A Madeiran Family Home: Quinta da Saraiva
An authentic experience harmonising elegance, history, and culture in the peaceful atmosphere of the Câmara de Lobos valley and its coast.
The charming Madeira archipelago, an autonomous region of Portugal located in the Atlantic Ocean, fascinates with its lush geography, mild climate history and traditions. Locals like to refer to the island, rightfully, as the “Pearl of the Atlantic”. On this heavenly island, in a beautiful, natural landscape is an 18th-century quinta (manor house in Portuguese), offering 12 comfortable rooms, their own local Madeiran wines to explore, and a homely atmosphere. Founded in November 2019, by the youngest member of the Figueira family, Juan Daniel Rodrigues, the rural and traditional boutique hotel offers guests a bespoke experience that mixes authentic, local Madeiran culture with comfort and warmth.
A Story Dating Back to the 18th Century…
Quinta da Saraiva, is an authentic Madeiran lodging experience, but it is not limited to that. In fact, what makes the boutique hotel so appealing is the history it carries to this day. It is a tale of family and legacy, history and traditions that have managed to survive through the generations. The actual house is estimated to have been built sometime in the second half of the 18th century by the great grandfathers of the current oldest surviving generation of the Figueira family. The majority of the background story about the Saraiva property has been compiled through many interviews and joint discussions recorded by the descendants of the Figueira siblings.
The surname Figueira (meaning fig tree in Portuguese), is also largely believed to have a Jewish origin. Many Sephardic Jews who lived in the Iberian Peninsula during times of the Inquisition would be forced to change their last names to hide or signal their conversion into Cristãos Novos or New Christians, to appease inquisitors. Historically, fruits, trees or flowers were common choices for these new names. However, as Madeira (and Portugal overall) is a land of mixed heritage, it must also be highlighted that the Figueiras from Quinta da Saraiva all have light eyes, and some are even natural redheads – recent genealogical studies have confirmed a Scottish ancestor (John Drumond) who came to Madeira as a sugarcane plantation owner.
What historically used to be known as the Quinta da Saraiva area, though, consisted of three different houses. Only one remains today, which is the house that comprises the main and central structure of the hotel.
“Much of what existed back then within the property is no longer the same today, as many of the pictures in our digital gallery will show you. Just to highlight one example, the large water well that still stands within the property used to be a famous public sightseeing spot that was extremely popular with British and Gibraltar tourists who sought to admire the beauty of the Câmara de Lobos valley and its coast.”
Regarding the older generations of Figueiras who inhabited Quinta da Saraiva, these were traditionally prosperous landowners who produced Madeiran staple crops such as wheat, sweet potato, semilha (Madeiran terminology for potatoes), sugarcane, tomatoes, onions, grapes, figs, medlars, prickly pears, and sweetsop, among other fruits and vegetables. Quinta da Saraiva also had cows (for milk and butter – too valuable for meat) as well goats, chickens, and pigs (who would be slaughtered for the Christmas feast).
The men of Saraiva, as was customary for other affluent locals, would volunteer as festeiros (party patrons) who would oversee collecting (and then selling) donated wine from local producers to fund the celebrations. The Figueira girls and young women would wear hand-sewn dresses commissioned by their parents, especially for the arraial (village party) of São João or Saint John, which would occur every 24th of June.
Saved for last, we must also highlight the special connection between Quinta da Saraiva (as well as Madeira at-large) with the country of Venezuela. Decimated by the poverty of post-World War II Europe, as well as the violent colonial wars being fought in Portuguese Africa, Madeirans were stuck in a vicious circle of generational stagnation, with extraordinarily little to no local opportunities available for overcoming their situation. The majority of the oldest surviving Figueiras born at Quinta da Saraiva emigrated to Venezuela in the 1950s.
To maintain the legacy and spirit of Quinta da Saraiva, the descendants of this last emigrant generation transformed the family heirloom and estate into a hotel. Grandson Juan Daniel Gonçalves Rodrigues took the first steps in September 2016, until the project’s inauguration in November 2019.
Today, they are proving Madeiran hospitality to the world, welcoming visitors all over the world to share an unforgettable and authentic Madeiran experience that will live on with you.
A Madeiran Quinta
Boutique hotels are typically smaller hotels that offer a much more intimate ambiance. Due to their dimension, they can provide a highly personalised service, such as offering prime amenities, staff on a first-name basis with guests, tailored activities, or even the ability to anticipate guest preferences. Quintas are just like boutique hotels … but of course they have a much more traditional, historical and authentic story.
