Santana is a great place to add to your Madeira itinerary if you want to visit some typical Madeiran houses. This handy guide tells you about how you can visit the extremely cute, traditional Santana houses and what to expect while visiting them. This is a fun thing to do during your stay in Madeira. Trust me, when i say that you won’t be able to stop clicking pictures of these typical Santana houses!
Santana – Best place to see the typical Madeira houses!
There are many places in Madeira where you can see the traditional triangular and colourful Madeiran houses but Santana is most definitely your best bet! In general Santana and Sao Jorge both in the municipality of Santana have more examples of these typical Madeiran houses. The local government also encourages the people to maintain these as part of maintaining their cultural heritage. But the local government has gone beyond that and created some examples of these houses purely for tourism purposes. Similarly a more elaborate theme park also has been created in Santana to promote the local way of island life in Madeira.
These extremely insta-worthy houses are quite easy to reach as they are located in the centre of the town. Santana is a very small town spread over 19 sq kms, so believe me you will not have a problem locating these beauties. These typical Madeira houses were constructed by the municipality of Santana. They were recreated as examples to indicate the life of the rural folks during the early times when the island of Madeira was first settled. But Santana is a pretty little town that offers you some other worthy attractions other than the photo op with their cute architectural delights. Read along to find out more, but first all about the typical houses.
Features of traditional Santana houses
We reached this place a bit early and hence none of the houses were open but there was a notice on one of the houses which indicated it would be opened soon. There were no other visitors either, so we used the quiet time to go around the houses and click some photos. Of course, this was one of the main reasons for me to visit this place other than having a relaxed day out after our long hikes the days before. And how could i resist capturing these super colourful and cute houses that are now a postcard symbol for tourism in Madeira!
These traditional houses of Madeira are triangular in form with a thatched reed roof on top. The doors of the houses are usually painted in red. The outside walls also have their lower section painted in red as well. The doors and windows have a blue border painted outside them. I had also read that houses constructed in similar style were also used as a barn and the farmers would keep the animals on the lower floor which was built with stone and in the upper part built with wood they would store agricultural products like potatoes and other tubers. Based on my research i already knew that these houses are more like props created for tourism but i was still curious to see them from the inside. There was a light drizzle that morning and hence instead of waiting outside for them to open up, we decided to use the time to do what we like doing best i.e. get something to eat😉 .
Santana’s typical houses – What to expect?
When we came back after our breakfast, Santana’s typical houses were open and ready to welcome visitors, of which there were definitely more of them now. In this compound created by the municipality there are about 4-5 examples of the typical houses of Santana. When we visited, 3 out of these 4 were open to visitors. The first one is a tourist information centre while the other 2 are souvenir shops. These shops sell sovenirs, handicrafts and local artisanal products. the stores also stock typical products made from local produce like sweet treats made from cane and cane liqueur, poncha etc. But i found some of these products to be more expensive than the local supermarkets. Unless you are buying something unique here you are better off sticking to buying some of these readily available items in the local supermarkets. Santana has a really big hypermarket called Continente Modelo which we loved for its local spread.
One of the houses in this compound was actually closed, so no idea what it was about. One of the best parts of visiting these houses is also the flowering plants and bushes surrounding them. There were a lot of colourful flowers that really added to the charm of this place. The plants and small green patches were very well landscaped. The tall hydrangea or hortensia bushes with their big clusters of blue and light purple flowers need to be seen to be believed. But i found this to be true elsewhere in Santana as well, for example even the roadsides of Santana were lined with blossoming tall hydrangeas. Outside of this area to the left there is one more traditional styled house which functions as a flower shop. The whole pathway to this shop was lined with colourful flowering plants that made it ‘oh so instagrammable’.
Santana’s typical houses – A great photo op to spruce up your Instagram feed
In conclusion these typical Santana houses provide the perfect backdrop for an excellent photo opportunity but sadly they don’t really tell you about how the houses would have been used in the olden days or about the life of the rural folks who inhabited these houses. So if you are really interested in getting to know more about the traditional Santana houses and also about the island of Madeira : its geology & formation, settlement, people, traditions and life on the island in general then you might be better off heading to the Maderia theme park aka Parque Temático da Madeira in Santana. Even though it is called a theme park it is more of a cultural experience and might be fun for family and kids. It has excellent reviews as well on Tripadvisor and Google.
Madeira is famous for its killer landscapes and you will definitely be treated to some mind blowing nature during your stay there. But visiting the traditional Madeira houses will give you a quick peek into the life of erstwhile Madeirans and dip your toes on the cultural side of things for a change. It depends on you how immersive you want this experience to be. If you are happy with a quick peek and a good photo op then visiting the typical Santana houses in the city center is the right pick for you. But if you want a more immersive experience in understanding the life of the island then Parque Temático da Madeira might be the right choice for you.
We were not in the mood for an organized theme park like experience, so we decided to skip it and instead explore the town and go to Rocha do Navio cable car ride instead. If much like us, you can’t get enough of Madeira’s stunning nature and coastline, then this is a must for you as well!
Rocha do Navio cable car – More typical Santana house spotting en-route
Yes, other than these recreated examples, Santana also offers you the opportunity to see some real life examples of Madeira’s traditional triangular cottages. We got to see these houses completely by accident. So after exploring the typical Santana houses in the city centre, we wanted to go visit Rocha do Navio cable car. It was a fine day and instead of hoping into our car again we decided to walk to the cable car station from the city centre. Google maps indicated that it was a 20 minute walk. This gave us the chance to see more of Santana and burn a few calories at the same time, seemed like a win-win.
