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Phespirit goes to Madeira
Funchal     September 2008

AROUND MADEIRA

Map of Madeira

1 Funchal

With Madeira rising up sharply from the Atlantic Ocean, Phespirit was concerned that the streets of Funchal would all have painfully steep gradients, making them a nightmare to get around.

The lower reaches of central Funchal present no problems but the steep slopes do make themselves felt further inland. What makes these mostly-residential areas hard work to get around, though, is not the gradients but the many aggressive dogs running loose.

On one occasion Phespirit had no choice but to change his route to avoid passing a demented dog. On another he was attacked at every turn he took so he had to abandon walking entirely and wait for a bus instead.

Phespirit hates irresponsible dog owners.

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2 Monte

Phespirit visited Monte twice: once on foot - at the end of his long hike along the Levada dos Tornos; once by cable car - all the way up from Funchal's seafront.

The church of Nossa Senhora do Monte is the top sight here, with its twin towers, the seventy-four steps leading up to its doors, and bizarrely, the tomb of ex-Emperor Karl I of Austria inside.

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3 Boqueirão

Nothing to see here - it's just the end of the line for the number 60 bus. Phespirit stayed to the end of the line and then walked 700m back down the road to a sign indicating 'Levada dos Tornos'.

This was to be the start of his most enjoyable hike.

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4 Caniçal

Caniçal was a just-passing-through town for Phespirit on his walk from Pico do Facho to the tip of Ponta de São Lourenço.

On a hot cloudless day he sat on its stony beach for half an hour, then strolled up through the town and bought ice cream and fizzy drink before finally heading out. Not much to report, but from what he saw he reckoned Caniçal would be the next best place to stay on the island after Funchal.

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5 Ponta de São Lourenço

Ponta de São Lourenço is the raw, rocky peninsula that stretches out from the east of Madeira, simply demanding to be visited.

Phespirit saw many more walkers on this dramatic stretch of land than he had on all his other hikes put together. It has a well made footpath built along its length, but the near three-hour round trip is still hard going. The majestic scenery makes the effort worthwhile though, and the bonus for Phespirit was spotting a seal swimming in a sheltered cove on the north side.

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6 Arco de São Jorge

This small village is a familiar scattering of red-roofed white-walled buildings set upon many levels, with greenery all around. It has a church near to a bus terminal (a shelter with a wide lay-by), which is probably the closest thing to a recognisable centre. A little way to the north is a miradouro with views along wave-pounded cliffs to the east and west.

Phespirit arrived by walking around the cliffs from Boaventura. For the full two hours of his walk he was accompanied by a small dog that, for reasons unknown, simply decided to follow him.

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7 Boaventura

This was the starting point for Phespirit's two hikes in the north of the island. It is a sleepy town inland from the coast but still within sight of the ocean.

The high place of the town is occupied by a cemetery not far from the centrally-located church. Opposite the entrance to the church is Café Bar Lá Fé, where Phespirit stopped to buy a Magnum ice cream in between his walks.

That about sums it up for Phespirit and Boaventura.

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8 São Vicente

Phespirit visited São Vicente for just ten minutes - long enough to walk the length of a cobbled street through the town and to call in at their church.

When planning his holiday in Madeira, Phespirit came quite close to staying here instead of Funchal. It would have been a mistake.

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9 Porto Moniz

Far in the northwest, Porto Moniz is a pleasant, leisure-orientated coastal town with natural bathing pools formed from volcanic rock, backed by promenades, cafés and restaurants, souvenir shops, a fortress-like aquarium and various other novelties and facilities.

Very nice, except Phespirit visited on a day of light rain and heavy seas that narrowed his options for enjoyment. So he settled down on a sheltered bench and simply watched the world do its thing.

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10 Calheta

Strictly for tourists and day-tripping locals. It has a big hotel and a plush marina backed by the usual row of restaurants, but its main attractions are beaches of golden sand imported from Morocco.

There are two beaches that face each other, set at right-angles to the coastline. Both are protected behind breakwaters that curl out and around the precious sands and their calm waters in between, stopping just short of meeting in the middle.

Apparently the first imported batch was riddled with scorpions. No bad thing, then, that the sea eventually washed it away. A bit of a cock-up all round it seems, but remedied at the second attempt.

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11 Ribeira Brava

This lazy seaside town put Phespirit in mind of the medium-sized coastal communities in Devon and Cornwall that he frequented on childhood holidays. These communities successfully transformed themselves for tourism without being excessively loud or brash or allowing themselves to become utterly over-run by modern hotels.

Ribeira Brava has a main thoroughfare, a few shops to look round, and a promenade and lido by the seafront. Probably not the worst place to stay for a few days.

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12 Caba Girão

Rising 589m, Cabo Girão is claimed to be the second highest sea cliff in the world, after one in Hawaii.

A viewing platform at the tip provides essential photo opportunities along the coast to the east and, yes, over half a kilometre straight down.

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13 Cãmara de Lobos

With arcs of small houses descending in haphazard tiers down to a narrow stony beach strewn with colourful little boats, Cãmara de Lobos is close to being an idealised Atlantic fishing village.

A backdrop of large, modern developments and elevated highways might spoil the fantasy somewhat, but complete perfection is hard to come by anywhere these days.

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  1. Funchal
  2. Monte
  3. Boqueirão
  4. Caniçal
  5. Ponta de São Lourenço
  6. Arco de São Jorge
  7. Boaventura
  8. São Vicente
  9. Porto Moniz
  10. Calheta
  11. Ribeira Brava
  12. Caba Girão
  13. Cãmara de Lobos
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Funchal Monte Boqueirão Caniçal Ponta de São Lourenço Arco de São Jorge Boaventura São Vicente Porto Moniz Calheta Ribeira Brava Caba Girão Cãmara de Lobos