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May 18th 2019
Published: May 18th 2019
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May 6th 2019 – 18thMay 2019

It was a bit of a chaotic start to the holiday as we had Chris’ sister Wendy 70th birthday bash in Oxford on the Saturday. Two nights hotel booked in Swindon, a day sightseeing around Malborough and the bluebells at West Woods, then a drive on the Monday morning to Birmingham in our new car, where we were flying out at 3.30pm.

Arrived at our hotel )Dorisol Mimosa) about 7.30pm, quite impressed with the room (903), as it has a kitchenette and a small balcony overlooking the sea and bay at Funchal with the morning sun! Beautiful!

Tuesday 7th May 2019

Out by 9.30am and after walking to the seafront and discovering that there wasn’t a Paseo into Funchal, we decided to get the Big Red Bus ticket for the two days. The weather wasn’t that good this am, with a lot of low cloud so the Pico de Barcelos, instead of giving us stunning views, was shrouded in a blanket of cloud!! Hey ho!!

We actually got off the bus at Camara de Lobos, a small fishing village where Winston Churchill used to visit in the 1950’s and paint! Very pretty little place and we had a good wander around before catching the bus again into the centre of Funchal. Walked around the Flower Market and along the main street to the Gardens and duly paid our 1 Euro to go into the Govenor’s House and Garden! Beautiful gardens and ponds, with waterfalls and oh so any flower beds along with the huge monarch butterflies! Also, absolutely teeming with lizards in the dry stone wall -I don’t think I have ever seen so many!! I think what is so striking is the bedding plants ie petunias and pansies, with all the flowering trees, such as jacaranda and mimosa along with all the cactus, lilies and orchids. It’s a stunning combination giving colour and variety wherever you look!

Walked back down to the flower market where there were some local dancers that we watched for a while before peering into the obligatory cathedral!! Dark and gloomy – as expected!! Had a quick look at the indoor market, with its fruit and veg, flowers and fish market Bought 3 agapanthus for 2 euros – don’t know if they will grow but will keep my fingers crossed.

Had a wander around the Old Town looking at all the painted doors before deciding that the weather had cleared enough to go on the cable car to Monte! (11 euros single for 1 person) Yikes! Not my most favourite experience but then we got the famous Toboggan ride down! (30 euros for two) Exhilarating!! Down the shiny roads, at startling speeds, traffic held up for the sleds to go by – I’m not sure they would be able to stop!! The Monte Toboggans first originated in the early 19thC as Funchal’s first means of ‘downhill’ public transportation. They were made primarily out of wicker and two wooden runners and driven by two men ( carreiros) dressed in white, with straw hats and black rubber boots that are used as brakes!!”

Waited for a Big Red Bus but think we may have missed the last tourist bus, so caught an ordinary bus back into town where we had something to eat in the Old Town ( Restaurant o Velhinho – recommended!) Taxi ride back to the hotel – we really must sort out the buses!!

Wednesday 8th May 2019

Today we had always planned to return to Monte and visit the Botanical Gardens. What we didn’t realise is that there are tropical gardens where the bus drops you off or another cable car (8.75 Euros) to the Botanical Gardens (6.00 euros) We decided to give it a miss as there was also a bus that takes you there and a 2 ½ hr walk to the gardens. And it was cloudy on the mountain and sunny on the coast! Another day!!

Went back into Funchal ( in the sun!!) to pick up the timetables for the buses and work out where to go next! As we still had 1/2day left on our Big Bus Tour, we got on the bus again to go to the Miradouro Pico dos Barcelos at 355 metres. It wasn’t in the cloud today and we were afforded 360 degree views all around Funchal! Unfortunately, the cloud was over the peaks and closing in fast so we didn’t hang around for two long.

Thought we would go to Pingo Doce, the local hypermarket to get some stuff for lunches, which we did. It was then a 20 minute walk back to the hotel but we were kindly offered a lift up to the hotel Dorisol Mimosa, in the resident golf buggy!!!

Thursday 9th May 2019

We decide to take the bus to Santana on the other side of the island with a stop off at Ribeiro Frio, and caught the 10.00am bus (no 56) from the Bus Station by the Teleferico. After 45 minutes leaving the sunshine in Funchal, we reached the top of a mountain in cloud! Poiso was in sun but Ribeiro Frio was cloudy! Walked the short levado walk to Dos Balcoes where it is supposed to, in good weather, have one of the most beautiful views of the three highest peaks of the central massif. Unfortunately we saw nothing at all….except for some Madeiran chaffinches!

