Travel writer & photographer David J Whyte took a ‘rural road’ less travelled to discover some fresh perspectives on this popular holiday island.

Words And Photography David J Whyte & The Madeira Tourist Board

Travel writer & photographer David J Whyte took a ‘rural road’ less travelled to discover some fresh perspectives on this popular holiday island.

Words And Photography David J Whyte & The Madeira Tourist Board

If any place on the planet should shout about its ‘green’ credentials, it’s Madeira, the mid-Atlantic archipelago that is a hothouse of sustainability and healthy, happy visitors. Surrounded by a pristine Atlantic Ocean and punctuated with a plethora of steep basalt peaks, Madeira’s long been recognised for its health-enhancing properties! Back in the 18th & 19th centuries, winter-weary Northern Europeans came by the boatload to enjoy its beneficial climate.


Funchal is Madeira’s main city and it’s full of genuine Portuguese character, authentic encounters and local flavour. It’s also full of tourists! That doesn’t take anything away from it. I love taking my laptop downtown for a coffee, spending an hour or two writing and people-watching before enjoying ‘Prato do Dia’, a local lunch in one of the city’s many small restaurants or ‘tasquinhas’. The golden rule is ‘follow the locals’ and enjoy excellent home cooking at an exceptionally reasonable price!

I was recently asked to write a series entitled, Madeira Travel Stories which took me out-of-town and it was thanks to that, I began to appreciate these islands from a whole new perspective!

Organic Farm Bio-Quinta Do Pântano

The village of Santo da Serra is half an hour from Funchal and only 15 minutes from the island’s airport. We stayed at Bio-Quinta Do Pântano, an organically-certified Quinta or farm estate abundant with fresh flowers, vegetables, fruits, sheep, chickens and its own cheeky, little white goat.

Pântano’s main house sleeps 8 people so it’s good for larger groups. There are two smaller studios and another house on the property all complete with excellent kitchen/cooking facilities. The Quinta is wonderfully quiet with lots of room to relax in the gardens along with a 27-hole golf course just over the trees and the added bonus of all the organic fruit & veg you can handle.

On our first night, owner Emanuel prepared espetadas, traditional Madeiran meat-on-the-skewer washed down with flagons of local cider. This upland area is famous for cider production with apples & pears growing profusely at these higher altitudes. Emanuel’s sister runs a restaurant only a short walk through the village called A Quinta so it’s handy if you don’t feel like cooking.

Santo’s Sunday Market is a great place to buy locally-grown, organic produce and you can also try the local ‘Poncha’, a traditional ‘fisherman’s’ drink that’s popular throughout these islands.

Village People

Staying locally like this lets you tune into village life and Emanuel informed us we could buy homemade bread from a baker just down the road. José or ‘Zé Padre’ used to work in the butcher shop in Santo da Serra but lost that position due to the Covid downturn. With little else on his plate, he decided to ‘use his loaf’ and get into the bread-making business! It’s been a rising success!

José is an excellent musician, singing mainly Portuguese songs accompanied by guitar or accordion. He’ll show you his rustic bread-making process, offer you a sample along with a glass of wine and perform a couple of songs. I asked him what his favourite 1970s band was. “Bread,” he replied! No, he didn’t! I just made that up…

Ribeira Primeira Park

Another local attraction is Parque Ribeira Primeira whose motto is ‘care for nature; nature will care for you’. We met owner Paulo whose family has owned this forest property for generations. During lunch, he produced the Grand Book of Tree Planters, its cover made from solid oak, a registry of all the trees visitors have planted over the last 10 years. “If you plant a tree with us, it’s recorded here and you can come and see its progress,” Paulo told us.

Ribeira Primeira Park is part of Madeira’s Laurissilva Forest, a remnant of one of the world’s largest forests that once covered much of Southern Europe. It is now confined to the islands of Madeira, Azores and Canaries. There are at least 76 plant species endemic to Madeira here at Ribeira Primeira together with many native insects and birds thriving in the dense, largely undisturbed habitat. Most of the property has never been felled so it includes some massive old trees, some over 800 years old.

