The western riviera

Calheta is increasingly being sought after as a leisure spot, by locals or visitors  in search of the coastal areas, good climate and nature.

Nowadays, when the two words “entertainment” and “leisure” are mentioned in the same sentence as sea and mountain-based activities, active holidays and radical sports, there is one place that comes into mind: Calheta. The western most municipality in Madeira is blessed with a sunny coastal area which has increasingly gained a name for itself as a centre for the several options that Madeira offers as a whole.

The reason behind the increase in notoriety and demand is a healthy combination between the natural inherent factors, support of public entities and ventures of several businessmen and entrepreneurs. These days Calheta is sought after by locals and visitors alike and is even regarded as the ‘capital’ of outdoor and leisure activities for people of all ages. Options are numerous and include surf, stand up paddle, diving, whale watching, bike rides, paragliding and plenty more.

Another engaging activity is walking. There are several trails spread out through the higher parts of the municipality, such as a Fajã da Ovelha or Prazeres. In Rabaçal, for instance, there are a set of levadas which are very popular, such as 25 Fontes, Risco or Lagoa do Vento.

In addition to the mountain, there is a strong bond with the sea throughout the entire West coast of the island. The steep escarpments offer stunning views and the localities closer to shore, such as Jardim do Mar, Paúl do Mar and Vila da Calheta, have little beaches and breathtaking oceanic views.

In the local village, the sand beach was man made but it the ideal spot for many families as sea access is easy and safe. It is also where the marina is built housing several whale watching and big game fishing companies or the standard day-trip boat tours along the coast. There is also a hotel in the local village, and another one set to open in 2015.

All in all there are 1.016 hotel beds and over 842 other beds under local accommodation, usually sought after by those wishing to enjoy the best of the sights, climate, the genuine environment of the landscape and simply getting away from all of the chaos of the european city centres.

The local tourist attractions of the set of parishes in Calheta is a curious reality, as one may find the more conventional hotels and others based on themes such as surf or nature, in addition to a vast range of different types and styles of local accommodation. Another important fact is that some of the above mentioned accommodation units are investments of foreign citizens, such as the Átrio and Quinta Alegre hotels in Estreito da Calheta.

The local increase in demand for properties by foreigners, is worthy of mention. It’s hard to say how many out of the 11 thousand residents of the municipality are foreigners but the overall perception is that figures have increased. There are even areas such as Pombal, in Arco da Calheta, where most of residents are not under the portuguese nationality. Some of them are on the island for an occasional visit, other live here all year round.

The increase in demand for property has clearly had its effects of the real estate market. The President of the local council, Carlos Teles, explains that the number of old houses up for renovation is rising. The presiding entity has been dealing with more licence applications for property renovation. In all cases, properties must not in any way interfere with the rural and agricultural landscape. Property renovation is not only down to foreigners, some of the locals have holidays houses in Calheta, passed down from generation to generation.

The municipality also wants to focus on the local heritage and culture. Calheta is one of the oldest regions in Madeira. It has been a village since 1502 and has always been a wealthy area agriculturally and economically, as the climate greatly favours local production.

The local council is creating a set of monthly events which highlight and embrace the local history and tradition. Besides this, Calheta is home to two of the main current culture icons: The Arts Centre, an award-winning architectural masterpiece which is designed to host exhibitions and shows, many featuring as international events and The Prazeres Art Gallery which has featured the works of many international artists.

As a nightlife spot and beach destination, Paúl do Mar is the place to look out for. Swimming in the crystal clear waters of the ocean, or sipping on a Mojito or a Caipirinha whilst relaxing to the sound of music in the informal environment of Maktub, a private venture in the area, are the perfect excuse to visit this former fishing village.

Towards the far west of the island, Ponta do Pargo is a small paradise where a few hundreds of people live and where the landscape is shaped by a lighthouse on the top of a cliff.

Unlike most of the local modern roads and highways which take you across the municipality, Ponta do Pargo can only be acessed through an old and narrow street . It’s a beautiful ride, but the journey time puts most people off. With this in mind, the President of the Council of Calheta expresses his wish of having the express route (road) extended as far as Ponta do Pargo, allowing for greater proximity.

With a landscape that is defined by the steep slopes, Calheta is a riviera. However, the romantic concept of a riviera entails a combination of both charme and glamour. Madeira is not the place for posh yachts and casinos like the French Riviera but it does offer the luxury of living in harmony with its natural surroundings and a heavenly-like peaceful atmosphere.