Quintas are traditional Portuguese manor houses. Since the XVII century, some manor houses in Madeira began to offer accommodation to travelers who came to Madeira in search of the Island’s famous “air cure” (supplied by the island’s unique mix of mild temperatures, high air humidity, long daylight, and good air quality to recover their health condition). They were also the lodging of choice for wealthy merchants, passing through Madeira by ship on the Atlantic Route.
These manor houses have been usually set in rural or natural environments and follow a very particular architectural style which mixes the local traditional materials with classic British styling details. Quintas typically have beautiful gardens, with paths covered with traditional Madeiran calçadas (pebbles), centuries-old trees, flowers, ponds and swimming pools. The scenery is quiet and romantic; it inspires rest and happiness…
The Madeiran Quintas should not be confused with the mainland Portugal Quintas, however, as the latter are usually employed for large-scale agricultural and livestock production. More recently, though, Quintas also became popularised as wine production houses all along the Douro region.
A Traditional, Intimate Escape…
These hotels are generally well hidden from the main touristic areas; thus, location is also one of their key unique points. This is to say, the daily management of Quinta da Saraiva is quite different from that of a big chain hotel too. The proximity to the customer implies a multifaceted nature of Quinta da Saraiva’s small team. For them, a single day can commonly mean operating on widely different areas – from serving breakfast, to guided walks with guests to the village of Câmara de Lobos, taking care of animals, doing maintenance work, working at the reception, or preparing the pool area for a Madeira wine tasting workshop as the sun sets over the valley.
It is precisely this ability of being involved in so many different activities that make the small team’s days special and tailored towards creating a memorable experience for all their guests.
Perhaps as a result of this, the feedback given by guests to the hotel is also very personal and intimate. In addition to having so many fantastic online reviews, they occasionally receive handwritten “thank you” notes from their departing guests which they proudly display in the kitchen. “We love to hear and learn from our guests,” says Juan Daniel Rodrigues, the CEO of Quinta da Saraiva. “Their feedback also allows us to make small and constant improvements on the overall Quinta da Saraiva experience.”
One may come to the conclusion that, at Quinta da Saraiva many values that we lose in the increasingly crowded population, technology, fast lifestyle and traditionalism gradually come to life. After all, we long for these nowadays, don’t we?
A Sustainable Approach
With regards to our immediate environment, though, the Quinta also place special attention to bring positive change towards Câmara de Lobos and Madeira island. “We run a completely self-sustainable operation, by heating our water with solar panels, offering a free electric vehicle charging station, incorporating our daily produce into meals, reusing all our animal waste for fertilising our plantation, among other recommended practices,” says Rodrigues. “We even carefully choose our external suppliers in a conscious effort to truly become a carbon neutral operation.”
Elegance, Al Fresco Dinners, Gourmet Meals and Madeiran Wine
The interior of Quinta da Saraiva followed a carefully curated process to selectively display pieces that would accentuate the history, elegance, and beauty of the property while offering a modern and comfortable setting. Mrs. Graciela Rodrigues Figueira, a descendant of Quinta da Saraiva, was the visionary in charge of ensuring that each room offers a personalised decoration while still maintaining the essence of the property. This is embodied by the traditional, dark-colored wooden furniture, bright and colourful wallpapers, and accompanying curated art and photographs catered to each room name.
Although Quinta da Saraiva has only come to life as a boutique hotel in November 2019, their short existence has been filled with memorable moments. “Our inauguration featured more than 300 guests for the main event, together with a beautiful reception with music, media, and government representatives,” says Rodrigues. They have created an al fresco dinner series, with exclusive, gourmet meals prepared in a tasteful setting under their beautiful vineyards. “We have also hosted one of Madeira’s main orchestras for their annual Christmas concert as they played in our pool terrace for the enjoyment of our valley neighbours thanks to favourable acoustics. We have hosted international fashion shows covered in the press. And all this, during the toughest year in hospitality for the whole industry… we challenge ourselves to do even more in the immediate future.”
Câmara de Lobos
It is no secret that 2020 has been the most challenging moment for the hospitality industry in recent memory. All hotels around the world have struggled to adapt to the new normal of minimal traveling, fear, and restrictions. Even though the global situation was very challenging, Juan Daniel Rodrigues says the industry has nonetheless proven to be incredibly resilient, and hoteliers all over the world have worked to ensure that beyond offering a memorable experience, guests’ health and safety is always the top priority.