Madeira is famous for its levadas, man-made water courses which run through the forests and follow the contours of the mountainside, clinging to the cliffs and cascading down steep-sided valleys. Many of these were established 300 years ago to carry water from the highlands to provide irrigation to the terraced farms and hydropower stations as well as drinking water to the towns.

As a bonus, the levadas have created a network of walking paths where hikers can access the otherwise almost impenetrable forest without disturbing the great valleys and mountains that surround them.


We moved location to the pueblo of Camacha. This delightful village plays an important role in keeping Madeira’s traditional folklore alive and thriving. There are various groups performing here and at the numerous religious fairs and festivals held around the island throughout the year.

Camacha also introduced the game of football to Portugal. The story goes that after attending school in England, a young Harry Hinton, son of an English wine exporter, arrived home to Madeira bringing with him a leather ‘tub’. Needing pals to play with, the 18-year-old enlisted local lads and the first game of ‘footie’ kicked off on the village green in Camacha. The year was 1875!

Casas Valleparaízo

Our next country estate was on the outskirts of Camacha and truly delightful. Mixing lodgings like this is perfectly feasible, in fact recommended if you want a better appreciation for different parts of the island. This little ‘pastoral palace’ had two upstairs bedrooms, a full kitchen and a spacious lounge complete with a log-burning fireplace. It can get cold in the evening at these higher altitudes but nothing that a roaring log fire and a little Madeira wine won’t help with.

Casas Valleparaízo’s cottages are ideal for two couples or four friends. If there are more of you, hire the cottage next door. There’s even a neighbourhood peacock to keep an eye on proceedings.

The Island Of Porto Santo

Next, we took a detour to the neighbouring island of Porto Santo for a three day stay, a sort of holiday within a holiday. From Funchal, you board the ‘Lobo Marinho’ leaving Funchal at 8am most mornings. We settled down in the dining room for a full English breakfast and did the same on the way back for dinner – the ideal way to spend the 2.5-hour crossing.

The island of Porto Santo is famous for its 9 km golden sandy beach! There are only two like it in the entire world with special health-giving properties! This is where Christopher Columbus made base before his trans-Atlantic voyages of discovery, marrying the daughter of the island’s first governor and building a house on the island. You can see what remains of it alongside a dedicated museum.

Casa Rosário Coelho

For our Porto Santo stay, we chose a contrified cottage just outside of town. Casa Rosário Coelho is ideal for touring the rest of the island’s sights and only 10 minutes back into town to that lovely beach. Porto Santo does get busy during the summer months mainly with younger Portuguese coming to enjoy the great party atmosphere. But for the rest of the year, its perfectly peaceful.

Casas Da Levada

Our final mini break was perhaps the best yet, staying at the Casas da Levada in Ponta do Pargo on the western tip of the main island of Madeira. Since its inception, Casas da Levada has adopted permaculture values throughout its design and space, a sustainable environment in balance and harmony with nature.

It also comes complete with its own little Hobbit Hole which has been tastefully transformed into a bar! Bilbo Baggins would not leave home so readily if he knew this was here. Our relaxing days touring this unspoilt end of the island usually ended at the ‘Hobbit’ bar where everyone congregates in the early evening to watch the sunset!

Rural Round-Up

Country cottage accommodation works particularly well on an island like Madeira and prices per head based on 4 or more sharing are extremely attractive. The website of the local association Madeira Rural brings together country cottages, cultural encounters and healthy outdoor activities far from the madding crowd.


For more information visit,

Madeira was certified as a sustainable tourism destination receiving the Silver Award from EarthCheck, an international destination. Now they’re going for Gold with a programme of protecting the islands’ natural resources and involving the entire local community.

For more information on these islands go to