And by big, Gonçalo Hall – a remote work consultant helping launch a new digital nomad community in a small village in the Portuguese Autonomous Region of Madeira – actually means small.
When the pilot project opens on February 1 with the support of the regional government of Madeira and StartupMadeira in the red-roofed village of Ponta do Sol, it will be ready to accommodate up to 100 remote workers in a coworking space and housing. from the surrounding village. . And extension projects to other buildings – both in the village and elsewhere on the island – are also underway.
As with anything related to Covid-19, conditions are constantly changing. On January 29, in response to the dramatically escalating Covid-19 epidemic in the country, Portugal extended its lockdown and closed the land border with Spain. Citizens cannot travel abroad for 15 days.
Launch plans are moving forward and that leaves the project organizers waiting to see how things turn out: if they build it, will the teleworkers come?
Ponta do Sol is a village of about 8,200 inhabitants on the island of Madeira.
© Digital Travel Couple / Courtesy Visit Madeira
Find more freedom and follow passions
So far, around 75 digital nomads have pledged to be among the first to start working in the quaint village of around 8,200 people sandwiched in a verdant valley on Madeira’s southwest coast bordered by a beach. pebbles.
Hall, who is in Madeira and has already met some of the digital nomads, said around 40 are expected to be there on February 1, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Poland, l Ireland and the Czech Republic among the nationalities. represented.
The coworking center is located inside 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 remote workers, said Carlos Soares Lopes, CEO of StartupMadeira, a company. incubator involved in the project which offers support to companies based on the islands.
American Jenn Parr, living with her husband in Porto on the Portuguese mainland (and able to travel to Madeira since arriving from an EU country), has signed up to be part of the digital nomadic village of Madeira and arrived in Madeira on Sunday.
The conscious early childhood educator, 37, from Maryland, said she was “not a big city dweller” and was drawn to the island’s nature and hiking, the mild weather (winter peaks soar in the low 60s) and the chance to be in the company of other independents. workers.
“I like the coworking space,” she says. “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 located between Funchal (the capital of Madeira) and Ponta do Sol which costs € 1,800 (around $ 2,200). ) per month.
Gabe Marușca and Ralu Enea plan to join the coworking community.
Ralu Enea / Gabe Marusca
Gabe Marușca and Ralu Enea, a Romanian couple who have been working remotely in Madeira since September 2020, recently heard about the nomadic village and are considering joining other remote workers.
After jumping between places such as Bali, Cyprus, Malta and Spain, Marușca said the 34-mile-long island, popular with sun-seeking UK tourists, offered “the full package”.
Marușca listed among the advantages of Madeira the access to mountains and the ocean, affordability, friendly locals and “super-fast internet”, in addition to its manageable size, which he said is more conducive looking for community and persists longer than the big places it has been to.
Small place, big dream
Hall, the consultant who is helping to launch the project, said the idea of creating a digital nomadic village on the island best known for its eponymous fortified wine struck him during a visit in September 2020.
After spending much of 2018 and 2019 traveling the world and working while pursuing stunts in Bali and enjoying street food in Thailand, he found himself visiting Madeira for a working conference for the first time since he was a child.
“The landscapes are like something I had never seen before,” Hall said of the archipelago, which is made up of four islands (only two of which are inhabited) and lies just north of the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, closer to Morocco. than the European continent.
“I was like, ‘I know the digital nomad community, why don’t people come here?’ ”
Project organizers lined up rental properties for potential workers in and around the village.
© Joris van Drooge / courtesy Visit Madeira
Ponta do Sol has been selected to test the project, which is expected to expand to other areas around the island, said Lopes of StartupMadeira.
The shared workspace is being prepared with room for just 22 desks and chairs inside to start (with covered outdoor seating also available). In accordance with social distancing and the island’s Covid-19 rules, colleagues will use the team space, with access to strong Wi-Fi, a printer and the all-important coffee machine, Hall said.
The hope for the project, even before expanding to other regions, is that digital nomads will spread around the island to live and play, pumping money into a local economy affected by the pandemic which presented “great challenges” for locals whose livelihoods depend on tourism, Lopes said.
During its initial deployment phase, from February 1 to June 30, there will be no charge to use the coworking space and be part of the community, although a minimum stay of one month is required. .
Networking events, skill-sharing seminars on topics such as cryptocurrency, yoga classes, and hikes are already being held as group activities for the community.
There are no plans to charge people to be part of the community in the future, Lopes said, adding that the goal of the project is to prepare the local community to develop new businesses around the niche market.
Madeira is known for its rugged beauty.
© Francisco Correia / courtesy Visit Madeira
Co-working – but you have to get there first
Residents of the European Union and Schengen countries are allowed to enter Madeira, but should check with authorities in their home country for travel advice and be prepared to show a negative Covid-19 PCR test to the ‘arrival on the island.
For now, most US-based Americans who want to join the Digital Nomad Village on more than Slack will have to wait, with non-essential travel to Portugal and the European Union still being limited due to Covid-19.
“While there are many countries with travel restrictions in Portugal at the moment, such as the United States, Canada and Brazil, we welcome entries from these nationalities as we believe that although they may not currently not traveling to Madeira, they can already get to know our island and plan their future, ”said Lopes.
Residents welcome the prospect
Lopes said the reaction from local landlords, businesses and even lawyers on the island has so far been “very positive”, with many expressing interest in being part of the initiative by adjusting the prices of their homes to suit. monthly rates for digital nomads and offering long-term deals. car rental rates.
For a fee, the island’s lawyers can also help digital nomads stay longer on the island by guiding them through applications for non-tourist visas, including the Golden Visa and Portugal’s 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 here the island was easy to love.
“The landscapes are inspiring for sure – you can swim in the sea in the morning and hike in the mountains this afternoon,” he said. “It’s also close to (mainland) Europe.” The flight from Lisbon takes approximately 90 minutes.
Madeira offers a range of outdoor activities for workers in their free time.
Ralu Enea / Gabe Marusca
Ponta do Sol, he said, appears to be a natural place for the digital nomad village with its easy access to mountain biking, sailing, surfing and other adventure activities.
Francisco Fontes, who is originally from Madeira and recently returned to the island with his Italian girlfriend when his finance job in the United States drifted away, said Ponta do Sol, with its winding alleys, rooftops tiled and its pebble beach, looked like “the villages”. along the Italian Amalfi Coast. “
“It’s very small. When you think of a nomadic village, that’s really it,” he says. “A place where you would hang out and meet other people on the project.”
Fontes said her grandmother, who was from Ponta do Sol and is no longer alive, would have liked to see new life breathed into her village.
“She always said she would love to see the city’s cinema come back to life like it did in the 1930s when her father built it,” he said.
“I think that kind of initiative can really bring back a bit of what Ponta do Sol was originally built for,” he said. “And I haven’t heard anyone say anything bad about it either, so it’s always a good sign.”