Santana is , at first glance, nothing more than an atypical agricultural parish situated in north east of Madeira.

Returning visitors to Madeira will certainly have already enjoyed, or at least be aware of, the peculiarly unique attraction that Santana offers to those seeking a pleasurable day out. A fact well known to the many excursion companies that run east of island tours, for Santana is predominantly the most lauded scheduled stop on these excursions.

The parish of Santana has a rich agricultural heritage that has clearly been continued through to the present day. Apple, cherry and pear orchards are are all cultivated along with fields of cabbages, carrots, maize and potatoes.

All the crops are grown, without the aid of fertilizers or pesticides. This may make the appearance of the final produce more unsightly than many of us will be accustomed as wholly organic regimes struggle to offset the worse effects of pests and blight. If you are put off by the outward appearance of the fruit in the local shops, then just remember this proverb that is well known amongst the locals: the ugly fruit tastes the best. Believe me, from experience I can definitely tell you.

As you travel across the rural setting, making your way into the heart of Santana, you may begin to notice an increasing number of strange, A-shaped shed-like buildings. Small, triangular and often appearing old and neglected, or even abandoned, these small buildings provide you with just a taste of the delight that awaits you in the town centre.

These almost cartoon-like buildings bear the traditional name of Palheiros, which in English translates as hay stacks. This description will possibly bewilder you as, today, most Palheiros are topped with corrugated iron that slopes sharply down either side to ground level from a center apex. In fact, the wooden framed, A-shaped Palheiros are cowsheds that, in the past had a thatched roof – whence sprung the name.

When you finally arrive in Santana you will find that the area devoted to tourism prominently features the Palheiros as well.

Is it true that you can now observe, in the heart of town, a collection of glorified cow sheds?

It is a tough question and the answer is both “yes” and “no”.

“Yes”, the buildings are essentially a spruced up version of the Palheiros. But, here they retain from an previous era their more appealing straw roof. Also, the walls are white-washed and kept meticulously spotless to shine in the bright sunshine. At the front, a bright red door greets you and the bright green window frames completes the fairytale scene.

“No”, these particular Palheiros are not providing shelter for farm animals, though. Rather, their purpose is for human habitation as you will see if you take the opportunity to go inside.

There, you will appreciate the work that has been involved in recreating a time gone by. Wooden furniture and the lack of electrical equipment depicts living conditions from a time now lost. To the rear, you will see a tiny bedroom that literally has enough space for one, small double bed and that is it.

Upon leaving the Palheiros you will appreciate the frugal conditions from which Madeira has blossomed. Today, the archipelago is home to a sophisticated, cosmopolitan society. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned here that everybody should recognised and think upon.

Santana is definitely a tourist centre where the past unfolds before your eyes and it is highly recommended as a fascinating and unrivalled place to visit.


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Jimmy James B.Sc (Hons) is the editor of the helpful Madeira travel information guide. He is a keen traveller and an independent writer. He has visited Madeira on numerous occasions and some of his experiences there have contributed to his more than 30 years of writing for the and online community.

To view tourist information about this fascinating destination read the Santana, Madeira complete guide.

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