April 23, 2007

Vineyard Tours

Tour to the Faja dos Padres.

The Fajã dos Padres is/was certainly the most famous vineyard of Madeira island and is mentioned as far back as the 15th century. For 150 years the Jesuits had posession of it and the malvasia wine produced here was said to be the finest of all Madeira wines. The Fajã is a small stripe of land, at the bottom of a cliff, a little west to the Cabo Girão and approximately 300 meters/900 feet high. It is located at the southern coast of Madeira and faces directly to the south. The cliff represents a giant barrier to the north and also reflects the sun down to the Faja. So the micoclimate of the Fajã is unique.

Until 1998 you could only reach the Fajã by boat, landing at the rocky beach. There have always been some steep and narrow paths down the cliff, but these were dangerous and not suited for tourists. But then a panoramic lift has been installed, crossing the distance of 250 meters/800 feet, so today the access is easy and quite spectacular. Also a site for helicopters has been installed and of course the maritime access is still available. In fact many travel agencies offer boat trips to the Fajã.

For many years only bananas had been grown at the Fajã, but vines of the malvasia candida variety have been replanted in the beginning of the 1980ies. Now some wines are already maturing in cask, among them a malvasia candida from 1998/1999. Those Madeira wine afficionados who ever had the chance of tasting an old wine from the Fajã know how deserved the reputation of the Fajã was. It can only be hoped, that the wines from the Fajã one fine day will reach that glorious quality again, even though I'm afraid I will not live long enough for that. Mangoes, avocado, banana, grapes and passion fruit are grown here as well, taking advantage of the perfect agricultural conditions.

The Fajã dos Padres is about 10km west from Funchal, and less than 6 km from Ribeira Brava. The access to the Fajã is done via road Padre António Dinis Henriques. Follow VR1 and exit at Km 6, on exit number 3 indicating Cabo Girão/Quinta Grande. Then turn left, keep heading south and go straight ahead until the end of road Padre António Dinis Henriques. The operating time of the lift is every day in summer, except tuesday, from 11:00 to 19:00. The lift is closed from January 10th to March 1st. In the remaining time of the year the lift is operated every day except tuesday, from 11:00 to 18:00. The cost for a round trip was 8,- Euros in 2006, children under the age of 11 years have free access, as well as guests staying at the Fajã dos Padres. The access to the lift is done through stairs and there are no other ways of getting there for physically disabled people. Only hand luggage is allowed and pets are forbidden at the Fajã.

The Fajã dos Padres hosts a restaurant and four guest houses: the Sailor House or Casa do Marinheiro, the Boat House or Casa do Barco and the houses of José Soldado or Casas do José Soldado. Each house is designed to host a maximum of 4 people. Breakfast is optional and a barbecue facility is available for guests in the Boat House and in the Sailor House

Even if you only visit the Fajã for a day trip, you should take a walk in the orchards and vineyards and later stop at the restaurant for a glass of the local Malmsey wine. They also offer some table wine and to taste this “jaqué” wine (from the Jacquez grape) is interesting too. The Jacquez is a red grape, an interspecies hybrid of an American Vitis aestivalis and an unknown European Vitis vinifera, most probably developed by natural selction in the Texas area in the early 19th century, exported to and cultivated in Europe after phylloxera, most widely cultivated in Portugal and Madeira island, and finally banned since the 1980ies. Synonyms are countless, amongst others these are Lenoir (esp. in Texas), Alabama, Black El Paso, Black Spanish (not to be confused with Long Black Spanish) and Sherry of the south (I love that one).

Visits to the wine cellar of the Fajã should be reserved in advance, for a minimum number of 5 participants. Some Madeira wines of local origin are matured in casks here in a small canteiro room. Tasting of the wines is possible but unfortunately they will take some more decades to reach their full potential.

The Faja has its own website at and reservations can be made through this website.

Tour to the St. John vineyard (extinct today).