Santana; Madeira’s poster village

Santana is short for Santa Ana (meaning Saint Anne) and is a municipality along the northern coast of the island of Madeira.  The town is home to the Palheiros – the small thatched cottages – which makes Santana Madeira’s poster village for the island.  Many Palheiros are still in use in this north-eastern corner of Madeira however they’re mostly used now as cellars and dry houses for produce grown in the gardens. This area is of humble means and nearly every house has a tendered garden and a plot of land where they grow fruit and vegetables.

A Palheiros up above the market, near the bank and the tourist/travel agency.


It is thought that these triangular houses date back to primitive times and reflect Madeira’s plentiful natural resources which are easy to use and find here. The sharp angles of the roof encourages rain to drain off rather than soak in.

Three of the main Palheiros near the Town Hall

Where To Park?

Parking in the town is limited and on-road parking is by the meter BUT… now this does involve an uphill walk of about 250m, you can park in a huge concrete car park for FREE. Yes, free.

Continue north from the supermarket Continente and you’ll see a HUGE, concrete thing in front of you. That is the car park and it can take over 500 cars. It’s signposted ‘PARQUE’.

I’ve read many, many comments on TripAdvisor complaining about this town being ‘unispirational’ and ‘should be a better tour’, but really, you just need to be prepared to walk around a bit. Shock horror I know!

The Town

The town of Santana is a sprawling town on many steep layers of roads that seem to wind through it.

At the top of the village you have the market area and just below that the town hall and four commercial Palheiros. Slightly west of the town hall is the band stand with the river running under it, the catholic church and the biosphere dome. Meander through the streets to the south and you’ll happen upon another ten or so Palheiros which are privately owned and lived in.  Further south you have the Rocha do Navio cable car.

Every year in July a large festival of traditional music and dances is held in the village.  The event known as ’24 horas a bailar’ (literally ‘24 hours dancing’) is made of performances of traditional folklore groups from Madeira and other regions and countries which are invited to participate.

There’s Also A Market

There are about five market stalls selling a variety of fruits and breads.

Madeira’s speciality bread is called bolo de caco. It’s a round, crumpet style, bread cooked on a caco, a basalt stone slab.  If you eat out at a burger or sandwich place, you’ll often be offered it instead of a bread bun.

Fruits at the market in Santana

Commercial Palheiros

I think there are five commerical Palheiros surrounding the town hall. They are the post office, the tourist agency, one selling Poncha (traditional Madeiran rum drink) & jams & cane syrup and the other is a woman weaving traditional cloth.



A woman wearing traditional Madeiran cloth and colours

A woman weaving

The Town Hall

Madeira is a predominantly catholic island and you’ll see catholic replicas all over walls, on the outsides of houses and even pictures of the pope in people’s houses!

We arrived on the island shortly after Christmas and the nativity scenes we’ve found all over the island have been huge and with immense detail. Think life-size plastic lambs and models crouching over huge cribs. Yes, it’s a bit full on.

Bandstand Area

The bandstand area is right in the centre of town and has a river running through it. There are flowers everywhere and in the spring it must be a divine, sensory overload with smells and colours.

Band stand in Santana
Band stand
Our monkeys sat in the band stand area above the river

Catholic church

The catholic church is big in comparison to everything else in the village.  We didn’t go in as they were preparing for a funeral.

As we were walking back up through the village  the doors of the church were open and the acoustics were billowing out into the town centre. It must be very loud in there.

Did You See The Biosphere Monument

In 2011, UNESCO classified Santana as a BioSphere World Reserve, one of only 580 places in the world. According to its plaque which was erected in March 2012, this monument represents harmony between the life, land and the natural world.

I would say it has seen better days as it has English graffiti and cracks all over it.  As I was stood there, trying to avoid the coach tour that had turned up and pretend I didn’t speak English a thought came into my head.

Travellers embrace, tourists deface

It was just a moments thought and it is something that has stuck with me since our visit there.   I can’t begin to imagine the damage all these coach tours are doing to the island let alone the planet and it seems to me that every time I encounter a coach party they leave behind them a glut of empty plastic bottles, dirty nappies, food wrappers and all sorts of rubbish, with no regard for the damage they’re causing.

Of course this isn’t true for all coach parties but it does seem to be a prominent problem.

even the police station is pretty

Santana the town of flowers

It wasn’t until we were half way round the town that I realised just how many flowers there were in Santana. It makes the town very picturesque.

other houses around the town

Now, remember how I said if you wanted to see the houses you’d have to walk around, well here are a selection that we found dotted around the village.

Our walk took us about an hour and we walked fairly leisurely.

Rocha do Navio Cable Car

Another fifteen minute walk will lead you to the cable car at Rocha Do Navio. It’s a steep walk back up but well worth the effort.