Walked back and then decided to do PR10 to Portela – it was 11km walk so we were only going to walk 3 or 4 km and then return! Pretty little walk that started out as a broad path, quickly turning to a single file walk next to the levada ( with a wire fence the other side!!) Lots of water running off the mountains into the levada and making waterfalls everywhere - it was like a mini rainforest with moss and ferns!

Walked back and caught the 14.10pm (no 103) bus to Santana. Spectacular views and valleys, little villages and churches, cloud on the mountains, rivers, wild flowers and agapathus everywhere. Reached Santana, and after visiting the church discovered that apart from the square with the ‘traditional houses’, there wasn’t a lot else there!! Well apart from having a local drink of ‘Poncha’!! Had a look in the ‘traditional houses’ that were once built as farmers sheds and now house little tourist shops!! Then waited for the bus back to Funchal.

The bus (No 103) duly arrived at 17.25pm and we arrived back in Funchal at about 19.00 after a hair-raising, white knuckle ride over the mountains in thick fog.The bus driver’s are amazing !! It was still sunny in Poiso but cloudy in Funchal!

Taxi home (to avoid the steps!!!)

Friday 10th May 2019

Decided to hire a car for three days (Chris driving!) and explore the island! First of all we went to the Miradouro do Cabo Girao which are the 2nd highest sea cliffs in Europe at 580 metres (The 1st is the Slieve League cliffs in Donegal!! 601 metres), Despite it being a brilliantly blue sky, sunny day earlier, the clouds rolled in very quickly over the mountains and cliffs. Chris stood on the glass floor, with the Atlantic sea a long way down!! I couldn’t do it but took photos from the safety of a platform, concrete floor!! Not a lot else there apart from the usual tourist shops and cafés so moved onto Ribeira Brava. Another pretty little seaside resort, with a church with a chequered spire and amazing chandeliers, and after walking through a small tunnel discovered a harbour! Walked back along the sea front and took the VE4 with the intention of taking the ER-105 and doing some hiking at Rabacal. However, we missed the road and ended up in Sao Vincent on the north of the island – it was only 11kms!!

Change of plan now and decided to just explore today and save the hiking for the weekend! Drove along the new road with its numerous tunnels (the old road was shut due to numerous rockfalls and landslides!) and stopped at the viewpoint Veu da Noiva where you can see waterfalls evoking a brides veil! You certainly need a lot of imagination although there were a few waterfalls – they would be very impressive if in full spate.

Carried on to Porta Moniz to look at the lava pools, created when molten lava travelled into the sea and a wander around, before travelling up over the mountains again to another cable car! This one went vertically downwards - one of the cable cars was closed in but the other cable car, (which was not used) was a metal bucket contraption, with open sides and no seats. We decided to give it a miss – well, I did anyway!!

Onwards to the ‘Faro’ at the tip off the west of the island. More tourists and cliffs but no shops!! Back along the twisty VE3 (we saw bridges and new roads being built) past all the roadside agapanthus – some in flower but mostly in bud until we reached the new road to Funchal. Tunnel, followed by a roundabout and then another tunnel for 10km or so brought us back to the hotel.

Saturday 11th May 2019

Woke up and it was sunny but cloud forecast. Decided to go ahead with our plans to go to Rabacal – my favourite day yet!! Fantastic views as we drove up towards Encumeada with the highest peaks in sunshine and cloud rolling over the top of the other peaks. Drove onto towards Paul da Serra and Lombo do Mouro (ER110) through a series of old rock tunnels getting higher and higher until we reached a plateau with windmills!! A very long, straight road took us to where all the cars were parked for Rabacal.

Walked down the tarmac road to Rabacal Forestry House(1.8km) not realising we could have taken a shuttle bus, and after a quick lunch started walking down the steps to the Levada das 25 Fontes! Followed the Levada do Risco until the path split and took the left path. Lots of downhill steps until we reached another Levada that we followed along a track until we reached the series of steps that led upwards. Along the levada again but long stretches of stepping stones with a wire fence on the left! Not too bad – just look straight ahead!! The levada walk was brimming with buttercups, bees, butterflies, broome and even some enormous violets as well as fish actually in the levada. Not sure what they were though- could have maybe been trout? Were rewarded at the end with a sort of amphitheatre with the cliff towering above and 25 natural springs cascading into a small lake. There was also a cat!! Now whether it was a wild cat that learnt that tourists mean food or it had come all the way from the Forestry house!! Either way, it was eating bread, but didn’t look thin – but wouldn’t let you get near it!!

Walked back a slightly different way, that involved a lot of steps again and brought you out on the levada path again (but you missed all the scary bits!!) Walked back up the trail until we reached the signpost for Risco and walked to the end of the trail and round the corner was the spectacular Risco waterfall crashing down the volcanic rock face and disappearing from view into the valley below! There are a series of tunnels that go behind the waterfall but these are now closed.

