Madeira to digital nomads: Come work with us
(CNN) – Places like Bali, Berlin and Lisbon are the top lists of the best places in the world for digital nomads to work remotely while living well – destinations that draw a global community of location-independent souls with Wi-Fi so powerful is like the espresso drinks and A lifestyle with an attractive quality-to-cost ratio.But if a native from Lisbon, Portugal has something to do with it, a tiny archipelago dubbed Europe’s answer to Hawaii could be the next big thing in remote working.
And by and large, Gonçalo Hall – a remote work consultant who helps build a new digital nomad community in a tiny village in Portugal’s Madeira Region – actually means small.
“With a lot of people leaving big cities, we wanted a village in a smaller place where people could make deeper connections than a city,” said Hall, 33, of Digital Nomads Madeira Islands.
When the pilot project opens on February 1st with the support of the Madeira Regional Government and StartupMadeira in the red-roofed village of Ponta do Sol, up to 100 remote workers can be accommodated in a common work area and in the surrounding village houses. Plans to expand to other buildings – both in the village and elsewhere on the island – are also being planned.
As with all things Covid-19, conditions are constantly changing. In response to the country’s dramatically worsening Covid-19 outbreak, Portugal extended its lockdown on January 29 and closed the land border with Spain. Citizens are not allowed to travel abroad for 15 days.
Plans for launch are underway, and project organizers are waiting to see how things turn out: when they build it, will remote workers come?
Ponta do Sol is a village with around 8,200 inhabitants on the island of Madeira.
© Digital Travel Couple / Courtesy Madeira
Find more freedom and follow passions
So far, around 75 digital nomads have committed themselves to be among the first to start their work in the picturesque village of around 8,200 inhabitants in a green valley on the southwest coast of Madeira, which is surrounded by a pebble beach.
Hall, who is in Madeira and has already met some of the digital nomads, said there are expected to be around 40 on February 1st, including Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Ireland and the Czech Republic.
The co-working hub is located in the John Dos Passos cultural center, and accommodations in 40 different houses as well as a hotel in Ponta do Sol have already been secured for the remote workers, said Carlos Soares Lopes, CEO of StartupMadeira, a company incubator, who is involved in the project that supports companies in the islands.
And more than 2,000 people from countries like South Africa, the United States and Nigeria have shown interest through the website, Hall said. They’ll then be added to a Slack community where they can get tips on housing, find potential roommates, stay updated on local Covid-19 restrictions, and get other tips.
The American Jenn Parr, who lives with her husband in Porto on the Portuguese mainland (and has been able to travel to Madeira since arriving from an EU country), has registered as part of Madeira’s digital nomad village and arrived in Madeira on Sunday.
The 37-year-old early childhood, mindful educator from Maryland said she was “not a big city dweller” and loved the island’s nature and hiking, mild weather (winter highs hover in the low 60s), and the opportunity to socialize with other independents be attracted to workers.
“I like the co-working space,” she said. “It can be inspiring to meet people who are entrepreneurs or who have found ways to create more freedom in their lives and follow their passions.”
Parr and her husband interviewed potential roommates they met through the project’s Facebook and Slack groups to share a three-bedroom apartment between Funchal (Madeira’s capital) and Ponta do Sol, which costs € 1,800 (approx. $ 2,200) per month.
Gabe Maruşca and Ralu Enea are considering joining the cooperating community.
Ralu Enea / Gabe Marusca
Gabe Marușca and Ralu Enea, a Romanian couple who have been working remotely in Madeira since September 2020, recently learned about the nomadic village and are considering joining forces to meet other remote workers.
After jumping between places like Bali, Cyprus, Malta and Spain, Marușca said the 34-mile-long island, long popular with sun-hungry UK tourists, is “the full package”.
Marușca listed mountain and sea access, affordability, friendly locals, and “lightning-fast internet” among Madeira’s perks, in addition to its manageable size, which he believes helps fellowship and linger longer than larger places, where he’s been.
“We don’t want to spend a month in one place and then move – it’s super exhausting,” said the 36-year-old founder of Digital Finest, who shares a three-bedroom apartment with sea views in Funchal with Enea € 1,200 per month.
Small place, big dream
Hall, the advisor helping launch the project, said the idea of starting a digital nomad village on the island, best known for its fortified wine of the same name, hit him during a visit in September 2020.
