months ago. It’s close to the in­ter­na­tional air­port, from which di­rect flights (around three-and-a-half hours) ar­rive from var­i­ous UK re­gions.

“What I like about Madeira is that you are never far from the sea as it’s small, yet in­cred­i­bly di­verse,” says Davis, 48. “After a cou­ple of health scares we de­cided to seize the mo­ment and buy a hol­i­day home, and we got an in­cred­i­ble deal with a bank-re­pos­sessed prop­erty for £120,000. It’s the pent­house in a four-storey block, five min­utes to the sea. We have been out about 12 times al­ready and love it so much that we are look­ing for a sec­ond prop­erty as an in­vest­ment. The is­land’s stuffy rep­u­ta­tion is a bit un­fair.”

Santa Cruz is east of Fun­chal and most buy­ers will ei­ther buy in the cap­i­tal, which is gain­ing some stylish bou­tique ho­tels, or in the vil­lages of Cal­heta, Ponta do Sol and Câ­mara de Lo­bos along the is­land’s sun­nier south­ern coast, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal agent Michael Men­des of First4You Madeira.

“Al­though it’s cheaper, hardly any­one wants the north as it’s much colder,” he says. The small fish­ing vil­lages sit­ting at the bot­tom of gi­ant cliffs are now within half an hour of Fun­chal, thanks to the nu­mer­ous tun­nels built through the moun­tains to re­place dozens of ar­du­ous switch­back roads.

It’s around Ponta do Sol that lo­cal agent and de­vel­oper Ne­lio Men­des is build­ing some con­tem­po­rary vil­las for an “ed­u­cated and dis­cern­ing” ar­ray of 50-some­thing Bri­tish, Swedish and Swiss buy­ers. “Be­low the ba­nana line [the point be­low 1,300ft where it’s warm and the fruit will grow] this area of­fers the best weather in the EU, and 90 per cent of buy­ers want to be there,” he says. “There are moun­tain and sea views, and it’s calmer than in the city.”

While they could choose an old farm­stead ( quinta) or sec­ond-hand villa for around €500,000, many buy­ers do not want the has­sle of ren­o­va­tion and not all re­sale homes are of good qual­ity. Men­des’ be­spoke vil­las are only built in prime lo­ca­tions, and are con­structed us­ing high-qual­ity work­man­ship. They start from around €400,000 for a three-bed­room villa, yet some strik­ingly mod­ern de­signs with liv­ing roofs and in­fin­ity pools go up to €1.7mil­lion, and are the work of David Challi­nor of Brighton-based C-ar­chi­tec­ture ( just­madeira.com).

“I came to Madeira on hol­i­day after never re­al­is­ing it ex­isted and found it is sur­pris­ingly so­phis­ti­cated,” he says. “The Por­tuguese are in­cred­i­bly warm and wel­com­ing and at car­ni­val time it’s fan­tas­tic.”

Fun­chal’s mo­saic-tiled streets erupt into a riot of colour dur­ing Fe­bru­ary car­ni­val, the April flower fes­ti­val and also New Year’s Eve, when 10 cruise ships in the bay let off thou­sands of fire­works as part of a huge party. Lo­cal foot­ball su­per­star Cris­tiano Ron­aldo will usu­ally head back home from his Madrid base (he owns a pop­u­lar ho­tel on the seafront, the CR7) and it’s ru­moured that Madonna came for the fes­tiv­i­ties, too. Maybe Madeira re­ally is throw­ing off its fusty im­age.

Ponto do Sol, on the south-west of the is­land, left; a fourbed­room home with swim-up bar in Santa Cruz, €375,000 with Sotheby’s In­ter­na­tional Re­alty

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