It was a linear walk so back the way we had come, accompanied by Madeirian chaffinch looking for food and were lucky enough to just catch the shuttle bus back up the hill to the car, where we drove back the way we had come, stopping to admire the views again (the sun had moved round so the photos are different!!)

Sunday 12th May 2019

Our first stop was Pico do Areeiro (1816 metres) which was the 3rd highest mountain on Madeira! (Pico Ruivo is the highest at 1862 metres) Its very difficult to explain how far up it is but it must have taken us at least 45 mins of up!!It was like the top of the world with peaks and valleys all around us. Chris had earmarked a 3km easy walk but it seemed that most people were taking the PR1 so off we started …and then vertigo kicked in!! So that was a def no no for me and it turned out later that it was a 5 ½ hr walk with huge climbs, so I’m glad we stopped when we did!! Had a wander around the various viewpoints and then back down! Whew!

After a lunch at Portelo, we stopped on the road to Machico to watch a bike race through the woods, before travelling onto the end of ER109 where there was another walk – PR8 – Vereda da Ponta de Sao Lourenco.

We started off down some steps at Abra Bay, with magnificent view of the end of the island and then walked uphill to get views of the Seahorse rocks. Up some more steps ( but with railings!) and then left up some more steps – with no railings!!! Sheer drops one side and it was very windy, so Chris carried on by himself, and I walked back to the car! Maybe I should stick to levada walking!!

It was only about 4.00pm so we decided to go to The Botanical Gardens (Rui Vieira) which were indeed a pleasant end to the day! Lots of frogs croaking, lizards darting about in the crevices and bird song, with paths and flowers everywhere!

Monday 13th May 2019

An easy day! I think we have forgotten how to go on holiday and be tourists ie do not a lot!! We have always been charging around off the cruise ships for a day or campervanning where we are always on the move! Even Spain we seem to be busy with the walking groups, so it would be nice to have a day relaxing!!

Well, we started off with a wander along the seafront, up and down, and came across Cais do Carvao. This was an old coal warehouse for the ships that used to cross the Atlantic Ocean – they would stop off in Madeira and stock up on supplies.

Spotted a wall loaded with lizards – there must have been about fifty - all different colours, shapes and sizes!! Walked along to Pestana Grand Hotel to Ponta da Cruz and then caught the bus into Funchal. Bought a 5 Euro Giro card from the tabac (allows unlimited travel on the yellow urban buses for 24 hrs) and caught the no 20/21 by the side of the excavations by the old Sugar Mill to the Botanical Garden at Monte Palace.

At 12.50 euros entry we had previously decided not to bother, but after talking to people at our hotel, decided it may be worth a look at!! And we were so glad that we did!! The garden was crammed with little delights – 2 Chinese gardens complete with terracotta soldiers, caverns, statues, lakes, bridges rainforest trees, bird song, loads of plants in flower with maidenhair fern everywhere. There were water features, waterfalls, swans, an aviary, waterfall staircases, little paths, 2300 year old olive trees, orchids, frogs croaking – it was almost an overload on your senses!! ……and a complimentary glass of madeira wine.

It used to be a hotel – between1897- 1943 but it was then closed as the owner Alfredo Rodrigues passed away. But on 1987 Jose Manuel Rodrigues Berardo bought the ‘Hotel’ and it was renovated to the garden it is now, with the help of the Associcao de Coleccoes who now own it.

Passed a very pleasant afternoon there before eating in Funchal Old Town and getting the bus back to our hotel using our Giro card!!

Tuesday 14th May 2019,

Another easy (ish) day planned by catching the bus to the Nun’s Valley. We could still use our Giro card into town and duly jumped on a number 1 bus. Got to the bus station by the cable car and caught the number 81 bus to Curral das Freiras ( Interurban Buses).

Up, up and up again until we reached Eira do Serrado (1094 metres) and jumped off! There was a mirador here and after looking at the old road that used to run ½ way up a cliff with sheer drops (no, thank you!!) They replaced this road with a new tunnel in 2004 as the old road became too dangerous! We then had a coffee and piece of chestnut cake, (the lizards enjoyed some of the chestnut cake crumbs too!!) and walked the 3km downwards, through the chestnut trees into Curral das Frieras! A very pleasant walk, cordoned off by wire where there were sheer drops, but a fairly wide path, with hundreds of steps. Fantastic views all the way down with lots of different flowers and grasses, lizards scuttling about in the dried leaves and monarch butterflies gliding overhead.

