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Madeira: the road less travelled

Posted by Jonathan Broom on 24 May 2018
Related property: Encosta Cabo Girao
Madeira: the road less travelled

Holidaymakers at Encosta Cabo Girão in the south of Madeira, atop Europe’s second-highest sea cliff, could be forgiven for staying close to home. There’s so much to see and do that’s right on the doorstep: from whale-watching boat trips, to excursions to picture-postcard seaside towns such as Câmara de Lobos, to exploring nearby Funchal, the island’s fascinating and history-filled capital (also, as it happens, filled with a selection of top-notch bars and restaurants). And much more.

But Madeira is a magical island, and to stay in the south is to miss some of the magic. The centre of the island – Madeira’s hinterland – deserves a blog of its own, and will get one in due course; but Madeira’s north coast also awaits your pleasure – and given that the island is fairly small (about twice the size of the Isle of Wight) it’s only about an hour’s drive away.

That’s if you follow the most direct route. Take the VR1 (which runs just to the north of Encosta Cabo Girão) heading west (away from Câmara de Lobos) and through the Tùnel Ribeira Brava. Shortly after exiting the tunnel, turn right onto the VE4. Heading north you pass the Pául da Serra (pictured below), the ‘roof’ of Madeira, on your left – a huge, wild, watery plateau.

After another long tunnel and some squiggly bits, the road will eventually deposit you at São Vicente, on the northern coast.

In fairness there are other roads you could take, which would get you to the same place but take longer. You could go all the way round to the west, with the sea to your left; or all the way round to the east, with the sea (obviously) to your right. But if you did so hoping for spectacular sea views all the way, you’d be disappointed. The island is so mountainous, and road-building so difficult, that ‘getting you there’ has to be the priority. That’s not to say that the views aren’t stunning – they are, pretty much everywhere; Madeira’s vertiginous landscape is amazing. And there is a stretch of coastal highway to the south and east (the VR1 between Caniço and Santa Cruz). But generally the island’s roads simply go where they can.

Except in the north, where the VE2 from São Vicente to Porto Moniz offers uninterrupted, and at times jaw-dropping, views of the mighty Atlantic Ocean.

São Vicente (above) is worth a stop. In the heart of the pretty village you’ll find the Indigenous Garden, a half-acre featuring dozens of species of indigenous flora, including many laurels and other, cliff-dwelling, plantlife. The village is also famous for its volcanic caves, a network that stretches for over a kilometre and is open to the public.

A stop at Seixal (above) will allow you to explore the rocky coast and take a walk along the dock to admire the huge cliffs and waterfalls to both sides of the little village. Other features include the Praia do Porto do Seixal Beach, a black sand beach of volcanic origin

and the Piscinas Naturais do Seixal natural pools (above), filled at high tide (or stormy weather) by the waters of the Atlantic. You can swim in them, but at your own risk as they are both rocky, and unattended.

A little further along, Ribeira da Janela (above) is a small, beautiful village at the mouth of the river that runs from the Pául da Serra plateau all the way to the sea – one of the longest ravines on the island.

The final staging post along the route, Porto Moniz (above) is a charming little town perched on the dramatic north-western tip of Madeira, a region comprised of towering mountains and views over endless deep blues of the Atlantic Ocean. Here, nature has built its own swimming pools – more ‘user-friendly’ than those at Seixal. The black basalt lava pools are regarded as Porto Moniz’s star attraction. There are two sets: completely natural pools that overlook the Ilheu Mole island:

and others (above) that have been converted into a dramatic (and more swimmer-friendly) lido, complete with lifeguards, changing facilities et al. Clearly there are swimming pools galore back at Encosta Cabo Girão; but this is surely worth a dip. A fitting finale to an adventurous trip.

Of course if you’re feeling very adventurous, you could avoid all of the above and instead turn left at São Vicente onto the ER101 to Ponta Delgada.

That faint line you can see in the picture above, towards the bottom of the picture and passing beneath the waterfall?

That’s the road, that is.

Jonathan Broom

Jonathan Broom

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