However, putting aside the global situation, Quinta da Saraiva is one of the first (and few) hotels to have been built in Câmara de Lobos – perhaps proportionally the largest yet most underdeveloped Madeiran city in terms of premium accommodation. However, don’t let that intimidate you. They are the closest rural hotel to the capital city of Funchal – just a 7-minute drive from downtown. “Ever since the beginning, our mission has also been to bring the attention and visibility that Câmara de Lobos deserves – the place of origin of the Figueira family but also an iconic Madeiran city famous for its wine, espetadas, fantastic hardworking people, and even Sir Winston Churchill.”
Historically, Quinta da Saraiva has been known as a casa da rochinha which is Portuguese for the “House on the Rock”. Situated on top of a giant boulder overlooking the Câmara de Lobos Valley, they offer one of the most beautiful views out of all hotels in the island – especially as you enjoy the sunset from their jacuzzi with a glass of Madeira wine in hand.
Juan Daniel Rodrigues adds that they are also connected to the beautiful pedestrian walkways of Câmara de Lobos which follow the levadas or waterways which are used to irrigate the island. “We always recommend our guests to continue down on the Caminho da Saraiva all the way to the Câmara de Lobos city center – truly a unique walk reminiscent of southern Italy.”
Authentic, Local Experiences
There are a variety of truly local and authentic experiences guests can enjoy while staying at Quinta da Saraiva. “As an agrotourism hotel, all our guests are welcome to join our daily agricultural activities in our plantation led by our groundskeeper Mr. Luis,” remarks Rodrigues. Guests are welcome to participate in the irrigation of their banana plantations, or even contribute towards herb and vegetable gardens. “Closer towards August and September, as we get ready to harvest our grapes, there are plenty of tools to go around for those who want to become a true Madeiran!”
They also take pride in sponsoring local arts and culture, which is why you will also find throughout the property a curated display of artwork by prominent Madeiran artists. On a more gastronomical note, perhaps the best way to discover a destination’s traditions is through the stomach. “We always offer a wide range of local products such as tropical fruits, honeycakes, Madeira wine, and workshops about Madeiran cuisine and drinks at our bar.”
Last but not least, Quinta da Saraiva respects and observes all Madeiran holidays and traditions. Various displays will be seasonally visible during our main living room such as the famous “lapinhas” which celebrate Christmas with a nativity scene built in the form of a staircase.
When we ask Juan Daniel Rodrigues what he enjoys the most about living in Madeira, he underlines Madeira is not only home but also his favourite place in the whole world, and adds: “One must highlight Madeira’s mild climate throughout the year, the welcoming hospitality from the locals, the beautiful and unparalleled natural landscapes, and the overall safety of the island.”
Even though Madeira is small, its mountainous area allows for constant exploration and discovery – a week is not enough to cover all the must-sees! (especially if you count the smaller beach paradise island of Porto Santo). “The ability to combine the mountain and the sea, the diversity of activities (radical, cultural, gastronomical, and leisure) and the strong sense of interaction between society and tourists, is something unique and which is difficult to encounter anywhere else in the world” Rodrigues points out.
Manager Roberto Caldeira confesses that many guests have asked him throughout his career about where he personally likes to travel when he has to go on holiday – for a change. Roberto’s answer is always the same: it’s hard to pick a place when you have Madeira as your backyard! And if travel does call, Madeira is conveniently located close one flight away from most European capitals.
A Nation of Family and Friendships
Quinta da Saraiva has always been a family home, and Juan Daniel Rodrigues admits it was extremely important to preserve this feeling. “We want our guests to feel they belong and are welcomed at our table – this is the Saraiva experience.”
The desire to preserve culture, past and traditions is of high importance at the Quinta, which undoubtedly brings to mind the following Portuguese word: saudade. The word best translates into English as a deep emotional stage of nostalgic longing for and absent of something or someone that one loves. However, there is another phrase that Quinta da Saraiva wants you to know: “não há gente como a gente” which is a famously typical Madeiran saying used to say “there are no other people like our people.”
“Madeirans are a nation of adventurers, hard workers, and world travelers – but above all, a nation of family and friendships,” says Juan Daniel Rodrigues. “And at Quinta da Saraiva, we want our guests to also be como a gente, like our people, and belong to this beautiful family of island dwellers who are correct in claiming that they live in the pearl of the Atlantic.”
Quinta da Saraiva is part of a new and permanent trend in tourism: the boutique experience. They cater to those who seek for smaller hotels that can offer truly authentic experiences – a more memorable way to enjoy and discover the destination.
As for the next phase, they have already secured a plot of land adjacent to the hotel to begin an expansion of Quinta da Saraiva II.