In 1566 the nuns fled from the French pirate Bertrand de Montluc, who subjected Funchal to 100 days of attack, with a band of drunks and savages who went on a murderous and destructive rampage across the island. attacking Funchal and found seclusion here. Curral das Frieras is very isolated and the couple that owned the land sold it to the Captain of Funchal – Joao Goncalves da Camera, who then gave these lands to his daughters, when they entered the Santa Clara Convent. The settlement took place years later, with running slaves and outlaws, a small population core is established and little by little started to grow. It was first called Curral (pen) or Curral da Serra (mountain pen) since it was used solely as grazing ground by the shepherds. Until 1950 the mail was carried from Funchal to Curral by a woman, climbing and descending via the Eira with her precious deliveries balanced in a basket on her head and counting 52 hairpin bends each way. Rather her than me!!!

After a lunch we caught the bus back to Funchal and walked back to the hotel!

Wednesday 15th May 2019

Today we had decided to do the ‘Mimosa Walk’ – a 12km Levada do Canical which is basically around the outlying districts of Machico and the Valleys of Ribeira Grande and Ribeiro Seca. The walk starts opposite Bar a Calcadinha – and we took the 208 bus that left the Sam bus station at 10.30am (although we caught it on the sea front!) It is a flat walk, not too much shade but a lovely breeze kept us cool and terrific views of Manchico, the valleys and the sea and of course the Mimosa trees!

It was a lovely walk, sometimes passing through people’s gardens or allotments with views below of the cream coloured houses with orange tiled roofs and bottle green shutters. There were offerings such as bananas or beans, agapanthus plants with an honesty box if you wanted to buy anything. And also a small tunnel – it was ok – you could see the end of the tunnel and you didn’t need a torch as it was only 25 metres.

There was also the bonus of a café – Bar Jacare half way along the route, but unfortunately there were no “happy smiley faces of other walkers” ( as described in a walking book!) just the miserable bar tender who served us with apathy!!

We didn’t walk to the old tunnel (just 200 metres short!) as we saw a welcome taxi driver who took us to Machico for 5 euros, from there we caught the 16.30 express bus back to Funchal via the airport. Yellow Number 1 bus back to hotel.

Thursday 16th May 2019

We caught the number 20 SAM bus from the seafront again (by the flowers and information centre) that left the bus station at 9.30am.

Another rollercoaster bus ride, past the airport that juts into the sea, and Machico up to Santo da Serra and at 11.00am we started our walk.

There was quite a bit of lane walking on tarmac as we wended our way down on the Caminho da Pereira towards the Levada dos Tornos. It was quite well signed and we descended into a steep valley before we reached the Levada dos Tornos and turned right. It was a pretty little levada with lots of maidenhair fern growing on its banks but you could tell it hadn’t been walked a lot and was fairly overgrown. Then we came to a complete halt as the path had been washed away by the storm in Feb 2010. The book said it was passable (with care!!) but I would rather stay alive than risk the heady heights of a levada that no-one has even heard of!!!

So we turned back and followed the Levada the other way, with high hopes when we came to a sign that said Santo da Serra and continued along the path…..until that also ended abruptly with a waterfall!!! Lots of storm damage and we saw no barns or bridges (as described in the walk description) so just decided to retrace our steps to Santo da Sierra.

We had completed all of our 2½ hrs walk in sunshine, but as we got back to the village, the clouds came rolling in and the temperature dropped. Waited for our return bus at 14.45pm after sampling the local fare of an omelete sandwich and an empanada.

Changed buses at Machico and another roller-coaster ride back to Funchal via the airport. After our mandatory icecream in the park, walked back to Hotel.

Friday 17th May 2019

The last day of a holiday is always messy! Whether you fly on a morning, you waste part of the day before packing and then you get up and its panic mode – have you packed everything, don’t forget your pyjamas, unpack your toothbrush again etc etc. Or you can fly in the evening when everything seems more leisurely – at least you can pack everything as you use it and then just go!

Which is what we did!! Checked out of our room by 11.00am after packing, left our cases at the hotel and then caught two buses to Palheiro Gardens (No 37 stops right outside the gardens and takes about ½ hr)

The gardens are lovely! A long drive full of camelias and agapanthus and then sunken gardens with lily ponds and a lot of English flowers!! Interspersed with cacti and strelitzia and huge trees from around the world reminds you that this is not an english garden!! The house on the grounds is owned by the Blandy family so its not all accessible but it takes about an hour to walk around and is very colourful! Lots of aisles and paths, roses gardens with David Austen roses clambering up over arches and sweet peas growing up poles.

Caught the 2.35pm bus back to Funchal and then the No 1 back and had our last lunch in O Dragoneira before going back to the hotel to wait for our transfer to the airport. Flight to Birmingham is at 8.25pm so its going to be a late night!!!

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