For a final look at Madeira, you can cut through the center of the island, heading north from Funchal. This route takes you to such scenic highlights as Pico do Arieiro and Santana, and is one of the finest parts of Madeira for mountain hiking.
Pico do Arieiro
This mountain and the settlement built on its side, 36km (22 miles) north of Funchal, really evoke the island's volcanic nature. When the 1,780m (5,838-ft.) peak is not covered by clouds (it's likely to be obscured Dec-Mar), the panoramic views are stunning. Pico do Arieiro is the third-tallest mountain on the island. To reach it, follow Rua 31 de Janeiro out of Funchal, and take N103 as it climbs to Monte. When you reach the pass at Poiso, some 10km (6 1/4 miles) north of Monte, take a left and continue to follow the signposts into Pico do Arieiro. The best access (and most scenic route) to Pico Ruivo is from Pico do Arieiro. The hike is 8km (5 miles) on foot and takes approximately 4 hours.
Once at the miradouro (belvedere) at Pico do Arieiro, you'll have a panoramic sweep of the central mountains of Madeira. To the southeast is the village of Curral das Freiras . To the immediate northeast you can take in a panorama of Penha d'Águia (Eagle's Rock), a rocky spike that is one of the most photographed sites in Madeira. You will also have a view of Pico Ruivo to the northwest (Madeira's highest point, at 1,860m/6,101 ft.), which can be accessed from Pico do Arieiro by a difficult 8km (5-mile) hill walk.
Instead of taking the left fork at Poiso and heading for Pico do Arieiro, you can go straight to reach Ribeiro Frio, an enchanting spot 11km (6 3/4 miles) north of Poiso.
Ribeiro Frio (Cold River) is a little village in the Madeira Forest Park (a protected area of trees and mountains in the center of Madeira that is spared from development) that occupies a dramatic setting in view of waterfalls, jagged peaks, and sleepy valleys.
You can take one of the most dramatic walks in Madeira from Ribeiro Frio. Just follow the signposts from Ribeiro Frio directing you to the Balcões. This walk passes along Levada do Furado and takes you on footpaths cut out of basalt rock until you reach the belvedere, whose dizzying perch overlooks the jagged peaks of the Pico do Arieiro, Pico das Torres, and Pico Ruivo. This 40-minute walk is of only moderate difficulty and is suitable for the average visitor with no special hiking skills.
If the mountain air gives you an appetite, head south from Balcões for a 5-minute drive to Victor's, on N103 in Ribeiro Frio (tel. 29/157-58-98), a chaletlike mountain restaurant known for afternoon tea and good regional food and wine. Trout from the area hatchery (prepared in a variety of ways) is a specialty; we prefer it grilled golden brown. You'll also find typical Madeiran cuisine, including lamb stew with potatoes, and swordfish with bananas. Main courses cost 10€ to 16€. The restaurant is open daily 9am to 9pm; reservations are recommended. Major credit cards are accepted.
Follow N103 out of Ribeiro Frio, heading north toward the coast. In the village of Faial, you'll find a connecting route, signposted west, to the village of Santana.
Eighteen kilometers (11 miles) northwest of Ribeiro Frio and 40km (25 miles) north of Funchal, Santana is the most famous village in Madeira and certainly the prettiest. It is noted for its A-framed, thatched-roof cottages called palheiros. Painted in bright, often flamboyant colors, they are the most-photographed private residences on the island. On a coastal plateau, Santana lies at an altitude of 742m (2,434 ft.).
Outside Santana is the Madeira Theme Park, at Estrada Regional 101, Fonte da Pedra (tel. 29/157-04-10), set on 7 acres. This immense park and garden explores island history, culture, and tradition and is filled with various exhibits, including typical Santana houses. It is riddled with amusements, everything from a lake to a watermill to a kiddie playground. As you pay your admission, a map of the park is provided. You can plan to have lunch here, as there are various eating places, including a cafeteria, 2 theme restaurants, and even a self-service dining spot for the frugal traveler. The gastronomy of Madeira is showcased. Open daily 10am to 7pm (closed Mon in winter). The park charges 10€ adults, 8€ seniors or ages 5 to 14; ages 4 and under free.
You can find food and lodging at one of the most frequented establishments on the north coast, Quinta do Furão, Achada do Gramacho, 9230 Santana (tel. 29/157-01-00; fax 29/157-35-60; www.quintadofurao.com). The 43-unit inn lies in a vineyard on a clifftop setting that opens onto a panorama of the ocean. Most visitors stay just for the day to sample the cuisine, which is the finest on the north coast. The rustic dining room serves Madeiran, Portuguese, and international cuisine. Dishes include swordfish cooked with banana, grilled T-bone steak in garlic butter, and filet of beef baked in a pastry case and served with Roquefort sauce. The local goat cheese is a must try. Main courses cost 10€ to 25€. Open hours are daily from noon to 3:30pm and 7 to 9:30pm. Reservations are recommended.
The inn is also a delightful place to stay. The ample guest rooms are well furnished in the regional style, with excellent mattresses, TVs, phones, and small to midsize bathrooms that are tiled and neatly kept. Some accommodations open onto sea views, and others face the mountains. The inn has a swimming pool, gym, Jacuzzi, and pub. Doubles with half-board cost 140€, a suite costs 190€, including breakfast. Parking is free. Major credit cards are accepted at the hotel and the restaurant.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.