Autumn in the Portuguese islands of Madeira & Porto Santo definitely feels like high summer for those less fortunate climate wise. Last week’s short visit to these lush green spots in the Atlantic Ocean is my very first to this part of my beloved Portugal.
And revolves around fairways, greens and stunning views. How I love the polo-and-skirt-24-degrees-with-sunny-spells mode. Rumour has it that they have these kind of temperatures all year round.
Madeira and Porto Santo islands
Two dots in the Atlantic ocean about an 1,5 our flight from Lisbon. The friendly Madeira Islands, discovered by Portuguese explores over 500 years ago, have been the go-to-destination for luxurious European aristocracy for the past century. Hence the many large mansions hidden between lush vegetation and numerous banana trees.
There are three lovely golf courses within these natural surroundings. Two on Madeira and one on Porto Santo. All not only known for their testing holes but also for their panoramic Atlantic views. Where to play?
1. Clube de Golf Santo da Serra
Golfing on a higher level. The Santo da Serra golf club is located above the bay of Machico and blends in seamlessly with the local botanic nature. I love it when golf and environment are in perfect harmony.
This championship course – host to European Tour – was originally built in 1937 and redesigned in 1991 by Robert Trent Jones.
No walk over! Dog legs, blind holes and bunkers. The fairways – who have a reputation of excellent quality, were dry and bare as a result of the horrible drought of the past Summer months. Water is scarce and only used for greens. It did not diminish my round of golf with its stunning views and smell of eucalyptus trees.
Due to the altitude, proximity of the sea and the height, the weather can change every five minutes from cloudy to clear and back again.
Santo da Serra golf
27 holes – Championship Course – 7186 yards – par 71 – green fees from € 110
2. Palheiro golf
Located on the mountainside surrounded with botanical, tropical gardens on one side and seaside views on the other, Palheiro is a tester. Elevation and undulation – slope index 130 – sums it up and therefore aiming into the right direction is key. Most drives on the first nine holes need an uphill set up far left to end up on the fairway. Or even roll off from the right.
Here also, irrigation is only around the greens.The fairways suffer from drought and are brownish with barely any grass. The course almost plays like a true links course.
Palheiro is open since 1993 within the property of a beautiful 200-year-old country estate overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The best views are from hole 15-18, make sure to have your camera standby.
The atmosphere is very friendly and welcoming, the clubhouse restaurant with panoramic terrace serves a great lunch. No surprise since the restaurant is managed by the award-winning Relais & Chateaux Hotel Casa Velha. Leave some room for the homemade brownie cake.
18 holes – Parkland Course – 6695 yards – par 72 – green fees from € 110 incl. buggy
3. Porto Santo golf
This is a must do! First because of the short flight – 15 minutes with a prop plane – to the idyllic Porto Santo island. With a complete different nature scenery since this is a small volcanic island. Second because of the magic Atlantic golf course views and third because of the 8 km long stretched white sandy beach.
But back to golf: designed by golf legend Severiano Ballesteros in 2004. A superb challenge with long fairways and fast greens. The course hugs the dramatic Atlantic coastline. The first and last nine are quite different though.
Where the word dull might come up before hole 9, after hole 10 challenge is key. The North course is played near high sea cliffs and plays like a links course. Among the most stunning holes are 13, 14 and 15: cliff edge and captivating sea ànd volcano views.
Porto Santo is a sustainable golf course, integrated in the existing ecosystem and landscape.
Porto Santo Golf
18 holes – Seasie Cliff Course – 6434 yards – par 72 – green fees from € 59 (value for money)
Where to sleep in Madeira or Porto Santo?
Since we were only in Porto Santo for a golfing day, I don’t know about hotels on this cute little island. However, after golf we had drinks on the beach at Porto Santo Hotel, the first hotel on the island built in the 60’s. Next time I intend to stay two nights – add beachtime to golf – at this friendly beach side place.
On Madeira Island there are two locations for classic secluded luxury. How I love old world charm.
Belmonds Reid’s Palace
Where to start? This icon 5* luxury cliff top hotel has been host to many international celebrities for over a century and is synonymous for timeless elegance. Classic – floral – style rooms in pastel colors with gorgeous Atlantic views from the balcony. Or from the terrace with the black and white tiled floor, perfect spot to read a book, stare over the ocean, enjoy a conversation or indulge the daily high tea at 3 pm. (reservation necessary)
The lobby is recently renovated into a more contemporary design, still seamlessly connected with the rest.
Far below in the garden – even lower than the garden pool deck, there are sea-level sun decks and a tidal pool, reachable by lift or steps. You need a very good reason to leave the premises.
Casa Velha do Palheiro
More old world charm within the impressive world-famous Palheiro botanical gardens. The former mansion of Madeira‘s first family Blandy, is now a tranquil and luxury Relais & Chauteaux country house hideaway. This former summer residence from the early 1800’s is literally located in the midst of the Palheiro golf course, guests can even start on hole ten and walk back to their room after finishing on hole 9.
But not only golf is on the doorstep of this charming boutique hotel, the gates to the botanical gardens and the start of the hike path is adjacent to the hotel’s terrace.
If you prefer a separate shower in the bath room, I do, stay in the Golf Wing annexe. You also find the large and luxury spa with indoor pool in this wing. Imagine this place when the wisteria blooms!
Where to eat in Madeira?
Nice places to dine are not that easy to find since the Oldtown of Funchal concentrates on tourists eating dripping meat of a skewer – espetada – in terrace filled small streets. No, thank you.
But the hidden culinary gems are certainly there! Apart from fine dining (Michelin*) restaurants in both Reids and Casa Velha, we discovered two cosmopolitan places where the association with London or Brooklyn is easily made. Reservation a must!
Riso del Mundo Restaurant
Walk towards the yellow Forte de São Tiago in Funchal and leave the tourists behind you. Left of the building a tiny alley winds up the road, paved with small cobblestones. Turn right at the end and Riso is up the street on your right. In short: clifftop mid-century modern, above (!) the sea, friendly staff, endless views and the world of rice at your feet.
A 30 minute walk along the boulevard back to Reid’s Palace.
Nini Design Center
Brooklyn move over. This multicultural space in an ancient fort in the harbour of Funchal is the great surprise of Madeira. Love child of international recognized Madeira born designer Nini Andrade Silva. She had the vision to turn the old fortress of Nossa Senhora da Conceição into a design center / restaurant / shop / atelier.
The rooftop restaurant’s chef is (Michelin starred) Miguel Laffan. Fine dining with open windows overlooking the small lights of Funchal harbour by night. That is magical Madeira in October.
Sometimes a presstrip with a group of unknown people results in meeting inspirational women. Also on this trip where I met fifty+ Marlies Nelissen (1964) of Golf & Country travel. Guess who will feature in our Portraits series soon.
My stay in Madeira and Porto Santo was by invitation of Madeira Tourism on behalf of Chapter Fifty. I only accept items or collaborations that answer positive to the question: “does it match my lifestyle?”. I will not promote anything that I would not wear, eat, sleep or see myself. Authenticity is very important to me. Words, photos and opinions are my own.