Calheta is a municipality on Madeira Island, known for its white rum and artificial beach. It is one of the oldest towns on the island, founded in 1430! Calheta is located on the south coast along the Atlantic Ocean, in a hollow of a valley, and is protected by the mountain a little further north which rises to about 1200m: the climate is therefore favourable for banana growing, and you can visit the town and enjoy the pleasant climate all year round.
The freguesia is known for its seaside resort and its white rum: Aguardente. Calheta starts from the coast and climbs up to 450 m inland, a distance of about 2 km.
This is the largest municipality on the island, it is the chief town of 7 villages (communes in Portuguese) with a total area of 115 km², thus gathering not far from 12,000 inhabitants (of which less than 2,000 in Calheta itself):
- Arco da Calheta
- Estreito da Calheita
- Fajã Da Ovelha
- Jardim do Mar, one of the most beautiful villages in Madeira
- Paul do Mar
- Ponta do Pargo, the most western village of the island and its lighthouse to visit.
A little history:
This is one of the first places on Madeira Island to be explored by sailors! In fact, a small bay was once used as a harbour for boats to moor. It was one of the most accessible places on the island. From here, the explorers cleared the dense forest and founded the town of Calheta. When this part of the island was accessible, after the clearing, sugar cane was cultivated. This contributed greatly to the wealth of the town of Calheta, although today the sugar factories have almost disappeared, leaving more room for the seaside resort and tourism.
Discover rum and poncha:
A true heritage of the island, Madeira's poncha is an aperitif made of rum (or brandy), from the cultivation of sugar cane, and fresh fruit. The town of Calheta is known for the white rum "Aguardente", one of the best on the island. It is possible to visit one of the last rum factories: Engenho da calheta, or simply turn to one of the bars of the city to drink and discover the poncha.
What to do in Calheta?
Stroll around the marina in the green area
The municipality has a very nice marina, so you can have a nice walk in the evening and relax in the beautiful green area.
Visit the churches:
The important activity around rum (including the production of sugar cane) made Calheta a rich and prosperous city in the past. Religion being very present in Portugal and especially in Madeira, the town has several parishes with real treasures inside. One in particular is worth a visit: the 17th century Church of Espírito Santo, close to the beach, for its amazing cedar wood ceiling in the Mudéjar style (a sort of fusion of styles between Christianity and Islam), and its magnificent ebony altar.
Enjoy the sandy beach
The town of Calheta has two white sandy beaches ideal for swimming and relaxing, making it a great beach destination. The beach is completely artificial: the sand has been imported from Morocco and the place is protected by two large dykes: swimming is thus safe against the imposing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. There are few beaches of this type in Madeira. There is also one in Machico. The sound of the ocean, the waves crashing against the seawall and the breathtaking view of the imposing mountain, it's like being at the end of the world!
Discover the modern arts centre
Calheta is home to the Centre of Modern Arts. A small museum located on the edge of a cliff and facing the ocean, with various exhibitions and animations.
And what to do near the city?
Calheta is an ideal point to discover the whole southwestern part of the island, as long as you have a rental car.
If we limit ourselves to the nearest interesting natural sites, there are several interesting levadas in the area of Rabaçal: the Calheta-Prazeres levada or the Red Rock levada (da Rocha Vermelha) for the closest ones. There are also the 25 fountains and the Levada do Alecrim a little further on. There is plenty to choose from! Not far away, the Paúl da Serra plateau is also the starting point for the magnificent Vereda do Fanal (PR13).
Sleeping and eating in Calheta
Calheta being a seaside town, there are many bars, cafes and restaurants to eat, or drink a good poncha (or Madeira wine), I have suggested some on the interactive map below, but the best is to see for yourself. As far as restaurants are concerned, there is also a choice, there is something for everyone. Most of the establishments are on the beach and harbour area, but there are a few in the heart of the city.
For accommodation, there are also many hotels of different standards. If you want more peace and quiet, you can rent a holiday home in one of the small villages around Calheta, for example in Jardim do Mar.
How do I get to Calheta?
From Funchal and with a rental car, you have to take the VR1 (you pass through Câmara de Lobos), then the VE3. It takes 37 minutes to reach the city. You will pass through many tunnels.
By bus, it takes about 2 to 3 hours to make the same journey. There are between 8 and 15 stops, sometimes 1 to 3 changes between lines. The fastest line seems to be 107, then 80, then 115. In short it is not very convenient and the travel time is really long.
Festivals and celebrations:
There are festivals all year round in Calheta and in the different municipalities around. Many of them have a religious connotation. The streets are decorated, music groups liven up the town, and you can taste the various local specialities: barbecued meat kebabs on laurel branches, bolo de caco and of course poncha. To find out about all the festivities depending on your departure date, visit the CMCalheta website.