Why buyers are going crazy for Madeira Island

On a recent trip, Liz Rowlinson found the island of Madeira an alluring mix of old-fashioned values, natural beauty and state-of-the-art new homes.

Thinking of sunny winter locations or a perfect sunny spot for retirement, the island of Madeira may not be the first place that comes to mind. Still, it should definitely be on your list if you’re looking for a place that’s relatively easy to get to – it’s less than four hours by plane – as well as with an excellent quality of life and a high level of amenities.

If you decide to go there, chances are you’ll like it instead. Many who visit (of which the British are the most prolific, even more than the mainland Portuguese) will return. The island has the second highest repeat visitor rate for an island resort in the world (after Hawaii). It is therefore the highest in Europe – higher than the Canary Islands, Malta and Cyprus, those other popular places for winter sun and retirement.

So why do people go back there? Part of the appeal is the subtropical climate of the 35-by-13-mile island, located in the Atlantic off the west coast of Africa; and weather is a big topic in hilly terrain where conditions can change from one side of the mountain to the other.

Lush banana trees line the terraces of the southern sections of the island. However, they only grow up to an elevation of around 400 meters – the so-called banana line – as the tops of the island’s many peaks (some higher than Ben Nevis) are often shrouded in cloud or mist and it’s too cold for the bananas. as well as for some of the expatriate owners. Still, for some locals, the upper levels offer the most spectacular views as well as a bit of respite from the sun.

Balmy days of perhaps 17°C or 18°C ​​in February make it an attractive spot while swathes of Britain chill in single-digit temperatures. The outdoor lifestyle prevails, with Funchal’s terrace cafes bustling with visitors and locals, the many tropical gardens full of brightly colored flowers and few people even on the small beaches on the south coast.

Aside from the natural beauty and climate, it’s the laid-back, friendly locals, excellent standard of healthcare and low-key lifestyle that attract potential expats. People are rarely in a rush, there is an amazing selection of fresh fish and tropical fruits and very affordable local drinks like Madeira.

Suggested reading: why Alex and Jan Green love living on the island of Madeira

While properties in working-class areas aren’t as cheap as in parts of southern Europe, the cost of living is very affordable (90 cents for a cup of coffee, for example) and the tax benefits offered by the Portuguese government since 2009 have become another aspect of the appeal for those wishing to spend at least half of the year on the island.

“The safety and security offered by the island has also been a factor in foreigners settling here – particularly in recent years when terrorism has been a concern in other parts of Europe or the United States. ‘North Africa,” says Nelio Mendes, a local real estate agent and developer. who has been selling homes on the south coast for 30 years. “There is very little crime, most people speak good English and the medical care is excellent. People don’t come here for the beaches [there are a few man-made or volcanic rock examples] but they come here to walk along the many levada trails that wind their way up the steep sides of the valleys and to enjoy the scenery.”

So where to buy a house? There’s a consistency to the island’s varied weather patterns and many microclimates, but if you want plenty of sunshine, head to the south coast. The cooler north might be popular with walkers and the growing number of trail runners heading to the island, but for many property hunters the stretch between Prazeres in the southwest and the southern capital Funchal in the is, is the place to be.

Funchal: the heart of Madeiran life

Located in the beautiful bay of Funchal, the bustling capital is really the only major city on the island. This is where the giant cruise liners come into port, close to the bustling marina and where the best shops and commercial buildings are located. It is also close to the island’s airport, from where over 20 flights a week depart to the UK, as well as some of the best hotels on the island. These include the elegant and historic Belmond Reid’s Palace and new boutique hotels, such as the stylish Castanheiro in the center and the Pestana CR7, a joint venture between local superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and the Pestana hotel group.

Funchal is a popular place for locals. In fact, there’s a shortage of long-term rental accommodation there due to the appetite for Airbnb among some landlords, but it’s not cheap and prices are just behind Portugal’s capital, Lisbon. , according to Mendes.

You can get a resale apartment there for around €150,000, although you’ll pay closer to €250,000 for a new one, according to local agent Michael Mendes of First4You.eu. In Sao Martinho, the “noble” part of town where larger properties can be found, you’ll need to shell out around €500,000 for a three-bedroom villa with a pool, or up to €2 million for a villa more substantial.

“The Forum area to the west of Funchal is also very popular, with its own shopping center and only a five minute drive from the centre. It offers properties with great sea views,” he says. “While German buyers particularly like Caniço and Garajau.”

South coast for sun seekers

Before Madeira received EU grants to build tunnels through its myriad peaks, winding and winding mountain roads meant it took a few hours to reach some 10 miles along the coast. But now it’s possible to reach the sunniest spot on the island – the aptly named Ponta do Sol – in around 35 minutes from the capital, meaning it’s possible to enjoy the peace and the tranquility of rural life, but with everything you need close at hand. Thus, the hubs of Ribeira Brava, Ponta do Sol and Calheta are, in discreet Madeira fashion, the hotspots for buyers.

Nestled in the banana-clad hills and sugar cane fields, you’ll find a mix of homes, from rustic farmhouses to larger quintas (farms), 20-year-old villas and stunningly contemporary new homes. With terraces and swimming pools built on top of retaining walls, these houses are not cheap to build, but enjoy spectacular views of the sea and the valley sides.

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You could find an older property in need of updating for less than €300,000 (and not all of them are completely pleasing to the eye); but for the typical older, discerning Madeiran buyer, new build-to-order homes are very appealing.

After years of running a family-owned real estate agency, Nelio Mendes saw a growing appetite for high-quality properties built to meet the needs of the modern, mostly foreign buyer. His company, Bespoke Villas, has sold properties to around 20 buyers from the UK, as well as Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Mauritius and Sweden. “We only build in prime locations and use the best quality materials,” he says, showing me three homes he’s built in recent years.

Typically, they offer three bedrooms, terraces on at least two levels, small but sleek pools, and plenty of floor-to-ceiling windows to showcase the great views. There will be a garden, a garage and for this type of house you expect to pay around €400,000. Extras such as adding extra bedrooms, an indoor pool or a self-contained apartment will push the price towards €600,000 (or more), but it’s still “cheaper than what you might get in the market”. [main] Canary Islands”, as a German shipowner pointed out to me.

If you really want to push the boat out, you can even get a property designed by Riba-registered, Hove-based architect David Challinor, who finds the island’s outdoor lifestyle and landscape a great opportunity for cutting-edge ecological projects. friendly designs. He worked with Bespoke Villas to design four three-storey properties on a stunning site in Ponta do Sol, atop a dramatic drop to the sea called The Retreat. Three- and four-bedroom villas with living roofs around interior courtyards, water features, infinity pools and automatic entry gates are being sold off-plan, from 1.3 million euros (justmadeira .com).

“I came here for a vacation and was pleasantly surprised,” he says. “The Canaries attract a younger audience, but I find it much more sophisticated. I hope to build my own house here one day. I love the natural beauty and also the fact that fun events like carnival here [every February] are so uncommercial.

If you are tempted to try the self-build option, it is advisable to find a reputable builder (quality can be an issue on the island), a good lawyer who will verify ownership of the land and not necessarily to buy solely on price. Hiring a good lawyer (which can cost 1% of the sale price of the property) is essential if you decide to buy a resale property; and if you do that, research prices carefully. Local agents will freely admit that some sellers have exaggerated opinions about the value of their property and may have picked figures out of the blue. Budget about $26,300 in closing costs on a $350,000 property, suggests Paula Meireles, lawyer based in Lisbon. This includes the IMT tax of €16,964 (depending on the region of Madeira) and stamp duty of €2,800.

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