Our plan for today was to tour the west of the island. I remembered from my previous visit that the roads were narrow, twisting and very steep. Not my idea of a leisurely day out. It is best to go on an organised tour. But which one? There are dozens of companies all offering similar tours but at vastly different prices. Some of them seem too good to be true, and they probably are. One company offered a full day tour for two people for 32 euros. This included a three course lunch with unlimited wine!. The only problem was it was linked to time share and you had to sit through a three hour meeting. No thanks. We chose ‘Pride of Madeira’ and their Island tours by minibus. We found them to be very good.
We headed west out of Funchal on the R1 and our first stop was at Camara de Lobos.
Camara de Lobos (Lair of the Sea-wolves) is a picturesque fishing village where brightly painted boats are drawn up in the sheltered natural harbour.
Winston Churchill came here in 1950 to paint and little seems to have changed since then. The harbour was quiet with just a couple of fishermen tending to their boats. Meanwhile the small square was noisy with locals talking, smoking, playing cards and drinking. The area is also noted for growing sugar cane and the local drink is poncha ( sugar cane brandy)
The mountain road climbs steeply out of Camera de Lobos leading to the headland of Cabo Girao. Here we stopped on the edge of the second highest cliffs in Europe. The sheer cliffs plunge 590m (1900 ft) down to the Atlantic. The views along the coast are spectacular.
A greater sense of exposure can be had by walking out onto the platform with its glass floor. Here you can look straight down the cliff face.
One of the glass panels seemed to have a crack in it, but I suspect it was ‘manufactured’ Strangely there was very little feeling of exposure. It was greater years ago when there was just a handrail.
Heading west, our next destination was Ribeira Brava. The name means ‘wild river’ but today it was more of a trickle. The main attraction was the 16th century church, Sao Bento (St Benedict’s Church)
It contains some of the Islands finest gilded and carved woodwork, plus an elaborate font and painted ceiling. There were signs saying no photography so I did not try although some people chose to ignore them.
Although the ‘wild river’ was just a trickle it is not always so. In 2010 there were serious floods and even today some dredging work was being carried out where the river met the sea. Unlike back home where the rivers have been allowed to silt up and add to the flooding that we have seen in the south-west.
We now headed north to cross the island to Sao Vincente on the north coast. despite the distance being only just over 13 miles this used to be an arduous journey over the twisting mountain roads, but today it is much easier. The Tunel de Encumaeda has been driven through the mountain. At 3086 metres in length it it provides a quick route to the north coast.
Sao Vincente is a pretty village at the centre of which is the church of Igreja Matriz.
The church has a beautiful interior and the painted ceiling depicts scenes of St Vincent.
From Sao Vincente we turned left to join the coastal road. The original corniche road which was more like a ledge cut into the cliff became one way only, from east to west, but even that is now closed due to landslides. We travelled on the main road through several tunnels which deprived you of the views. We passed through Seixal, a wine producing area before dropping down to Porto Moniz.
Porto Moniz is famous for its Lava pools, some natural, some man made where it is possible to swim. Today it was a bit too rough with large breaking waves but the scenery was fantastic, just like a natural infinity pool.
Leaving Porto Moniz we began the steep twisting climb up into the mountains, pausing for a quick photo stop to look back down on Porto Moniz
We were on the high plateau, the Paul de Serra, a bleak area but the starting point for several levada walks. After more narrow twisting roads we descended to the south coast at Ponto do Sol. This was a banana growing area where some of the tastiest bananas are produced. It was then just a short journey back to Funchal.
That evening with my meal I enjoyed a nice bottle of wine produced in Seixal.
A day without wine is like a day without sunshine!