Almost free!

Sabor a Fado

We are almost free. In a double sense: we are almost free to live the life we were used to and almost free as in Madeira is almost free of covid-19.

Let’s start with the latter: the last two weeks showed no new cases of corona-infection, and every day more people that were infected – and suffered mild symptoms at home, being monitored by the IASAúde (Madeira Health Services) – are declared recovered after being tested negative. The relief is great in two ways again. People have been very scared, understandably, as the health care system is small on Madeira, and has limited means. Any serious outbreak of the covid-19 virus would undoubtedly have lead to disaster, as it would not have been able to cope with large numbers of people in need of intensive care.

People who felt very much imprisoned by the ‘stay at home’ rule can’t tell you how happy they are to be able to go out again for some fun. Quite honestly, we have had our worries at the beginning of the outbreak worldwide, but gradually we saw that the health authorities here on Madeira had things quite well in hand and a massive outbreak did not materialise. On top of that, we felt quite safe at home and in the neighbourhood, as we live in a relatively isolated spot in the Southwest. Still, when the news came that all shops, bars and restaurants were to open again, and the beaches were no longer off-limits, we felt a sense of return to normalcy. A relative sense of normalcy, as the shops continue to practice a maximum number of visitors at any one time, and mouth masks are compulsory in shops or other indoor public spaces.

walk in company

We really have been missing our friends. With the number of infected people decreasing daily and the restrictions gradually lifting, we decided to pick up our weekly walking routine. Now, there is one very famous walk in the Paúl da Serra area up in the mountains, called ‘Levada das 25 Fontes’, the Levada of the 25 sources. I have never been there, as there is always at least a dozen tourist buses parked at the starting point. No need to explain that you have to ‘walk like an Egyptian’ on the narrow footpaths along the Levada with the hordes of tourists doing this walk. No better time than to try it now, when there is no tourist on the island.

So the rendezvous was last week Saturday, May 16. The weather did not seem to cooperate though, and when we met up at the Rabaçal parking lot, freezing wind (5 degrees C) and thick fog made the walk too dangerous and certainly too unpleasant for that day. However, seeing all our friends again was warming us where the weather did the opposite. And honestly, though against all covid-rules, when one after another came to give me a mega-hug, I did not have it in me to step back. Fortunately, every single one of my friends had been very strict during the social isolation period, so I did not feel uncomfortable. But an icy wind reminded us we had to go somewhere else quickly, so plan B was quickly made: the much loved ‘Levada do Moinho‘ in the Ponta do Sol area, much lower and clearly on the more protected south side of Madeira. That paid off: out came the sun and up went the temperature, so we had a lovely walk, not very challenging, just right to get us back into the walking routine. One of the routines when walking is having a nice poncha or two after the walk, but the bars were still closed as they were only opening again on Monday. Good thing we had established a supply line with our favourite Poncha place Bar Formiga, so we brought some perfect Poncha in a cooler in the car. Another friend who could not walk today had invited us to his home in the Ponta do Sol area, a perfect setting for a nice poncha and some nice food and wine, courtesy of our host Peter (yes, another one), We all felt ecstatic seeing each other again, and we decided to give the 25 Fonts another go next week. That would have been today, but that turned out unpractical for some of us, so Monday is the day. The forecast is good, fortunately.

First day out in town

It was a promise. Dinner at Sabor a Fado, the first day they would be allowed to open their doors again. A promise made to our friend Alexandra Sousa, owner and Fadista (Fado singer). Of course, all performing artists are suffering enormously because having no tourists means having no income, and that goes for many bars and restaurants if they depend on tourism. We can’t support them all, but we can support some of them, so obviously we support our friends first. We decided to go to Funchal early, to combine our evening out with some necessary Funchal shopping. We had booked a table for four, as we were dining in the company of friends Jaap-Willem and Yvon with whom we hade already spent some quarantine time.


