Island in the sun
From 15 to 18 April, Madeirans will be celebrating their world-famous annual flower festival, turning the tiny Atlantic island into a sea of colour as the inhabitants put the recent devastating floods behind them. Madeira, an autonomous region of Portugal, has recovered quickly from the flash floods on February 20 which left at least 42 dead, and while some tourists have been put off in the short term, the island's attraction as a place to own a holiday or retirement home is undiminished.
The setback came at a time when Madeira has been busily trying to establish itself as an upmarket destination for holiday and retirement homes. The most notable of these is Palheiro Village, a development of 32 villas and 44 apartments on the Palheiro Estate owned by the Blandy family, famous shippers of Madeira wine. Roger Still, the estate's development manager, says: "The flooding was really a once in a lifetime event and it was very localised, affecting mainly people who lived near the huge drainage channels. We were only minimally affected with a few trees damaged and mud on secondary roads."
Still says that only half of the capital Funchal was affected by the floods and the main hotel area was left unscathed. The real lesson for buildings, he says, is that you should avoid having a sub-structure anywhere near the drainage channels – or more simply, don't buy a property nearby to them.
Palheiro is Madeira's first development aimed squarely at second home owners; it features an 18-hole Cabell Robinson golf course, luxury spa and other facilities in the heart of an estate once used for hunting, and now renowned for its exotic gardens with their world famous collection of camelias.
"We have sold around 50 per cent of our properties and the development is now completely finished," says Still. "This is the first development on Madeira which was designed and built with the overseas market in mind, and the quality of build, amenities and services are all of the standard you would find on the best resorts in the Algarve."
Others are following in its wake: Azulara is a development of 60 contemporary villas and 112 apartments due for completion in 2012. Quinta do Lorde is a more traditional eco-resort based round a marina in the south east of the island.
Madeira and its associated archipelago have long been a favourite with 50-plus Brits; Sir Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher are among famous visitors in the past. With huge investment having been ploughed into roads, an extension to the airport, and other infrastructure, moves are now afoot to broaden Madeira's appeal, with two new golf courses due to open in 2011, a possible new terminal for super-yachts, and efforts to attract more families. With Madeira's outstanding warm climate throughout the year, the floods are unlikely to prove more than a temporary setback.
Alexander Garrett is a freelance property writer who contributes regularly to The Observer and British Airways' Business Life.