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  • Mar6

    A Road Trip West of Funchal

    March 6, 2019 in Portugal ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    The area west of Funchal is quite dramatic with its high sea cliffs and terraced banana gardens on the side of the mountains. It is so different than the area we were just in, on the east side.

    We did the quick drive to Funchal from Canico and continued on, much slower, on the smaller roads near the coast. The first town we went through was called Camera de Lobos.

    This town is a fishing village where most of Madeira’s 800 fishermen live and work. Every night they leave their houses near the harbour and work at night to catch boneless fish called Espada which is eaten with bananas.
    As I mentioned earlier, every spare bit of land is filled with banana trees.

    Just outside of Camara de Lobos are the high cliffs of Cabo Girao. The driving was slow and windy but the roads were actually in great condition. The views were amazing and as we weren’t in a rush, we stopped whenever we could. Chris was forced not to look around when he drove!

    Bananas grow in the mountains up to 300m and then there are vineyards. It is Spring here so plants are just starting to green up. There are a lot of colourful flowers out though.

    We followed our google maps to the Cabo Girao. A times we wondered if we were going in the right direction as we couldn’t really see where we were going and we kept going up and up. We find it hard to believe that people live up so high on the side of the cliffs with their gardens. Houses are hanging over the cliffs. Pretty scary.

    At last we arrived at the miradouro (mirador). This lookout is known for its glass-floored platform that extends over the cliff more than 1/2 kilometre above the ocean. Pretty daunting as you will see in the photos!

    Looking down through the floor, (in some places the glass is cracked!), you see a sheer drop of 580 m. with some terraces covered in little gardens directly on the cliff face. There are narrow paths leading to these gardens. The cliffs shelter the plants and keep them warm.

    By the way, Cabo Girao is supposedly the second highest sea cliff in Europe. Not sure what the highest one is. Maybe one in Ireland?

    West of Girao, the scenery changes a bit with papayas and avocados. The drive had lots more curves and bends as we made our way westward. A new road full of tunnels has been built that makes the trip much faster but we were not in a hurry.

    We stopped in the little village of Punta do Sol. They say that it gets sun all day because it is not in the shade of any mountains. It was sunny when we got there.

    Punta de Sol is located in a valley and we had to take a somewhat scary tunnel, more like a dripping cave, to get to our next stop in Calheta. I think that the sign on the tunnel said to beware of falling rocks.

    This seems to be a town that people who like to get off the tourist track would like to stay in. There are several hotels but in general it is quiet. The area was originally known for its sugar cane production. A sugar mill was built here too. Today the sugar cane syrup is distilled to make rum.

    We walked around the vIllage and had a coffee and pastry in a cafe beside a dark grey pebbly beach. The sand on the beach was apparently brought in from the Sahara Desert!

    On we went. Last night it rained a lot so water was pouring down from the cliffs above. Most was controlled but coming around a corner, there was a waterfall falling right on the road!! A waterfall!!! One car actually stopped right under it. A lazy and cheap man’s car wash! We buzzed through though with some trepidation.

    Now, our last stop for the day was in a beautiful village called Jardim do Mar, Garden of the Sea. What a lovely place!

    The whole village was a maze of narrow walkways. Cars wouldn’t fit so a parking lot was the first place we got to. Cars had to be left outside the village.

    We walked down to the seafront where a wide promenade has been built. Exercise equipment and benches for sitting on were interspersed between hedges and flowering bushes. The white-capped waves were noisy but what a beautiful spot. There were lots of trails going up into the mountains as well as a tunnelled one to the next village, Paul do Mar.

    This pretty little town was the perfect place to eat our picnic so we found a table with benches and people watched for a bit. When the bells on the clock tower announced 1 o’clock, everyone disappeared. Except the few tourists.

    By the time we wandered around Jardim do Mar, we felt that we were on sensory overload so we decided to head home again. It had been a great day. This time we took the quick route, through all the tunnels! One tunnel after another. Some were several hundred meters long and others 2 to 3 km long. Every time we entered a tunnel we lost our gps signal. We surfaced for just enough time to get a new signal and then it was gone again. I think that we went through at least a dozen tunnels on the way home.
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