Britain is still recovering from one of its gloomiest winters yet. For many, respite was found in dreaming of sunnier climes but now the world is almost opening up, some are making those fantasies a reality.
One of them is Richard Mason. A co-founder of moneysupermarket.com, Mason, 58, has just had a €720,000 offer accepted on a three-bedroom villa with a swimming pool and sea view on a hillside near Palheiro Village, about ten minutes from Madeira’s capital, Funchal. The Portuguese island, which went back on the UK’s green travel list last week, has long lured tourists with its subtropical climate, dramatic mountains and lush greenery, but it is increasingly luring British property buyers.
Mason and his wife, Emma, spent a month in Madeira in May looking for property with Anne Marchington, the sales manager at ImoPalheiro estate agency. “With lockdown, last winter seemed very long,” Mason says. “Since I retired 12 years ago, we travel a lot. Lockdown meant we were stuck in the UK. Chances are there will be new variants in the future, and travel will never get back to normal, so we figured we would prefer to be locked down in Madeira than in north Wales.”
Part of the appeal was price: Mason had been thinking of buying a villa in Cascais on the mainland, but said detached villas with no sea views there were, at €1.5 million, twice the price of those in Madeira. He had also been considering Menorca but found that most of the island shut down in the winter. Madeira is a year-round living, breathing community (population 253,000).
“We just completely fell in love with the island,” says Mason, who plans to spend eight months a year there. “The people are incredibly friendly. Crime is low. In Funchal there are hundreds of restaurants, promenades, rooftop bars, cinemas. It is a great place to relax with a beer and watch the world go by. It is quite a spiritual island too: there are schools for meditation, yoga and Pilates.”
More Brits are realising this and discovering the government’s new digital nomads village, which offers free internet use and workspace to start-ups (digitalnomads.startupmadeira.eu). The foreign population has risen 10 per cent in two years to 9,455 — Brits account for 14.2 per cent of them, second only to Venezuelans (24.5 per cent) and ahead of Brazilians (9.5 per cent) and Germans (6.6 per cent). It helps that it has the same time zone as the UK, and English is spoken more widely than on the mainland.
Marchington, who has a dozen UK buyers on her books, says that Brits are increasingly inquiring about Madeira’s golden visa scheme, which allows permanent residency in the EU and a path to citizenship after spending €500,000 on property. The scheme ends in Lisbon, Porto and the Algarve in December but will remain in Madeira. She says that the island attracts a more discerning buyer than some expat enclaves, with decent one-bedroom flats starting at €250,000 and houses from €400,000. “We don’t get the tourists that go to the Canary Islands, we don’t get the lager louts,” Marchington says. “It is more nature lovers and people who like refined dining, wellness, hiking and fresh air.”
Andy Evans was so tempted by the natural splendours and balmy climate — it rarely goes below 14C and above 25C — that he bought a property sight unseen during lockdown, off the strength of a video tour with SN Imobiliaria. He paid €825,000 for a four-bedroom house with a swimming pool, two living rooms and a small garden in Calheta on the southwest coast. “It was such a long, cold winter, we were going stir crazy and we needed somewhere to escape to,” says the start-up investor, 53, who will use it as a holiday home with his wife, Sheila, and their son, and who just returned from viewing his new property in the flesh. “We live in the Peak District, so we liked the dramatic scenery in Madeira — the sea and the mountain views are fabulous — and found the people really helpful.”
The steep north of the mountainous island is rainy. The south, where 95 per cent of the population lives, is dryer and sunnier, but still lush because of the levadas, channels cut through the mountain to irrigate the southern side. Evans says: “The levadas are amazing walking trails, through waterfalls and forests. We have an intellectually disabled son who loves walking the levadas and the mountains, and he loves the sun and the sea.”
The island has few beaches — only two black volcanic ones — but there is a 9km sandy one on Porto Santo, an island that is two and a half hours by ferry. And Madeira has many outdoor pools and lidos, with ladders into the sea. “We bought now because we think next year prices will go up, when Madeira will be one of the few places in Portugal where you can still get a golden visa,” Evans says.
He bought with advice from John Mather, an expat who runs an advice consultancy for Brits relocating to the island (firstname.lastname@example.org). “The idea is to hold people’s hand,” says Mather, 73, who moved from London to Madeira in 2016. “I can sort out gas and electricity, register them with a doctor, recommend accountants and lawyers, introduce people to banks, check the land registry on the property you are buying.”
Mather and his wife bought a two-bedroom flat with a 120 sq m private garden and a shared rooftop swimming pool in the centre of Funchal. He paid €400,000 in 2016; it is now worth €600,000. Other buyer hotspots near Funchal are Palheiro Village, a golf resort, and Canico, a coastal town favoured by Germans. On the southwest coast, the sunniest part of the island, land around Ribeira Brava and Ponta do Sol is “selling like hotcakes” in lockdown. Madeira is becoming cool too, with retro boutique hotels getting covered in Monocle magazine and Time Out launching a Madeira website. But the island’s bread and butter is still what Mather calls “the comfortably retired”.
His top tip? If you are a sunseeker, don’t buy above the banana line — 350m above sea level. Banana trees are difficult to grow above this altitude and your home may be shrouded in clouds and mist.
Mather was contemplating retiring to New Zealand or Vancouver, but the tax advantages of Madeira clinched the decision for him. If you take up non-habitual resident status, which requires you to stay 183 days a year, there is only 10 per cent tax on pensions, and dividends are exempt from tax. “The cost of living is half what it is in the UK in terms of your taxes and cost of living,” Mather says. “That releases fun tickets to enjoy life.”
Source: Sunday Times