To Curral das Freiras
began with a brief stop at PICOS DOS BARCELOS which is the nearest
viewpoint to Funchal and the easiest to get to. The views are good, but
lack the impact of say of Cabo Girao and they can be quite hazy. There
is a cafe and a large tourist shop.
We then headed north up the narrow steep sided Valley of teh Nuns to Curral das Freiras. The road was only built in 1959 before then this was a completely isolated area. This is one only settlement in the centre of Madeira and is surrounded by tall mountain peaks.
The area originally belonged to the nuns of Santa Clara Convent in Funchal who used it to graze cattle, sheep and goats. They fled here for a short time in 1566 to escape a corsair attack, bringing the convent treasures with them.
The road didnít arrive until 1959. Before then the only access was by a steep zig zagging path,
It is a wonderful drive up the valley with the road cut out along a narrow ledge. The only protection is a narrow concrete wall with additional small block on top. The road is quite narrow in places and there are some very tight and blind corners. This is not for the faint hearted.
Small isolated building can be seen on the opposite side of the valley surrounded by terraced fields, many reached by wooden ladders.
Just before the tunnel dropping down into Curral das Freiras, we took the road leading to the viewpoint at EIRA DO SERRADO. There is a large car park with cafe and expensive tourist shop. Be prepared with 50c if you want to use the toilets here.
There are good views from the cafe looking back down the valley to the sea.
A well made and easy trail leads from the cafe for even better views looking down to Curral das Freiras 2600í feet below . Even at 10.30 much of the settlement was still in deep shade. Houses hug the hillside and are surrounded by terraced fields.
The remains of the old road down to the village can still be seen.
From Eira do Serrado, we drove back to the main road and through the tunnel which dropped effortlessly down to CURRAL DAS FEIRAS.
Neither the nuns or the convent survive. This is a modern village with a few shops and small market place. The area is very dependent on agriculture and tourism.
Steps lead down to the attractive black and white Igreja Nossa Senhora do Livramento which was built in the late C18th to replace an earlier and crumbling chapel.
Much of the interior dates from the C20th and is completely different from the Baroque churches seen elsewhere on the island with its white paint picked out in gilt.
The nave ceiling has a painting of the Virgin and Child above Curral das Freitas.
There are modern blue and white tiles around the walls and in the baptistry at the back of the church.
At the back of the church is a small balcony supported on plain white pillars.
The chancel is small compared to the rest of the church and is reached through a basalt framed arch. On either side are altars to Our Lady of Livramento and the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The altar fills the east wall and has a very impressive tabernacle.
Above is a painted ceiling with the figure of Christ in the centre.
In the chancel is one of the few stained glass windows in Madeira.
The small north aisle contains two altars. At the back is the original altar which was replaced by a new parish priest who arrived in 1952. He was responsible for the stained glass window in the chancel and also repainting the main altar and ceilings.
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