A pleasant town on Madeira‘s southern shoreline, Calheta (also known as Estreito da Calheta) is the island’s main centre of banana plantations, vineyards and sugar-cane production. It is also a very pleasant place to stopover while driving along the coast road both to the western and northern shores of the island.
Boasting an idyllic location on the island’s south-west coast, Calheta is a historic old town having first been governed by the offspring of Madeira’s discoverer, João Gonçalves Zarco.
Dating back to 1430 and reminiscent in many ways of Funchal’s magnificent cathedral, Calheta’s parish church is most notable for its complex and richly decorated Moorish-style wooden knot-work ceiling above the high altar and a large 16th-century ebony and silver tabernacle donated by King Manuel I.
A stone’s throw from the church stands the exquisite Engenho da Calheta, one of the island’s two surviving sugar mills (the other is located at Porto da Cruz). Now a museum, the mill uses locally-produced sugar cane to make honey, bolo de mel (honey cake) and a potent firewater known as aguardente from distilled cane syrup.
Besides its modern marina and golden sandy beach, one of the very few on the island, Calheta is a popular place for many different types of outdoor pursuit, including hiking, mountain biking, surfing, windsurfing, kayaking, fishing, paragliding, canyoning, whale- and dolphin-watching and scuba diving, making it one of the best water sport destinations in Portugal.
A main attraction at Loreto, just 2 km east of Calheta, is the 15th-century chapel with its Manueline south portal and fine geometrically-patterned ceiling.
At Lombo dos Reis, not far from Calheta, visitors can see the lovely Capela dos Reis Magos (Chapel of the Three Kings) which has an interesting 16th-century Flemish altar carving of the Adoration of the Magi.
High on a promontory west of Calheta at Ponta do Este (East Point) stands the Casa das Artes, an ultra-modern art centre constructed in perfect harmony with the surrounding land and seascape to provide a much-needed platform for local artists and craftsmen and women.
Jardim do Mar, a short drive up the coast from Calheta, is a very picturesque fishing village blessed with narrow alleyways lined by flower-laden houses.
Also worth seeing are the twenty-five waterfalls (25 Fontes) at Rabaçal, 10 km north of Calheta, which plunge down the mountain from over 100 metres above.