Sunday, 15 July 2018

Nuns Valley Madeira

 More spectacular views as we visited Curral das Freiras ('Nuns Valley') A small parish nestling between almost perpendicular mountains in the heart of the island. We stopped at the viewpoint at  Eira do Serrado and Paredão to look down on the valley way below.

In 1566 the nuns from the Santa Clara convent fled from pirates attacking Funchal and found safety here. They also lugged with them the treasure from the convent ensuring the pirates left virtually empty handed. The area is famous for it's chestnuts and seem to be used in all sorts of cooking.  I believe they also have a yearly festival dedicated to the chestnut.

We almost didn't make the trip as our mini bus didn't turn up. We only got on this trip after sitting through the most tedious and boring 3 hour time share presentation (never ,ever again). So there was no way this was not going to happen.  We marched back up to to the office and demanded action. Thankfully common sense occurred and a taxi was ordered to catch us up with the errant mini bus.
On arrival in the Nuns Valley we were ushered into one of the local cafes. Part of the deal or ordeal as it was turning out was to have coffee and cake. Naturally it was a slice of chestnut cake and very nice too . Could well have been walnut, hazelnut or peanut really. Then a waiter started bringing out some gharishly coloured liqueurs for us to dry.
The first was bright green and was some sort of menthol flavour? Tasted just like the stuff the dentist gives you to gargle with but not so nice. The second , surprise surprise was a chestnut liqueur that looked and tasted like cold Horlicks. The third was a little better and made from the Ginja berry. It is like a sour cherry and compared to the previous two was almost palatable.
The problem came when we got up to leave and were expected to make a purchase. I politely declined and hastily exited stage left not for the first time.

 I found the small Parish a strange place really and in truth not really wort the visit. I thought that I was doing my good citizen bit when I heard banging coming from a padlocked garage door. The garage door was attached to a large white building. I had just read a Peter James novel involving a hostage who had been left locked away and immediately my mind was racing. I tried to communicate with who or whatever was banging on the door to no avail. What could it be , someone trussed up until the ransom money was paid? Still the banging kept happening with no answers to my 'Hello , is everything alright' ?... I decided to fetch assistance in the form of two non English speaking locals who seemed bemused , more with me than the contents of the garage really if i'm honest. Another local appeared after a hasty phone call, he was armed with some bolt cutters. I was starting to worry a little now just what we might find lurking behind the door. I decided to retreat to a safe distance at this point. 
The Church at Curral das Freiras

As soon as the shackles were lifted and the door opened an elderly lady exited at a rate of knots  nearly knocking the men over. She disappeared up some steps and out of sight without so much as thank you. It was only later back on the bus I found out from our guide that the building with the garage was the local asylum ......

Scene of my 'rescue'

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Praia Formosa walk

 It seemed like a good idea at the time to catch the bus to Praia Formosa.. The promise of the Atlantic surf crashing onto dark volcanic sand didn't quite live up to expectations. 

Another cloudy and overcast afternoon and being dropped off in the middle of nowhere was not a great start. It was only when we found the beach that we realised it would probably have been easier to walked.
The wind had got up and the word that sprang
to mind was 'bleak'. Sitting at the beach-side cafe
The words to the Morrissey song ' Every Day is like a Sunday' were going through my head 'This is the coastal town that they forgot to close down'.
Fuelled by an ice cold Coral beer we made the decision to walk back to the hotel . 

It was difficult walking on the beach with all the pebbles until a tunnel appears and bores through the rock. 

 It was cool to walk through the tunnel and hear the sea crashing all around.
The rest of the walk takes us along the hotel zone. The south facing slopes re carpeted in tropical and sub-tropical  flora. There are plenty of lizards scampering between rocks. 

We spot an interesting bird in the branches of a tree, a 'Harris Hawk' . It is undisturbed by our presence and I noticed that it had a tag on its leg. This is probably a 'tame' bird of prey that is used to scare of the local pigeon population.

Harris Hawk
We walk back past the lido, a popular sunbathing area. 


Friday, 6 July 2018

Madeira Flora and Fauna

Pride of Madeira

As i've said previously Madeira is Portugal's very own floating garden. It is a garden lovers paradise. My favourite the Agapanthus  'Lily of the Nile' seem to be everywhere. From lining the roadside the blue and white flowers  are also high in the mountains.


Equally common is the Bird of Paradise 'Strelitzia' although strictly speaking it is of South African origin. 

Pride of Madeira  
Bird of Paradise
Pride of Madeira 'Echium Candicans'  is an attractive herbaceous perennial whose flowering stalks produced clothed in rough leaves.

There are several botanical gardens in easy reach of Funchal . But for the princely sum of 1 euro you can visit the Presidents Gardens.
he gardens harmoniously combine large trees, exotic birds, flowers and many species of interesting plants. The following pictures were all taken in there. 


The gardens around our hotel were also very well stocked with an array of spectacular plants . As such they were very attractive to the equally stunning  Monarch Butterfly.

Monarch Butterfly

Madeiran Bananas

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Serra D'Agua Valley Levada walk

This particular walk is approx 5.5km but only climbs 80m throughout the length due to the way the levadas wind around the hillside.Marina a gone off searching for whales and dolphins so I joined a guided tour, made up mostly of pensioners .

