Madeira: Places to Explore

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Porto Santo

Beachcombers have long loved the tiny, parched, and barren island whose golden beach is famous for its therapeutic properties. By packing themselves in the sand, which runs over 10 km (6 miles) along the entire south coast, locals cure their rheumatic pains and speed the healing of skin complaints or minor injuries.

The island's simple salâo houses are centuries old. Their unique roofs are made of salâo, a sandy clay noted for its strong adherent properties. This amazing roofing material fits extraordinarily well into the Porto Santo rural landscape. The houses are cool in summer because when the weather is very dry, cracks open up in the salâo, letting the air circulate. In winter, this material absorbs the rain. The price one pays for this natural convenience is labor: the roof needs to be replaced every year.

A huddle of tidy, whitewashed cottages and town houses with terra-cotta tile roofs, Vila Baleira—the island's main town—has a park containing an idealized statue of Christopher Columbus. Before gaining fame and his place in history, he married Isabela Moniz, daughter of Bartolomeu Perestrelo, the first governor of the island, in 1479. She died not long after, at the time of the birth of their son.

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