We met up with them at six, in the municipal park in the centre of Funchal. The open-air café was open again, but there weren’t all that many people about. We already noticed the streets were pretty empty, a reasonable number of people shopping, but street cafés still devoid of visitors. The open-air café in the park only had us, and soon we were enjoying some drinks and the beautiful scenery the park has to offer. After our first glass, a small TV crew arrived, obviously scanning the park for people to interview. We were the only people about, so it wasn’t a big surprise that we were asked if they could film and ask some questions. As it was for the Portuguese station CM Canal 8, I was the obvious victim language-wise. The interview was mostly along the lines of ‘did we feel safe and confident going out and enjoying drinks in public again’. obviously we did, and we do, and we had fun seeing ourselves back on the big TV screen behind the bar after a couple of minutes.

Free to have a drink in the park!

Sabor a Fado

But the main event tonight was dinner at Sabor a Fado. The small restaurant, that normally offers space for some 32-34 people, now only had tables for up to 18, spread out over the space to allow for 2 meters distance between the tables. Against all odds, we had hoped not to be the only guests, but alas, we were. That did not spoil our evening though. The crew, Alexandra and her daughter Silvia, both singers, and son Pedro, the best guitarist of the island, gave us their best and we enjoyed a private and very intimate Fado show. Of course, they had hoped for more guests, but it looks like people have to get used to going out again after so many weeks of confinement. The fact that this was a Monday did not help either.

Whatever it was, soon the excitement of being back at work again, and the love for music, took over. We love their music, and the fact the singing crew was smaller than normal did not reduce the quality of the Fado. Nor of the food, which was excellent. We noticed that Alexandra and her family did not waste their time while their place had to remain closed. We marvelled at the substantial renewal of their repertoire, which by no means was limited before the covid-19 problems started. We spent a lovely evening, even if it was only the four of us dining. We enjoyed great Fados. As opposed to what most people think, Fado isn’t always about lost loves and dead sailors. There are a lot of cheerful Fados, like Amalia Rodrigues’ Fado XuXu, and Alexandra and Silvia sang several that made us smile.

But this evening, there was one that we really could not listen to and still keep our eyes dry. All too soon, our beautiful evening came to a close. The restaurants may be open again, but the park house where we always park our car, still closes at 11 PM, so we had to leave earlier than we normally would have. But when we started to prepare to leave, out came a bottle and some shots of Madeira wine were served. Alexandra sat down next to our table and sang a Fado we did not yet know: Veio a Saudade. Saudade is a word that doesn’t let itself be translated. Longing comes close, nostalgia as well, but Saudade really is… Saudade. The title can be translated into “the longing came’. But it’s still a poor translation. It is a good-bye song that really, really will make anyone tear up, even if you can’t understand the lyrics. We can, and it was just as well there was no-one else around or we would have been tonight’s laughing stock. Two adult men tearing up over a song. Anyway, have a look at the lyrics and listen to the Fado, although not by Alexandra as she hasn’t had this one recorded.

Já estou sentindo o frio da despedida
Pouco a pouco a minha vida
Vai perdendo claridade
Já estou sentindo a amargura dessa hora
Ainda não foste embora
Já estou sentindo saudade

Já estou sentindo a distância dos teus passos
O calor dos teus abraços
Já pouco me aquece agora
Teus olhos frios quando se encontram nos meus

Já desenham o adeus
De quem está p’ra ir embora

Os ventos vão mudar
Os dias vão passar desfeitos em saudade
Do banco da tristeza
Já vejo com clareza chegar a tempestade
O Sol vai-se afastando
A noite vem chegando trazendo a solidão
A neve vai surgir
A terra vai sentir a flor cair ao chão

I already feel the chill of farewell
little by little, my life
will lose it’s clarity
I already feel the bitterness of this hour
You haven’t gone away yet
but I feel the longing

I already feel the distance of your footsteps
The warmth of your embrace
can hardly warm me now
Your cold eyes, when they meet mine

are shaping the good-bye
from the one who is about to leave

The winds will change
the days will pass, distorted by longing
from the bench of sadness
I can clearly see the storm rising
The sun is going away
The night closes in, bringing loneliness
The snow will come
The earth will feel the flower dropping to the ground

Should you be able to go to Sabor a Fado now, go. Make sure and ask Alexandra to sing this Fado as it embodies everything the Fado is about.