While walking along the quiet residential road we had a chance to see a few of the traditional houses which were still being used by people. This got me more excited as i could click more photos, not that i need a reason to grab my camera ;-). I was happy clicking photos of these houses from the outside but actually we got invited to visit one. But more on that funny story later.
After a certain while there were less houses and the route got more verdant and pastoral. There were farms along the way with sugarcane, corn, vegetable patches etc. Closer to the cable car station we entered a more winding gravel road with hardly anyone there. We finally arrived at the cable car station only to find that it was closed that entire week for maintenance work. Such a bummer😞 . But the scenic views from the view point near the cable car station definitely made up for that closure.
Rocha do Navio cable car ride & scenic views
This cable car station is on a cliff and the cable car takes you to Fajã da Rocha do Navio and the pebbly beach down the cliff. Fajã means farmland in Portuguese and these small farmlands are nestled between the towering cliffs and the mighty ocean. This was a bit similar setting to Achadas da Cruz cable car. But it was very scenic to watch the never ending mountain cliffs and the beautiful sea with the pebbly beach below. The surrounding majestic coastline of northern Maderia We sat there for a while and enjoyed the beautiful view while munching on some fruits. We could see some hiking paths along the mountains as well. This made us marvel again at the walking/hiking options that this small lush green volcanic island of Madeira offers. Of course, we took some videos and selfies because it would be a criminal offence in my book not to, at such a beautiful location. Then we slowly made our way back to Santana centre so that we could grab some lunch in time.
On our way back we took a slightly different route and i was lucky to spot one more typical Santana house along the way. Sridhar was already tired of me taking photos of all of them. Constantly reminding me of “what are you going to do with so many of these photos”. Well, you tell me, how can you not capture something that has so much character, cuteness and rusticness all at the same time? Did i go overboard, maybe just a teensy bit😉
Getting invited to see a typical Santana house
Remember, i told you we got invited to see a Santana house from the inside. So here is how this unfolded. We were on our way to Rocha do Navio cable car and while we were walking we heard someone call out to us. An old lady was walking behind us and was speaking to us in Portuguese. Even though we didn’t speak the language it was pretty obvious that she was inviting us to see the typical Santana house on the opposite side of the road. Of course in that quiet part of the town we stuck out as tourists pretty obviously. So our tourist scam radar did beep especially as the old grandma was insistent to the point of holding my hand and leading me into the house. Sridhar was more reluctant than me but curiosity got the better of us and hence we went inside. The plot thickens…
The house had 2 rooms on the inside with a bed in each room. It looked as though time had stood still in this house. It was decorated with lot of old photos, dolls and toys. Everything was so neatly made up that it looked like it was propped up for exhibition purposes only. The grandma pointed to my camera and insisted on me taking photos as i was feeling a bit awkward to do so in someone else house, even though i wasn’t really sure if it was a real home. She then insisted on taking our photo and then showing us some photos and started chatting. It was a bit awkward to be smiling and nodding our head when we didn’t understand the language at all. But the broad outline was something about her family and then the topic turned towards her health and medicines and cost. It was pretty obvious she was asking for money to help her out with her medicine cost. We sparred her some change we had but she kept insisting for more. We politely refused and walked out and had a good laugh about the whole experience. So, was this a genuine invitation to see a typical Santana house, you be the judge…😉
Lunch at Serra e Mar, Santana
On our way back from Rocha do Navio cable car station, we decided to grab some lunch at Serra e Mar restaurant. It had excellent reviews and was almost on our way. Luckily we got a table outside very quickly. I wasn’t very hungry and hence had a light lunch of soup, which was very delicious. Sridhar had a tuna steak that he couldn’t stop raving about. So you know what to order now, if you happen to be there🙂
After lunch, we bid our goodbye to Santana and its charming houses and headed back. We really enjoyed this nice relaxing morning exploring Santana with no major agenda or things to do after the power packed hiking days that we had so far. Especially after the long hikes of PR1 Vereda do Arieiro and PR8 Vereda da Ponta de Sao Lourenco, my legs were thanking me for this refreshing break!
If you do not have time to include Santana on your Madeira itinerary, then you can also see the example of traditional Madeiran houses in Queimadas forestry park near the entrance. Check out my blog on Caldeirao verde levada walk to see some pics of these houses.
Things to do in Santana
A quick summary of things to do in Santana and some handy tips for your visit:
- Visit the typical houses of Santana aka Casas típicas de Santana. There is no entrance fees here. But there is not much to see in the houses from the inside as they are souvenir shops. Parking available opposite this facility as well as on roadside.
- If you want a more immersive experience into the culture and traditions of Madeira then visit the Madeira theme park aka Parque Temático da Madeira. Entrance fee of 9€ per adult and 5€ per child.
- Visit the local farmers market at Praça De Santana. These stalls are located in a huge square opposite the city hall where the local farmers sell fresh produce at honest prices. The prices are much reasonable compared to the market in Funchal.
- Take Rocha do Navio cable car and enjoy a peaceful walk along a pebbly beach and farmlands while admiring the majestic northern coast of Madeira. There is also a hike path that takes you down there. If you are not up for the cable car ride or short of time, admire the stunning coastline from the viewpoint next to the cable car station.