Round drive of the eastern part of Madeira
Theorically, the island Madeira can be round driven in one day, but then one spends 12 hours in the car without really seeing the island. Between Santa Cruz and Ribeira Brava one indeed does many kilometres in a short time, but specially in the north and in the south of the island one has the feeling not to advance in the little roads. Thus, if there is no complete round drive of the island, then there is at least half a round drive of it. This can be comfortably made, as in the centre of the island between Ribeira Brava and Sao Vicente there is a quick north-south connection.
In this page, I describe a wonderful round drive of the island in the eastern part of it. The trip starts in Funchal, leads to the eastern strip of the island and than through a curvy and mountained coastal road at the north east of the island up to Sao Vicente, from then straightway across the island down to the south to Ribeira Brava and from then along the south coast back to Funchal. Measured in kilometres, the stretch of the way is short, but at the north east part of the island, it takes a lot of time to do a kilometre.
Machico - the oldest part of Madeira
If one drives from Funchal to the eastern strip of the island, the best is to take the motorway, as in this stretch there is not much to see. The most impressive things are the column stilts of the airstrip, under which one drives through; While in former times, the airport of Madeira was one of the most adventurous of the world, today it has a complete normal airstrip. The quantity of concrete that had to be get to the island in order to build the thick supporting columns, becomes apparent during the crossing under.
The next location behind the airport town Santa Cruz is Machico - the oldest place of Madeira. The two fortifications that were built in order of a better protection of the city against the attacks of pirates stand out immediately. Thanks to its protected situation and its mild and sunny climate, Machico developed more and more to a touristical place for holidays. For the visitors, the little town offers many charms: Machico is a really nice little town for social loafing: in the little streets and sycamores avenues there are plenty of little shops; specially, there are many little shops that sell wine, schnapps, and honey cake.
While loafing through Machico, one inevitably arrives to the little beach boardwalk where one can either have a bath in the sea as also in some little pools. Changing cubicles and toilets are provided. Machico generaly surprised me, as there are public toilets at each corner. It does not take long to see everything of Machico, but one should not discard the visit of this cozy place with its nice streets and places.
Canical - the place of the whales
From Machico we do a side trip to the east end of the island. Through a tunnel of a length of 750 m one finally gets to the place Canical. This little place has a long tradition concerning the capture of the whales. In a little museum, the fishermen proudly show the items of their glorious past. In fact, the whaling is past; a national park of sea mammals was made of the former whaling area.
The place Canical of 3000 inhabitants itself is not worth for sightseeing; most of the tourists do a side trip into the whaling museum in order to drive then into the eastern strip of the island; Also the whaling museum can be confidently discarted; but with an entrance fee of 1,25 € one also does not loose a lot of money by taking the time of 15 minutes to see everything.
Ponta de Sao Lourenco
Thus, the best is to leave Canical behind and to continue driving straight away to Ponta de Sao Lourenco, as what is there to see is unique. On a wide road, one drives through a desert landscape up to a view point from which both sides of the island are visible. By driving to the east strip of the island, one wonders where the flower island Madeira is.
The explanation to that is very simple: the clowds simply pull away the cliffs that are of a height of only a few hundred metres, before they release some water at the higher slopes. This is the reason why it virtually never rains in this area and the landscape reminds on a desert. But therefore, one is delighted by the colours that are shiny red at the cliffs, the black volcanic rocks and the turquoise sea water.
During the drive to the view point I was totally surprised when I suddenly found myself in a two laned rotary, although there was no second car visible far and wide. Does somebody have too much money left for the road construction? The view to the island is breathtaking, as either the north as also the east coast is visible. And right underneath, one can see the steeply cliffs arising from the water. And every 15 minutes, this isolated calmness is shortly interrupted by a landing plane that flies right over one's head.
Bathing at the beach of Prainha
On the way back from Ponta de Sao Lourenco to Machico, one passes an umpressive beach that can't be seen very well from above; but a big parking place indicates that there must be something down at the sea.
Prainha is a sandy beach of approximately 50 metres which is accessible by a wide stair downwards. The beach is nicely surrounded by cliffs and thus, it is protected from the wind. For most of the tourists, the descent is too troublesome so that one mainly meets people of Madera in this little beach.
At the beach, there are deck chairs, changing cubicles, toilets and a little restaurant. In the restaurant it is clearly noticeable that there are barely tourists in this place, as the prices are very low for a beach restaurant and despite of that, the quality is good. This is why I recommend everybody to do a little side trip to this little nice beach suring the return of the east strip of the island at least to have a refreshment, as a long and exhausting travelling alogside the north east coast of the island is following.
The eagle cliff in Faial
If one drives from Machico into the direction of the north coast, one gets back to the sea in Porto da Cruz. Normally, one just drives through Porto da Cruz, except one is hungry; then, plenty of little fish restaurants are waiting. Porto da Cruz is rather a starting point for hikers, as from here, many ways lead in all directions; one will not meet many people here.
