If you come to Madeira you just have to get out and about and the best way to do that is to hire a car. Madeira is a driver's paradise! The main roads or 'vias rápidas' are amazing feats of engineering slicing a 5-hour journey from the south to the north into a 45-minute breeze. But it's the older roads that are the most fun! While they've done an impressive job of tunnelling through Madeira's mountainous terrain or constructing flyovers across deep canyons, there are many parts of the island where you want to take 'the road less travelled'.
We picked up a car from Madeira Rent at the airport and they also deliver to Reid's Palace or your hotel of choice just as easily. It seems to me they have the best cars at the same price as the other local companies and definitely offer a great service. I started out with a Mercedes A-Class but for the second week, switched to a convertible Mini as there wasn't so much golf on the agenda and the 'soft-top' was the way to appreciate Madeira's natural allure.
PONTA DO SOL
It's nice to get away from the touristy parts of Funchal and it doesn't take long to get to villages in the north such as Porto da Cruz, Porto Moniz, Santana, São Vicente. In the south, Ponta do Sol, Calheta, and Ponta do Pargo are worth visiting. Ponta do Sol is one of my favourites, a French-style village occupying Madeira's sunniest spot. Here you find the John do Passos Cultural Centre, a tribute to the renowned twentieth-century American writer who was of Portuguese descendant. He was born in Chicago but was passionate about the homeland of his grandfather, born here in Ponta do Sol. Dos Passos later described Ponta do Sol as “a tiny town buried in a deep gash in the mountains...”. There are, in this bright, modern building various exhibition rooms and a permanent room dedicated to John Dos Passos himself. There are two museum spaces, a library with extensive work from the author and an auditorium with a wide range of cultural activities.
We took a walk up to the wonderful, old Art Deco cinema atop a cliff overlooking Ponto do Sol. The cinema, which is almost 100 years old hosts the Madeira Micro Film Festival in December each year. There are community concerts during the summer. There's a hotel on the opposite cliff which I really must visit next time called Estalagem da Ponta do Sol. It's a designer hotel and their website looks amazing - check it out. But we were just passing through for the day so that visit will happen next time. Here are some images of Ponto do Sol and its surrounds...
PONTA DO PARGO
Further west, in fact at the most westerly point of Madeira is Farol da Ponta do Pargo with its lighthouse. Nearby is a 'tea house' where the waitresses seemed to recognise Elsa, my Madeiran friend as her family came from this part of the island. From the lighthouse, the next land you would hit following the 32nd parallel would be Savanah Georgia which oddly enough was one of the main landing docks for Madeira Wine and where there is still a Madeira Wine Club. What was also rather interesting was-this-was-what-was to be, and might still be with a few strokes of luck, the fourth golf course to be built on the island. It was a Nick Faldo Design and most of it seems ready for finishing but the economic downturn in 2010 stalled the project and here it stands with a few solitary cows tending the fairways. You can see the main entrance road and a bridge. It looks like an ideal piece tract with grand views of the ocean. I'll have to ask Elsa if we can
SANTANA Santana is where the laurel wood forest is a must visit is Queimadas, the old house and the levadas (water channels) and for the old houses of Santana with the thatched roofs.
The view in Porto Da Cruz seeing the north cliffs of the island
Madeira Wine Rally which used to be in the European Championship and a delight for anyone who like to drive a nice car in winding roads. Here's a clip of that event...
The rock you see is the 'phallus' from Ribeira da Janela. The pass will take you to Fanal where you find the most ancient of the Laurissilva (Laurel Woods), and some say, the Gateway to Atlantis...
Viewpoint where you can see the north coast on the road to Fanal. All the tours stop on this viewpoint. Sao Vicente village on the peninsula, once one of the most culturally advanced as the boats from mainland Portugal landed here.
The Bride's Veil (Veu da Noiva) on Seixal where you have a surfer's beach.
Porto Moniz volcanic rock pools where in the summer everyone arrives to sunbathe. it's a government facility.
David J. Whyte