(addition on January 18, 2024: In spite of the difficult times, Sabor a Fado is still there, and last night, Alexandra did indeed sit down at our table again to sing this emotional fado. And we did indeed tear up again. However, she did not remember it when i said the title ‘veio a saudade´, she did when her son Pedro called it by its first phrase: ¨Já estou sentindo o frio da despedida¨. Make sure to ask her that when next you go there.)

free to visit usual places

The rest of this week, we enjoyed our usual sundowners in some of our usual places. Of course, for a perfect Poncha it can’t be anywhere else than Bar Formiga, but we also visited Bar the Pedra in Paúl do Mar, our preferred seaside bar. We found the place packed on Wednesday, and strangely, we felt it was too crowded to our liking considering the covid-19 situation. We decided we will try and go there on quieter days like Monday or perhaps Tuesday. For busier days, we have found that a nice spot in Madalena do Mar, the simple but very friendly Bar Dona Maria is a good place to go.

So what’s next? More freedom of travelling!

The severe measures that were taken by the regional government are gradually lifted or made less severe. Every day now, there is more news about how the near future will look like. Madeira is in desperate need of incoming tourists, but, as was made clear several times, not at all cost. At first, it was decided that the quarantine rule, confining anyone travelling to the island to a hotel room for 14 days would remain in place. But then, someone travelling to the Azores, where the same rule applied, challenged the authorities for keeping him in quarantine after the state of emergency was lifted, thus illegally depriving him of his constitutional right of freedom. And what do you know: the court ruled against the government. As this would be the same in Madeira, the government decided after some growling and some yelling that they would alter the quarantine rule: first it was stated that anyone travelling to Madeira in possession of a recognised negative covid-19 test would be exempt from quarantine. Those who would arrive without such a attest could have a test taken on arrival at the cost of €150. But before this rule came into effect, it was changed. Now, you can have a free corona test upon arrival as of the 1st of July. It looks like the government understands that putting potential tourists off travelling to Madeira is not a good idea. Meanwhile, several airlines have announced resuming flights to Madeira, and the 60% rule, demanding that only 60% of any plane’s capacity is used, is dropped as of June 1st. Face masks will be mandatory when travelling, which seems a small price to pay if it allows you to travel at a more reasonable price to a virtually corona-free island. Today, finally, the health authorities announced with relief, that the first incubation period of two weeks has passed without any new covid-19 cases. A hopeful message, more so in the light of the daily decrease of existing covid-19 cases. The latest figures were published yesterday: only 23 active cases left, and they are all accounted for and in isolation, monitored by the health authorities.

It looks like you can all gradually start making plans to come to Madeira again. We are almost free of the virus and almost free to do as we used to. Almost, but frankly, life is heaven here compared to many other countries at present.


By Peter Groen

Peter was born in Amsterdam in 1949. He has a history in PR and copywriting. Now, part time resident of the Island of Madeira of over 10 years, he writes about Madeira, its culture, its overwhelming nature, its food and drink, and about everything concerning travel to and on this beautiful island.


  1. Another great article Peter. I feel like I’ve spent an intimate night out, good company and Fado. Thank you and very much appreciate the translation.
    It’s been a luxury to spend our days without the hustle and bustle of the tourist trade here on the island but you are right, Madeira is fed by their passion for the island. And so, bit by bit, under a watchful eye, daily life will again resume. I feel blessed to have done my isolation in paradise.
    Thanks again. ~Amy

    1. Thank you, Amy. You are absolutely right in both ways, we were blessed to have been able to spend what was hopefully the worst of it in this little paradise without the tourists, but tourism is Madeira ‘s lifeblood so we do need them here. July will tell if things will be kept under control.

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