seen from afar, The municipality of Ponta do Sol looks as compact and picturesque as a postcard. There is a small roundabout in the centre, a petrol station, a tiny shopping complex and a cluster of modest buildings with terracotta roof tiles. Undulating green slopes with banana, palm and pine trees fan out behind, houses are scattered between the hills. All of this is surrounded by dramatic escarpments and is given a subtropical lush by the many small waterfalls gurgling out of the cliff face and filling centuries-old irrigation channels. When Gonçalo Hall drove through the area for the first time in September 2020, the words came to mind: “What the fuck is this.”
Ponta do Sol is located on the south coast of Madeira, the main island of the Portuguese archipelago of the same name. Hall had visited Madeira once as a child, but he didn’t remember it being so beautiful, so wild. Now, as he put it in an interview, he sees the place “through the eyes of a digital nomad.” He had returned to help organize a remote work conference in Madeira’s capital, Funchal. The day after his long drive through the countryside, he spoke to the Minister of Economic Affairs and asked bluntly: Why are you sleeping on digital nomads?
Hall, 35, is tall and stocky, with blonde hair, blue eyes, a cheerful demeanor and a penchant for chanting in hashtag mantras like “Life is good” or “Be happy make millions.” He grew up in Lapa, Lisbon’s poshest neighborhood, but now has an apartment in Ponta do Sol with his wife Catarina: Lisbon, he complained when we first met, had become too much of a melting pot. Hall had long dreamed of finding a lifestyle where he could show up to work in flip-flops and shorts instead of the suits and ties worn by his family’s bankers. In early 2019, the couple moved to Bali for two months, where Hall landed his first remote deals, including a marketing gig for a company called Remote-how, amassing an extensive contact list in the process. Then they went back to Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Bali, spending a month or two each there before returning to Europe.
Back in Lisbon after less than a year of digital nomad life, Hall organized conferences on remote work and digital nomadism, proclaiming himself an expert on both. Landing in Madeira, he took in the low cost of living, fast internet speeds, surfable beaches and Instagram-worthy beauty – the pillars of digital nomad marketing. He recognized something else in the pastoral pace. A small nomadic project he had attended just before arriving in the archipelago of rural Spain had impressed him; it was charming, more intimate than the busy urban hubs he had experienced before.
Established hotspots of digital nomads, such as Chiang Mai, Thailand, or Canggu, Bali, tend to be bubbles where wealthy and mostly white foreigners congregate in cafes, coworking spaces, and other businesses that cater to their every need and comfort in English. If he built a destination for digital nomads in the small town of Madeira, Hall thought, things would be different. Migrant workers could live alongside locals like locals: they could live in the same neighborhoods, eat at the same restaurants, and meet at gatherings coordinated by a “community manager.” Hall decided to present his idea to the Government of Madeira.
It was an easy sale. Tourism to the archipelago had plummeted due to Covid-19 travel bans that had locked down travelers from outside Europe’s Schengen area, and so Hall framed digital nomads as a cure. Portugal’s urban centers were already littered with teleworkers, but Madeira, less than a two-hour flight from Lisbon, was still under the radar. High-earning professionals could pour money into local businesses, Hall told regional officials. All they needed to welcome them was a welcoming infrastructure and a ready-made network to land on. If he built it, Hall promised, they would come.
https://www.wired.com/story/digital-nomad-village-madeira-portugal/ Welcome to Digital Nomadland | WIRED