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Calheta is situated on the southwest coastline of Madeira approximately 35 minutes drive from Funchal and 45 minutes from the airport.
It was first explored by the primitive colonizers and dates back to 1st June 1502 making it one of the oldest parishes on the island.
Because of Madeiras sub tropical climate it allows visitors to enjoy warm weather all year round and Calheta gets it's fair share of sunshine making it a great resort for numerous activities.
The region of Calheta occupies 8 parishes spread over a total area of 116 square kilometers. It is an important area for banana plantations, vineyards, agriculture, fishing, the production of sugar cane and white rum (aguardente).
The Sugar Cane Factory
The sugar cane factory, still working was opened in 1901 and houses machinery made in Sheffield, England. This is where the special white rum is produced and this is one of the ingredients which go into making the typical Madeiran drink "Poncha" The Sugar Cane Factory is open to the public and is free to look round. It only opens for a few weeks during the harvest of the sugar cane and the loaded wagons line up to get their cane processed. It was open first week of November 2015, there is a 'tasting room' with a very pleasant terrace in the sun where you can buy a small tot of any of the rums to taste.
Calheta is a small, quiet town which has only recently been developed to accommodate tourists. It has a lovely marina with shops and places to eat. It also has two man made golden sandy beaches (the sand was imported from Morocco) The one main street has a supermarket, gift shop, travel agent/tour operator and a taxi rank. There are more shops including a chemist, bakers, ironmongers, electrical appliance shop etc situated in Estreito do Calheta about a mile up the hill above Calheta, walk up to the round about then take the first left.
The local public transport is quite good and serves the outlying villages but you need to study the timetables carefully as the buses are not too frequent. Car hire is reasonable but not necessary as you can use taxis and book excursions on the island through the Calheta Beach Hotel. (see next paragraph)
The Calheta Beach hotel is situated almost on the beach and has three restaurants and bars, two of which are outside and are open to non residents. The hotel runs a mini bus into Funchal three times a week for residents but if space is available non residents can book a seat the evening prior to the departure day at the cost of 19 euros return. (you get approximately 6 hours in Funchal) Their staff can also arrange excursions which they book through MB Tours based in Funchal. These trips include sightseeing excursions, guided levada walks and a typical Madeiran night out with a meal and entertainment. These trips are good value as they pick in Calheta and you are transported to Funchal where all the trips begin, this saves the need to get yourself to Funchal.
Lavada above Rabacal
Looking towards Paul da Serra
Calheta is an ideal base to do many lavada walks (these are footpaths alongside the irrigation channels which run all over the island) They often begin at quite a high altitude but most are quite flat and require minimum effort. The scenery is spectacular and the flowers are magnificent. Buy a good walking book, map and bus timetable and take water to drink, wear good walking shoes and take a waterproof jacket and warm fleece as the weather can change quickly in the mountains. Read the walk description carefully as most are graded according to the degree of vertigo risk and you may need a torch on some as they have tunnels.
If you are interested in wildlife Calheta has lots on offer. Whale and Dolphin spotting boat trips go from the Marina and can be booked in some of the cafes near the Marina. If you visit when it is quiet you have to book the trip in advance and wait until they get enough people to make the trip worthwhile, they are also dependant on the weather. It is also a birdwatchers paradise as the Cory's shearwater sea birds come in from the sea at dusk and gather on the cliffs just above the town, the noise they make is likened to a "Punch and Judy show" and you would have to hear them to understand why.
If you are interested in fishing you can go out on a boat trip bookable at the Marina, you can also go on a sailing ship trip to view the sunset.
Accommodation in Calheta:- The main hotel is the Calheta Beach Hotel with a variety of Hotels scattered around the outlying villages. There are also lots self catering options ranging from apartments in the hotels to privately owned villas and houses. The Saccharum Resort and Spa Luxury Hotel opened 2015 and is a sister hotel to The Calheta Beach Hotel. It is a little further on from the Calheta Beach Hotel and has its own very small beach (black volcanic sand) in front with a beach bar and sunbeds.
Eating out:- Lots of restaurants in and around Calheta, their speciality is fish caught locally. Madeiran portions are generous and food is reasonable.