Almost in the centre of Sao Vicente (north coast of the island) is located the Volcanic Center together with the caves system available for tourist guided tours.
At the beginning you have 25 min. guided tour (in English and Portugal) along the caves made by lava. This is really impresive and wild place with the small, crystal underground lakes, water dropping from the ceiling and strange rock shapes and formations.
After it you can visit modern science center. Among others attractions you can see the fantastic 3D film about origins of the Madeira and volcanic phenomena. The organizers also prepared many different special presentations and suprises. Undouptedly Sao Vicente 'grutas' are worth you while.
The normal ticket price is 8 Euro. From Funchal (in 2006 bus stop near the big balloon) and Porto Moniz you can get to Sao Vicente by Rodoeste line buses, but check the timatable properly because buses run irregularly and seldom.
On the slopes of north coast (between Porto Moniz and Sao Vicente) is situated enchanting town of Seixal. Its small streets, harbour and panoramic views surely will satisfy the tourist eager for tranquility and relaxation.
Seixal is also worth visiting because of its sandy (seldom on Madeira) beach. Despite the sand is dark is as pleasent as golden sand from the other world resorts. Beach is located near the centre od Seixal. You just have to go downstairs from hills to the coast.
After bathing you can rest in the restourant Solmar (near the parish church) and drinking cafe to delight in observing the life of Madeira country.
From Funchal (in 2006 bus stop near the big balloon) you can get to Seixal by Rodoeste line buses (direction: Porto Moniz), but check the timatable properly because buses run irregularly, seldom and unfortunately slowly (from 70 to even 140 minutes). So, the best way is to rent a car.
This is one of the most popualar walking track on the island. At the beginning you have to walk downhill from the main road (and parking) to Rabacal house. You can also use the shuttle mini-bus (price: 3 Euro parking-Rabacal-parking and 2 for way uphill: Rabacal - parking).
From Rabacal house the track leads down abruptly and 10 minutes after start you must choose Risco or 25 Fontes levada. When you decide for 25 Fontes you walk sometimes on the sunny slopes and sometimes in the shadow of lush forest. The path is well preserved and unfortunately sometimas too crowdy. But the 1 - 1,5 h walk is worth of all the efforts.
25 Fontes are the rock wall with the thicket of different plants, small blue lake (very cold water) and countless number of streams and waterfalls (many more than 25 ;). Sit down on the big boulder and simply enjoy. This is natural place of totally relaxation.
Unfortunately there is no regular communication. You can rent a car or use the trip offer of some travel agency.
Levada 25 Fontes is located near the road between the Paul do Serra plateau and Ponte do Pargo/Porto Moniz.
This place was described many times. And undouptedly is worth of visiting. Not only crystal and warm water but also picturesque landscape of lava islets and ocean waves are outstanding attractions.
My practice observations: in Septemeber swimming was allowed only up to 1 or 2 pm. After this time pools were flooded by the waves from ocean. And 'nadadores salvadores' (simply life-guard) hung the red flag out. During afternnoon time I don't recommend to take place near the pools edge - for sure waves will wet all your stuff.
Normal ticket (2006) is 1,25 euro. Pools are full equiped: restaurant, wc, changing rooms, baggage room, showers, sunbeds etc. One minus is that you have to put you towel on concrete ground (or on sunbed for additional charge).
On the photo you can see pools and their sea surroundings at the night-time. Camera time shutter was about 1 sec and different lights (street lamps, fluorescent light) created these colors.
It was very, very hot day and during our trip along south-west coast we decided to stop somwhere and rest a bit. We turn from the main road and after 5 minutes found parking in Jardim do Mar.
First lovely suprise was modern fountain on the main squere. The streams of water exploded rhythmically almost from the ground. Jumping between streams I came into the centre of fountain. Cold breeze and drops of water at the skin brought wonderful filling.
After these moments of relaxing we 'dived' into labyrinth of small Jardim streets. Flowers, gardens, sometimas enchating views of ocean were our companions. Amazing.
At the end of our short stay we found pub called Joe's Bar (truly portuguese name :)) and... we feel tastes of Joe's fresh fruit juices (I recommend Mango) up to now! It was really hot day.
Our decision: walk along the less popular levada track. We decided for Janela. We reached the start-point in Lamaceiros by bus and started walking.
Unfortunately a week before in the west part of Madeira was terrible forest fire and first kilometres of this levada showed us sad area (brown soil, flowers remains, carbonized trees). Only views of Janela valley and ocean were bright and colourfull.
