A week in Madeira

Arieiro peak

Driving to Arieiro peak

On our second day with the car it was Sam’s turn to drive, and the first hour or so was again nerve-racking. Today’s plan was car tour 4, “Mountains and more mountains”. Afraid of more fog we left early, driving through the centre and then north, up the twirling roads to Monte and beyond, to Poiso and then high into the mountains, 1.8km up to the Arieiro peak.

(A word of warning, the parking here is nightmarish if its busy, keep to the right and park by the roundabout to avoid the steep incline and coaches.)

Arieiro is breathtaking, and we’d made it early enough to avoid fog. Rock escarpments stab the air through swirling infant clouds, and the valley floor sits misty in the distance. Thin rocky walks run along rough terrain, hugging the walls and narrow ledges, into the mist. We started out, climbing downwards to see the magnificent views, but stopped at the first roadblock, a wooden barrier warning, “Danger do not cross”, a small hole punched through, and large enough to continue. Being so high, standing above the clouds and still with a sea view, the natural beauty is just incredible.

The clouds were starting to move in now, and soon our already dangerous path would be in fog. With a melted Mars bar energy boost, we turned back. Sam’s vertigo played up and I drove the downhill return leg, all the way to Santo da Serra and Portela.

Now the clouds were thick, the weather cold and all views cut short. Skipping parts of the tour we took the tunnels around the north east to Santana. Despite its A shaped houses there’s nothing to see here, just lots of coaches and cafes rammed with coach patrons. In said rammed cafe we re-energised with pizza and coffee.

A little nauseous and cold, we didn’t fancy three more hours of driving. We called an end to car tour 4 and headed home via the highway, with a single stop-off at Porto da Cruz where the air was permeated by the smell of brewing beer. Driving south, the sun came out and it felt like a different place. A tour of the island is all four seasons.

Back by 3pm, we returned the car and chilled poolside with our books, once again in the hot hot sun. The pool just warm enough to dip into. We caught up with John and Jenni. They’d taken the expensive Thomson “Western Wonders” coach tour, which had been a huge disappointment and not fitting to the description. Although John had learnt all about the many many types of banana the island grew, from the dwarf bananas to those for diabetics. He was positively thrilled.

“At the Piano” restaurant

For our last evening, “At the Piano” looked perfect, even if it did feel a little like a wedding reception, perfectly white and decorated with petals. A family tragedy meant the head chef had to abandon the kitchen, and a couple of our menu choices weren’t available. The set menu looked very tempting, especially with a wine flight, but we went a la carte:

Although delicious, my meal resembled a cheaper version of the prawns I’d had at Tokos, and the difference was clear, but Sam loved her salmon. The 2008 Montedas Servas (alentejano) was the nicest Rose wine I’ve ever tasted. To round off our evening and holiday, perfectly happy to be intoxicated, we ordered liqueurs; homemade passionfruit liqueur, a Tia Maria coffee and, because the card machine was being so very slow, a lovely complimentary blackberry liqueur.

We walked around the block one more time before heading home, bumping into chef Philipe outside Tokos, he’d had a hard night, “making soup for 1000” he said. In the warm night air we stumbled, past the irish pub with its green cadillac, past Chalet Vicente, past the “magical” glass box with football highlights, past the roads to the sea, across the crossing, past Joe’s wine shop and home through the great green gates.

Steaks on a plane →