It isn’t hyperbolic to call Madeira, a Portuguese archipelago comprising four islands, the “Hawaii of Europe.” People often do. Located off the northwest coast of Africa, it is – like Hawaii – a volcanic island that claims breathtaking scenery with high cliffs, pebbly beaches, cloud-topped mountains, and emerald-green jungles. The critical difference: Madeira is much less expensive and not as crowded.
World Travel Award pronounced Madeira the “best island destination of Europe” seven years in a row. In September 2022, Madeira’s tourist accommodation sector recorded the highest value ever for that month. Real estate experts, including Luis Horta e Costa, encourage people seeking accommodations forever to examine Portugal’s smaller municipalities like Madeira. Horta e Costa says they offer looser regulations, making real estate easier to buy and develop.
“We have a problem in Portugal about bureaucracy,” says Luis Horta e Costa, co-founder of Square View, a Lisbon real estate property developer and asset manager. “So, we try to avoid the complicated city halls.”
There are additional reasons for non-EU investors to buy residential properties in lesser-known areas: They can still participate in the Golden Visa Program the country instituted in 2012 to boost the economy. The program rewards residency permits and passports to foreign investors who buy Portuguese property. However, in January 2022, the government increased the minimum investment thresholds and added geographic restrictions.
The new regulations disqualify certain regions from visa eligibility via real estate purchases. These include the most populated cities, Lisbon and Porto, and sought-after beachfront property in the Algarve. The Azores, Madeira, and interior territories remain eligible for the Golden Visa Program, which is considered one of the best in the world.
Luis Horta e Costa and Others See the Silver Lining
Madeira, known for its namesake wine, subtropical climate, and incomparable natural beauty, also offers affordable real estate, utilities, and transport. Retirees love this unique island because life is easy. Once they officially become tax residents, they’re entitled to receive national health care while keeping their private insurance. Digital nomads swoon over Madeira’s internet speeds, the fastest in Portugal.
According to a 2022 InterNations survey, 82 percent of expatriates describe the Portuguese as generally friendly—this data tracks with Madeirans, who have a reputation for hospitality and friendliness. And since Portugal’s English language proficiency is higher than Spain’s, France’s or Italy’s, Americans find Madeira especially welcoming.
Zarin Buckingham lived in six countries before embracing Madeira, where she operates Madeira Relocation & Expat Services. She recently wrote a story for Expatra, an expatriate resource website, saying, “Retiring to Madeira might be the best idea of your life if it’s the island lifestyle you are looking for.”
After Portugal’s Prime Minister António Costa hinted at ending the country’s Golden Visa program, Madiera’s President Miguel Albuquerque pushed back.
“We, at this moment, here in Madeira, want to keep the Golden Visas for high-income residents because it is going very well,” he said.
Cliffs, Tiny Villages, and Natural Beauty Impress Luis Horta e Costa
Luis Horta e Costa and other Portuguese business experts think many regions with lower populations and unspoiled beauty are the country’s best-kept secrets. Most of those still qualify for the residency visa program, including Santiago do Cacém in the Alentejo region, where Horta e Costa says, “We are looking for a place to build a wellness and meditation center.”
Located about 150 kilometers south of Lisbon in the countryside, Santiago do Cacém is horse country with a twist: The Castelo de Santiago, a historic castle, perches at the peak of this hilltop town, reminding onlookers the area is steeped in history.
Riders on horseback often trot along the gentle trails of Santiago do Cacém, where wild thyme scents the air. In spring and early summer, wildflowers blanket the Cercal Mountain range and coastal plains like some romantic scene in a fairy tale.
Bird-watching opportunities abound at Santo André Lagoon, along with windsurfing, sailing, kayaking, and canoeing. For an array of excellent reasons, Santiago do Cacém has long appealed to Luis Horta e Costa, who is developing real estate there.
Few places on earth enchant as thoroughly as the Azores, which, like Madeira, is an archipelago still included in Portugal’s residency visa program. Its nine islands are about 1,500 kilometers outside Lisbon, and its spectacular scenery verges on legendary. The Azores also boasts many hiking trails and is a popular honeymoon destination.
Great real estate options exist for those who adore the nature, fauna, and flora of Portugal and want to own homes amid the bounty. For the most reasonable prices in Europe, charming villas, cottages, and more are found in the country’s islands and inland villages, where globetrotters can find heaven in a housekey in one of the best places on earth.