If you want to become familiar with a destination, you should try exploring its smaller villages. These tiny towns often hold the vestiges of a storied past and customs that may have long gone out of use by locals in the bigger cities. The island of Madeira, Portugal is no exception.
The village of Santana, Portugal was named after the mother of the Virgin Mary, Saint Anne. Full of historic charm with cobblestone streets and the famous thatched-roof houses, Santana invites explorers to discover a more tranquil adventure. Its enchanting backdrop of lush meadows and plunging waterfalls and ravines also makes it a most mesmerizing destination to get lost in.
The Casas Tipicas de Santana (Santana Houses) have become a famous attraction for visitors seeking an off-the-beaten-path quest. Their thatched roofs and primitive construction make them an emblem of Madeiran heritage once found throughout the island. Made from straw and wood and constructed in a triangular shape with many colors, the typical Santana houses give insight to the rich history of Madeira dating back centuries.
There are two types of Santana houses: the Rasteira – built on the ground atop wooden trunks – and the Half-Wire – based on basalt stone walls with three ground-floor rooms, a living room, and two bedrooms. The upper floors of these houses contain more sleeping rooms and storage spaces to hold seeds for the next planting and sowing seasons.
The sharp lines of the thatched roofs help water runoff to keep the interiors dry during heavy rains. The materials from which they’re made help keep the home cool in the summer and warm in the winter, showing the innovation in insulation of the early Madeira inhabitants.
You can best see the Santana houses in the city center near the Municipal Council building surrounded by beautiful gardens. There’s even a farmers’ market across the street where you can enjoy the local produce as you take in the houses and their intriguing, cultural significance.
Today, many of the houses stand as shops and tourist attractions. But taking a walk outside of the city center, you’ll find some still inhabited. And if you make friendly conversation with the locals, some might invite you to see the inside of the famous little houses and enjoy an afternoon snack with them. Others have been converted into unique accommodations for those seeking an upscale yet authentic experience.
Join our “13-Night Connecting European and Caribbean Islands” TransAtlantic voyage and discover the delightful thatch-roofed houses of Madeira.