Although we love the Algarve here at loveholidays, Porto Santo, Madeira's tiny neighbour, may well be one of Europe’s last “undiscovered” holiday destinations. Its rugged, sandstone landscape, carved by a volcanic eruption millennia ago, has remained relatively untouched by tourist growth. Vila Baleira, Porto Santo's largest settlement, is little more than a small town. The iconic 9km stretch of flat, sandy beach, the Praia do Porto Santo, Porto Santo’s biggest asset, is lined with only a handful of resorts and hotels
. A holiday to Porto Santo is not, however, devoid of life. Once home to Christopher Columbus himself, the island is steeped the rich, colonial history of Portugal, and boasts some beautiful landscapes, excellent restaurants and plenty of adventure. If Porto Santo intrigues you, no time is better than 2019 to visit with one of our cheap holiday deals: enjoy the Madeiran sun away from the crowds, and fall in love with the peace, quiet and hospitality of the Madeiran islands.
Although Santo Porto is only a small island in comparison to Madeira, it’s known for its untouched landscapes. Pico Castelo is where the inhabitants of the island would retreat to during pirate raids, and although there’s no actual castle here, the views from this vantage point are a Porto Santo holiday must-see. On the opposite side of the island, affording a different perspective of Porto Santo, is the Portela Viewpoint. We recommend heading up either of these vantage points in the late afternoon, a stunning sunset awaits you. Hidden in the island’s sandstone landscape is the Quinta das Palmeiras, a sort of oasis full of colourful, tropical birds. We could tell you exactly where this oasis lies, but half the beauty of exploring this beautiful island is discovering its magic on your own. A similar oddity can be found in the shape of bizarre rock formations, thrust out of the ground when the island formed, the Pico de Ana Ferreira. The Fonte de Areia is at the center of the island’s geological history, where Atlantic winds have shaped the soft sandstone into incredible shapes. Visit in 2018, because this fragile landscape will not last forever.
There are not many restaurants on Porto Santo island, but almost all of them overlook the Atlantic Ocean. In Madeiran fashion, there’s a focus on seafood and strong wine in Porto Santo. Before the new runway was laid to allow for larger planes and more flights to land on the island, there was a large vineyard spanning the middle of Porto Santo. These days a lot of Porto Santo’s grapes, which grow along the coast in horizontal vineyards, are exported to Madeira to be turned into Madeiran wine (20%!) which makes a delicious accompaniment to a range of seafood dishes. We recommend espada, a denizen of the deep also known as a black scabbardfish. It’s a unique dish: the fish is served with banana! It’s a classic Madeiran dish and worth a try if you want to try something a little different. If you’re not so keen on fish and banana, then why not try the similarly named but completely different espetada? A dish of cubed beef grilled on a skewer, a great island nibble. In Ponta da Calheta, the southern point of the Praia do Porto Santo, there’s a single, secluded bar, perfect for a drink and a nibble at the end of your walk or cycle down the beach.
Forget Tenerife! Porto Santo Beach was a place designed by nature to be perfect for families, and makes Porto Santo one of 2018’s best family holiday destinations. If you stay in a hotel near Vila Baleira there's plenty of local amenities to cater for the family. The Praia do Santo Porto is huge so you don’t need to worry about being jammed up against some other holiday-makers, you can really find your own space and spread out. Even when tourists from Madeira come to the island for a mini-holiday, the beach still has plenty of space. The sand is flat and the sea is calm and warm, perfect for little ones to build sandcastles and splash in the sea. It can be quite a walk to find any amenities (depending on where you set up) so we recommend taking some snacks and plenty of water. Porto Santo’s hotels boast lots of family friendly activities, including pools, kid’s clubs and games. Find the right hotel, grab your towels and head to the beach, Porto Santo is made for a family looking for a laid-back beach holiday.
One of the best ways to get around the island is in a 4x4, with a local tour guide that’ll give you a comprehensive rundown of all the island’s best attractions, both natural and man-made. If you want to head at your own pace a long bike ride along the seafront, or up into the hills if you think your legs can handle it, is a lovely way to spend a day getting to grips with the island. With so much water there’s also plenty of water-sports and water activities to try out, or if you prefer you could visit one of the island’s large golf courses, such as the aptly named “Porto Santo Golfe.” Tours and tour guides can be found in Vila Baleira, or arranged through your hotel’s front desk. If you're fond of diving then there are lots of great spots off the Madeiran Island's coastlies, including an intentionally sunk cargo ship, now home to many underwater beauties.
Life really is a beach in Porto Santo, its 9km stretch of sand is vast and beautiful. Comparable to the best beaches of Portugal's other great beach destination, the Algarve, just minus the thousands of tourists. It attracts locals from Madeira’s capital Funchal, because their island has no sandy area to speak of, but the Praia do Porto Santo is attracting more foreign tourists, too. There are not many bars along this strip, or vendors, or hotels, resorts, shops, anything you might expect from a similar European destination, but this makes for a truly relaxing experience. Stretching from Vila Baleira (Porto Santo’s largest village, and capita, home to the best hotels on the islandl) in the North, to Ponta da Calheta (where you will find a nice bar with a sea view) the Praia do Porto Santo is worth a visit before it becomes more and more targeted towards an expanding European tourist market. As it stands, you might walk for fifteen minutes before you see anyone else, even in peak season, especially down towards the truly rugged Southern tip of the island. Start your beach day at Vila Baleira and amble down the coast at your leisure.
In the off-peak season the island of Porto Santo gets very quiet, but during the summer months everything gets a little crazier. Book your flights accordingly! As the locals from Madeira swarm to the island on mini-holidays, and tourists arrive from all over the world, the beachfront lights up with numerous bars and hang-outs. As the island is developed new areas to play spring up, including a dockside development called O Penedo do Sono, where the clubs boast great DJs and enough jam-packed fun to keep you entertained all night. Vila Baleira is only small, but there’s a range of different nightlife activities in the center which provide for all ages. For more organized fun there’s a local concert venue called the Cultural and Congress Center where you go to see any number of shows and performances. A Portugal holiday is known for its cheap drinks and nights out, and Porto Santo is no different.
Enjoy some one-on-one time in the wilds of Santo Porto, explore by bike, by foot or in a 4x4 and get lost in the wilderness with no-one around but the two of you. Sound idyllic? Wait until you see the sunset from the Ana Fereira, Porto Santo’s highest peak. At night, the island glitters, and you can see the sparkling lights of Madeira in the distance and the looming, yet reassuring, figures of the Ilheu de Cal and Desertas Islands. Enjoy a sip of strong Madeiran wine and a sharing bowl of fraqateira (multi-fish stew) whilst looking down over Porto Santo Beach, which you stroll along in the dusk and revel in the quiet peace of the enormous expanse of sand. There’s a hotel room with a balcony overlooking the romantic ruggedness of the island waiting for you in Porto Santo.
Christopher Columbus lived on the island and his casa has been turned into a small museum celebrating his achievements and exploring his connections to the island. The A Casa Columbo is a quaint way to spend an afternoon out of the sun, with some artefacts on show from a shipwreck just off the island. Another museum you should visit is the small, but impressive, Museu Cardina, a specialty museum showcasing the island’s agricultural past, and everything the museum has been assembled by one man! Worth a visit. To get a better understanding of the Madeiran Islands, you can take a quick trip on the ferry to Madeira’s capital of Funchal.