A famous hiking path leads to the Eagle cliff with a height of approximately 600 metres (Penha de Águia) by Faial. The little location Faial is situaded at the bottom of the eagle cliff that steeply falls into the sea. It is said that in former times, a lot of ospreys have nested here, this is the reason why the cliff is called eagle cliff. It is possible to drive a piece up with the car in order to have a view to the highest mountains of the island from a little platform.
Santana and its little houses
Although Faial and Santana are only a few kilometres distant to each other, the trip takes quite a long time, as one cannot drive fast on this curvy stretch. With more than 10.000 inhabitants, Santana is the biggest place at the north east coast of Madeira; Normally, one would just leave the little town behind if there where not the world famous little Santana houses there. They are tiny old farmhouses which roofs are covered with straw that cover the houses nearly up to the bottom.
Although these little houses look like artworks, they where built out of an emergency by the village inhabitants that in former times where absolutely isolated from the outside world. The houses were built of raw materials that were available like wood and straw. Today, there are approximately 100 of these santana houses (Casas de Colmo)in and around Santana; most of them are only used as sheds or are just empty.
In Santana, there are three of these little houses in the city centre beside the city hall and ready to be visited. One inevitably passes them by driving, so that it is not needed to search long for them. The interior of such a little Santana house can be also visited and buy the respective souvenirs.
Finally, one more information: at the little Santana houses at the city hall there are also public toilets and in Santana itself there is a gas station as also some restaurants which one passes by driving. On the long and curvy trip alongside the north coast, one uses to forget the hunger of one's stomach and the thirst of the motor.
Between Santana and Sao Jorge, the air-line distance is barely of 3 km, but the trip is eternal, as one does more altitude kilometres than kilometres of distance. Due to that it is a real delight to have a little stop at Sao Jorge. In Sao Jorge, there is the most beautiful baroque church of the island; the graven and gold-plated altar is realy worth to visit. One can park right in front og the church.
One tip: at only 50 metres distance form the church there is a little village shop where one can buy chilled beverages and little snacks. And this is exactly what one desperatedly looks for after such a long and curvy trip. Thus, a short stay in Sao Jorge is definetely worthwhile; the church is only at a 100 metres form the thoroughfare.
Ponta Delgada and Boaventura
The continuing trip from Sao Jorge to Ponta Delgada is exhausting and exciting at the same time. The road is very narrow and curvy; if there is traffic coming from the opposite direction one has to shunt and get arranged. The landscape is very green; the plants seem to really want to grow exuberantly over the roads. There are repeatedely possibilities to have a stop in order to enjoy the spectacular views to the steeply rock faces.
Ponta Delgada is situated at a little headland right at the sea. Once arrived at this place, the exhausting serpentine driving comes to an end as form here, the trip continues nicely alongside the coast on a well arranged road further to Sao Vicente. In the location Ponta Delgada, a sea pool invites to have a rest; but when I was there, the complex was closed; and I longed so much for a real wet refreshment.
In Sao Vicente, our trip alongside the coast ends and we drive across the island back to the south. Those who probably plan to drive round the island in one single day, they will at latest now postpone the exploration of the western part of the island to another day, as the travelling through the mountaineous landscape has cost until here a lot of energy and steadiness, and what follows in the western part of the island is very similar.
Sao Vicente has a nice little centre in that it is not possible to drive a car but have to park it outside. but what is much more beautiful than the place itself is the long extended valley from the coast up to the Encumeada pass. A little spire on a cliff amidst the valley attracts attention. Also the terraces that draw up the hillsiodes are amazing.
The fastest way to get to Ribeira Brava in the south is by driving through the long tunnel; but of course, a drive through the Encumeada pass is much nicer. But as that day we already drove through enough mountain roads, we preferred to visit the Encumenada on an other day, as this beautiful spot of the island is practically accessible in short time from any place of the island.
Cabo Girao - the highest cliff line of Europe
Thanks to the tunnel, we soon get from Sao Vicente to Ribeira Brava in the south of the island and from there we rapidly got back to Funchal thanks to the motorway. But in the late afternoon, a littleside trip form the motorway to the highest cliff line of Europe, the Cabo Girao, is worthwhile. From the motorway, it takes a drive of approximately ten minutes through the pine forests to a parking place at the tip of the bluff.
This is the reason why it is recommendable to visit the cliff in the late afternoon, because then the sun iluminates right from the west the capital Funchal and one has a fantastic view to the capital. The straight view down to the sea is not less impressive. There are not many places in the world with a cliff line of 578 metres. At Cabo Girao, some strong up winds blow and clowds are formed. It is a fascinating spectale how the sea winds are switched upwards by the cliff and the water condenses out to clowds.
On the cliff there is a little exhibition to visit and a toilet is also available.
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Copyright: Patrick Wagner, www.tourist-guide.biz