Faja dos Padres – Madeira’s hidden gem
If there is just one thing I could recommend you do or see in Madeira, it would be Faja dos Padres. I don’t say that lightly, this island is amazing and Funchal alone is filled with and surrounded by stunning and brilliant sights. But Faja dos Padres is a piece of magic.
It is not actually in Funchal at all. Faja dos Padres – pronounced fah-zhan dosh padresh – is located on the seafront at the foot of a mountainous cliff face in the neighbouring municipality of Quinta Grande. It is only accessible by cable car which takes you down from the hilltop into the site itself.
We found ourselves a friendly taxi driver named Ricardo who took us from the centre of Funchal and came and collected us from the cable car at the end of the day.
The Faja itself is a farm, sat between the cliffs and the sea, which grows in incredible array of fruits and vegetables thanks to its unique blend of rich volcanic soil and the tropical microclimate created as sea air is warmed by the cliffs and pushed back down onto the farm below.
Our tour guide Fatima met us at the base of the cable car and took us on a two-hour tour around this little haven. The site is named for the Jesuit priests who once owned it, and their legacy remains in the form of the old chapel building which has now been incorporated into the farm. Today, Faja dos Padres is owned by a family and operates as an organic farm providing vegetables and fruit which are used at the onsite restaurant and sold to nearby stores.
It is a truly unique site. Water is siphoned in from the levadas in the mountains or drawn up from a well in the farm and the animals kept there are fed with offcuts and leftovers from the restaurant and in turn provide fertiliser for the plants.
Until the cable car was installed six years ago, access was through a lift down the cliff face, lovingly nicknamed ‘the fridge’, which was accessed by 200 steps at either end.
The remote location made access very difficult for the people who historically lived in the houses on the farm and each tended to their own plot of land; today their former houses have been converted into nine holiday homes nestled among the vines equipped with stunning sea-view balconies.
However, the real gem of this site is the produce itself. You walk along paths lined by banana and mango trees and criss-crossed overhead by vines used to produce Madeira wine. The vines themselves have a charming history. The original were wiped out by a bug infestation and replaced with an American vine which was immune but produced less good wine. One day, the owner of the Faja found a vine growing among rocks at an extreme end of the site. Experts confirmed this was a strand of the original vine and today it is being grafted back into production to create the true nectar of Madeira.
After our walk round and through the farm, Fatima escorted us to the restaurant where we were furnished with fresh fruits including papaya, pitanga (a sweet and sour fruit also called Brazilian Cherry), Madeiran banana, silver banana and pear melon. The last one is among the most confusing sensory experiences I have had since it smells exactly like cucumber but tastes (as the name suggests) like a marriage of pear and melon.
After our tasting, S and I escaped to the beach which is also part of the Faja and which is open for use by guests. While she, sensibly, stayed dry, I couldn’t resist a dip in the water before lunch.
That lunch, back in the restaurant and overlooking the ocean, consisted of pasta and vegetables grown on the Faja, a bolo do caco stuffed full with fresh tuna and plates of fresh fruit with mango and pitanga ice cream.
As we rode the cable car back to the summit, both S and I were sure of one thing: we’ll be back.