Our guide  was very knowledgeable of the flora and fauna and showed us a different side of life in Madeira.

Serra D'Agua is described as one of the most beautiful places on Earth, well they do have to sell the tours I suppose? A bold statement perhaps but from here you can see the South coast, Encumeada, Ribeira Brava and Campanario.
Today we are walking just 5km of the 65km route and naturally it is the most beautiful part.

Pinus pinaster and Eucalyptus globulus, are widespread in the surrounding woodland. When sugar cane was a major crop, timber was used to make the sugar mills. Soil  erosion has become a serious problem in the south of the island, where logging and overgrazing has intensively destroyed vegetation cover. The trees mentioned play an important part in holding everything together if that is not too technical an explanation?

Our weary traveller

I enjoyed the walk and would like to have gone further really . I'm not sure the others would have agreed as they were mostly pensioners and were blowing a bit by the end.
It's true the views were spectacular and it's amazing how they farm on the side of a mountain in very challenging circumstances. We stopped off on the way back at a small cafe for a cheeky ' Pastel de Nata' and I was severely tempted by the 'Bolo De Mel' too I can tell you !

Monday, 2 July 2018

Madeira - East side tour

 An early breakfast and a prompt pick-up and we were off to explore the 'East Side' of Madeira.

First stop was a viewpoint looking back over the Marina. The photo to the left captures the ever present low hanging cloud.

Our first 'proper' stop was in the pretty village of Camacha. Famed as the centre of  Madeira's willowcraft and basket making. Judging by the number of mini buses  it is a popular stopping off point.

All things willow to one side , Camacha houses a local folklore group, that is one of the most famous Portuguese folklore groups and known throughout the world (or so they say). Not so different to Moulton then really with it's Morris Men.

We start to climb well above the tree line as we travel as far up as it is possible  to go by vehicle. We stop at the radar station at Pico do Arierio. It is noticeably cooler at a height of 1818m and the cloud is more broken. Whichever direction you care to look the views are absolutely stunning.
 There are plenty of walkers making the trip to Pico Ruivo , the highest peak (1862m) on the island. It certainly isn't a trek for the feint hearted and i'm not sure that my dodgy knee would handle the rough terrain and steep climbs and descents. Maybe i'll save it for another day.

It was so fresh at the peak and we had stunning clear blue skies and above the clouds some sunshine !

I even adopted a local style hat , not forgetting to tie a knot to show that I was married....

Making our way steeply  downhill to Ribeiro Frio we pass scores of weary looking Mountain bike riders. The hill climb is never ending and I don't envy them one bit.  Between  Ribeiro Frio and Faial we we get our first experience of levada walking.

Just a short one on this occasion , about twenty minutes to give us a bit of an appetite for lunch. I should explain further about the levada paths.  There are 2500km of irrigation channels usually through dramatic scenery.Specific to Madeira they  originated out of the necessity of bringing large amounts of water from the west and northwest of the island to the drier southeast. They were used in the past also by women to wash clothes in areas where running water to homes was not available. These days a well as water they also provide hydro-electric power. They provide a lovely network of paths for walking and viewing the spectacular scenery.
This particular path was very easy walking on the flat. Under the shade of 
 the tree canopy it was nice and cool too. 
Lunch was an interesting affair in Faial. I opted for a local specialty 'Scabbard Fish' with banana. Believe me it did taste a lot better than it sounds. With the best will in the world it is an ugly fish. Black with an elongated body the fish is caught at night by Fishermen from Camara De Lobos. The deep sea catch is then brought in early next morning and sold off at the island's markets.
 Faial sits under the Penha D'Aguia otherwise
 know as 'Eagles Rock'. A massive chunk of rock rising 600 vertical metres out of the Atlantic.

Eagles Rock
No doubt that the views of Eagle Rock were unbelievably stunning. 

In Porto Da Cruz there was a chance to see a working rum distillery powered by steam. We had a lovely walk around looking at all the machines. Nothing was being used whilst we were there sadly as the harvest of the sugarcane had already taken place and distilling was complete. The shop was still open though and some free tastings! One of the white Rums was around 80% proof and tasted like rocket fuel....

Santana is an interesting place if only for its Casas Típicas de Santana, traditional stone houses with steep, triangular-shaped thatched roofs. Apart from the opportunity for a photo gthere really wasn't much else there  really. Although I did buy a 'Rooster of Barcelos'  for the kitchen from a souvenir shop. The Rooster is a common emblem of Portugal and there is a local legend how the Rooster  prevented an innocent man from being hanged once upon a time. Sounds like a tall story to me but you will have to look it up yourself and make your own mind up. 

Traditional Madeiran houses       

Our final 'stop off' point' on what has been a great trip was the beach at Camacha. Madeira does not have a shoreline of golden sands, and the few natural beaches  are lined with grey pebbles and black basalt stones. The beach at Camacha is man made , with sand imported from the Sahara. I had a little paddle which was nice before getting back on the bus back to our hotel. 

The beach at Camacha