After traveling and working extensively around the world in 2018 and 2019 while chasing waterfalls in Bali and trying street food in Thailand, he attended Madeira for the first time since childhood for a work conference.
“The landscapes are like something I’ve never seen before,” Hall said of the archipelago, which consists of four islands (only two of which are inhabited) and is north of the Canary Islands in the Atlantic, closer to Morocco than the European one Mainland.
“I thought, ‘I know the digital nomad community, why don’t people come here?’ “”
The project organizers have set up rental properties for prospective workers in and around the village.
© Joris van Drooge / Courtesy Madeira
Ponta do Sol has been selected to test the project, which is expected to expand to other areas around the island, said StartupMadeira’s Lopes.
The common room will be prepared with space for only 22 desks and chairs inside (some covered outdoor seating is also available). In accordance with the island’s social distancing and Covid-19 rules, employees will use the space in shifts and have access to strong WiFi, a printer and the all-important coffee maker, Hall said.
The hope for the project, even before it expands to other areas, is that digital nomads will spread across the island to live and gamble, putting money into a local economy affected by the pandemic that is “poses major challenges” for locals whose livelihoods depend on tourism, Lopes said.
During the first phase of rollout, from February 1st to June 30th, there is no fee to use the shared workspace and be part of the community, although a minimum stay of one month is required.
Networking events, skills sharing seminars on topics such as cryptocurrency, yoga classes and hiking trips are already being offered as group activities for the community.
There are no plans to accuse people of being part of the community in the future, Lopes said, adding that the goal of the project is to prepare the local community for the growth of new businesses in the niche market.
Madeira is known for its rugged beauty.
© Francisco Correia / Courtesy Madeira
Collaborate – but first you have to be there
Residents of the European Union and Schengen countries are allowed to enter Madeira, but should check with the authorities in their home countries for tour guides and be prepared to present a negative Covid-19 PCR test for arrival on the island.
For now, most Americans who want to do more than just Slack to join the digital nomad village will have to wait as unnecessary trips to Portugal and the European Union are still restricted due to Covid-19.
“Although there are currently many countries with travel restrictions to Portugal, such as the US, Canada and Brazil, we welcome the registration of these nationalities as we believe that they cannot currently travel to Madeira but can already see our island know and plan their future, “said Lopes.
Locals greet the view
Lopes said the response from local landlords, businesses and even lawyers on the island has been “very positive” so far. Many showed interest in being part of the initiative by adjusting their property prices to the monthly rates for the digital nomads and making long-term deals on rental car prices.
For a fee, island attorneys can also help digital nomads stay longer on the island by guiding them through applications for non-tourist visas, including Portugal’s Golden Visa and D7 Residence Permit.
Luis Vilhena, a Portuguese architect who has lived in Madeira since 1989 (he arrived for a six month job and never left) said once you are here the island is easy to love.
“The landscapes are inspiring, it’s safe – you can swim in the ocean in the morning and hike in the mountains that afternoon,” he said. “It’s also close to (mainland) Europe.” The flight from Lisbon takes about 90 minutes.
Madeira offers a range of outdoor activities for workers in their spare time.
Ralu Enea / Gabe Marusca
Ponta do Sol, he said, seems like a natural place for the digital nomad village as it offers easy access to mountain biking, sailing, surfing, and other adventure activities.
Francisco Fontes, who is from Madeira and recently returned to the island with his Italian girlfriend when his financial job was out of the way in the US, said Ponta do Sol, with its winding streets, tiled roofs and pebble beach, was like “the villages” along the Italian Amalfi Coast. “
“It’s very small. When you think of a nomad village, it really is,” he said. “A place where you would get out and meet the other people from the project.”
Fontes said his grandmother, who was from Ponta do Sol and no longer lives, wanted to see new life breathed into her village.
“She always said she’d love to see the city’s cinema come back to life like it was in the 1930s when her father built it,” he said.
“I think this type of initiative can really bring back a little of what Ponta do Sol was originally built for,” he said. “And I haven’t heard anyone say anything bad about it either, so that’s always a good sign.”
Top photo: © Francisco Correia / Courtesy of Madeira. Terry Ward is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Florida.