After 3-4 km of marching forest became green and greener. Lush vegetation and small waterfalls created harmonious atmosphere. We stopped and turn back before first tunnel (about 200 m long) after 2 hours walking.
All the track was wide, flat and well-preserved. Surely good for not very advanced tourist.
Lamaceiros (start-point) is located 5 km from Porto Moniz (direction Ponta do Pargo). You can reach it by Rodoeste bus (from Porto Moniz) or by car (parking free of charge, barbecue place).
This is one of the longest Levada tracks. We saw only about 30% of it. You can start from Lamaceiros and finish in Fonte do Bispo (place located between Porto Moniz and Paul do Serra/Rabacal). According to guide it can take 8 hours walking.
Picture (View from Janela Levada): ocean, valley and Janela river estuary. On the slopes (left part) you can see the brown ground after the big fire.
15 km from Funchal you are in the other world. The valley is the mountain bottom and when you see around it seems almost impossible that you can escape from here. The peaks and the mist create tight wall.
Currral is very very small - several tourist shops, 3-4 bars, church with the cemetary, narrow streets. But this is the strong point to go there. Obviously 'strong' for all dreaming about tranquility. Sitting in the cafe you can admire the 'power of nature' and you can compare it to the effort of society, the 'survival' force of people.
Curral is famous for its liqueurs - especially chestnut one. But I recommend cherry or passion fruit. Naturally it's a question of taste :)
About 1 km from the centre of village Ponta do Pargo is situated west cape of Madeira. Here you can also find interesting lighthouse and 'miradouro' - belveder (panoramic view).
The sunsets there are incredible. This place (like few others on the island) emanates - apart of magnificent views - some kind of calm and harmony.
10 min (by car) form lighthouse is located nice TeaHouse. Chocolate cake and cafe taste perfectly (see my separate 'restaurant' tip).
There are some Rodoeste line buses connceting Ponta do Pargo and Funchal or Porto Moniz. But they run irregularly and seldom, so honestly the best way is to rent a car. The distance from Funchal (by car) is about 1,5-2 hours.
On the picture I tried to show (from different perspective;) the "ending of island". Even roads turn back:)
Once Madeirans wanted to build airport there. They gave up because of unstable weather conditions. And It was good decision. They left for us rare landscape: the plain area between rock peaks.
Driving through the Paul da Serra I felt like in the American Wild West. Straight road and mountains in the clouds somwhere on the horizon. Amazing atmosphere - as if everything stopped once upon a time.
Paul da Serra are also colours - different shades of green, yellow, red or brown and blue sky (sometimes). It' s worth of stop for a moment and simply take a big breath.
Paul da Serra is located almost in the heart of island. Take the road from Encumeada to Porto Moniz/Ponta do Pargo. You can reach it also by road from Canhas (south coast). I didn't find any regular bus going there. You have to rent a car or decide for some travel agency offer.
Porto Moniz was my headquarter during stay on Madeira. Here is my 'top 5' of its attractions (together with neighborhood area). More info about Moniz you will find on my separate Porto Moniz page (things to do, hotels, various info).
1. Natural pools - excellent idea and marvellous place for resting (see my special tip)
2. Seixal - quiet place, lovely streets and sandy beach (see my separate tip)
3. Old uphill Moniz - drink cafe in local bar, observe people and ocean below
4. Miradouro (view-point) Porto Moniz - spactacular Moniz and ocean views
5. Levada Ribeira da Janela - wild Madeira in its beauty (see spacial tip)
Also: Lighthouse in Ponta do Pargo, nice promenade in Moniz, Aquarium and Living Science Center, Moniz restaurants, old road between Moniz and Sao Vicente.
Just behind the town of Canical begins Sao Lourenco peninsula. Steep cliffs, waves hundred meters below, 'treesless' soil burnt by sun, rocks around and wild Islas Desertas on the horizon created amazing atmosphere of freedom and independence. Breeze from ocean, the 'azul' of the water and ubiquitous lizards underline these feelings.
The landscape is totally different than the forests or high mountains' parts of Madeira. This is one of my favourite places - undouptedly I can recommend it.
Ponta da Sao Lourenco is the north-east part of island. You can reach it easily from Funchal (road towards airport, Machico, Canical) or north coast (Porto Moniz, Sao Vicente, Sao Jorge, Santana, Canical - the old road between Sao Vicente and Santana is very pictoresque but also narrow and - how to say - cause pressure (rocks from one side and sea far below from the other;)
From Porto Moniz up to Santana (and maybe far away - I didn't check it) brave Madeirans built picturesque but also dangerous road. The rock slopes from one side and the ocean from the other surrounded poor driver and her/his passengers.
Road is narrow, full of terrible turns and precipices which take your breath away. For strong nerves. But the views from the road are worth of risk and when you drive carefully nothing bad happens.
Between Porto Moniz and Sao Vicente islanders constructed modern road with the system of tunnels, but the old road - called Antiga - still exists. Now, there is one-way traffic (towards Porto Moniz). Antiga sometimes is connected with new one - creating several sections. Take the second one and close the window (if you are in cabrio turn back:). Aftere one-two minutes from start you car is clean. The row of waterfalls effectively washes everything below. Incredible experience.
The most dirt-road is in neighbourhood of Ponta Delgada up to Sao Jorge (section: Sao Vicente - Santana). There is two-way traffic and be preperad for turning back when you see the bus drives from opposite direction. The attraction of this part is also old tunnel - dark and mysterious, looks like just miners dig the hole using only picks and dynamite. Water is dropping from the ceiling and surface is not too flat. Cool adventure.
Be prepared that using Antiga the road from Moniz to Santana (about 50 km) can take you 2 hours. But surely it's worth of your effort.
On the picture: new tunnel in the centre, waterfall on the left, and small wall of Antiga road on the right.
Ribeiro Frio, first impression: the crowd of buses blocks the road and the tourist lava flows among the few shops and bars.
Ribeiro Frio consists of 7-8 houses, interesting trout farm and small but pictoresque 'florestal park' with examples of Madeira plants. Above all Ribeiro Frio is the starting point for Levadas: Balcoes and do Furado.
We were a bit afraid of too many people on the track. But to our great surpise path was almost empty Did all the people only visit the shops and cafes?
Levada do Furado is very pictoresque. Direct your attention especially on bush tunnels and nice bridge (after the 1 h 30 min from Ribeiro). The track is well-preserved and good for not advanced walkers.
This levada is also called Levada Ribeiro Frio. This happen sometimes on Madeira that one levada track has different names. So be careful when checking the info in guides or on the map.
Ribeiro Frio is located between Funchal ans Santana/Faial. Regular buses stop here.
ONE DAY CAR TRIP
We started from Porto Moniz and visited Levada 25 Fontes, Paul do Serra, Ponta do Sol, Jardim do Mar and Ponta do Pargo. But you can begin you adventure from Funchal or any other point of island.
Please notice: Time estimation is from my (fallible) memory. So it can be not exact.
OK - let's start
1. Porto Moniz (0 hour 0 minutes) - we driving south-west uphill and uphill .
2. Miradouro Porto Moniz (0:20) - one of the most beutiful view-points, you can see the whole Villa do Porto Moniz, ocean, natural pools, islets.
3. Rabacal parking arrival (1:00) - after the Santa we turn left, direction: Encumeada. We're climbing above the forest level. The clouds are touching our car and along the road the cows are walking slowly. From Rabacal parking we are going downhill on foot. After 30 min. we are starting walk on Levada 25 Fontes (see my special tip).
Rabacal parking departure (3:45) - towards Paul do Serra plateau
4. Paul do Serra (4:00) - we stop on the small parking near the crossroads Encumeada/Estanquinhos. Beautifull colors, fresh air, strange but stunning 'flat between peaks' scenery (see my separate tip).
5. Ponta do Sol (5:00) - we turn back from Paul do Serra and take the road to Canhas and next to Ponta do Sol. This town has nice promenade and several lovely old streets. 30 minutes break.
6. Jardim do Mar (5: 50) - Something to drink! Now! The sun is very strong today! We are in Jardim do Mar (before this town you can visit Calheta). Marvellous place and cold fresh fruit juices in Joe's Bar (see my special tip). 1 and the half hour break.
Jardim do Mar departure (7:15)
7. Ponta do Pargo, the lighthouse (8:00) - unfortunately the time is running so quickly so we decided not to stop in Paul do Mar and Faja da Ovelha but we turn left and after 3-4 km from main road we reach Ponta do Pargo lighthouse. We stare at ocean horizon. Far, far away is America (see my Pargo tip)
Ponta do Pargo departure (9:15)
Porto Moniz - finito (10:00)
Curral das Freiras, or nun's valley as it is also called in englis, is a secluded valley a little inland from Funchal.
It got it´s name after a group of nuns fled in to the valley in 1566 when french pirates attacked the island.
Today the valley is a hikers paradise but can also been seen by people who do not travel by foot as it is connected to the rest opf the island with good roads and there are many nice viewpoints overlooking the valley.
It´s only around around 15 kilometers from Funchal, but expect the drive to take around 45 minutes as the road to Curral das Freiras is very steep and winding.