Cabo Girao was the first photo stop on our Western Highlights tour of the island. To get here we had been driven up through agricultural terraces of bananas, the vineyards that produce the grapes for Madeira wines, and finally the Eucalyptus forests before reaching the native Laurisilva forests, that are to a large part watered by the clouds.
The Laurisilva forests of Madeira, along with the smaller remnants found in the Azores, Capo Verde and Canary Islands (Macaronesia) are a leftover from the Pleistocene era 10,000 years ago, when much of the Mediterranean and north Africa were covered in evergreen laurel forests. In Madeira the Laurisilva covers about 150 square kilometres of mountainside between 300 and 1600 metres above sea level. The unique climatic conditions of Macaronesia preserved the Laurisilva forests on the islands when the continental mainlands dried out. In recognition of their uniqueness Madeira’s Laurisilva forests were declared a UNESCO World Heritage in 1999.
Photography done it was back in the bus for the trip down to the coastal town of Ribeira Brava.
Ribeira Brava means angry river in Portuguese, but fortunately the river is only angry during the rainy season. This was only really a pee stop, but we did get a chance to look at the splendid interior of the Church of Soa Bento. There is also a tiny castle that was used whenever the Barbary Pirates from north Africa came a raiding for Christian slaves back in the 17th and 18th centuries.
From Ribeira Brava it was back up into the mountains until we reached the central plateau of the island 1500 metres above sea level, where the Laurisilva forest gives way to moorland. It looked a lot like Scotland.
The Plateau do Paul de Serro is cattle country and several of the beasts had to be encouraged out of the path of our coach before we began the descent to Porto Moniz for lunch at the Cachelote.
And a very agreeable lunch it was with a nice red and an indifferent white all included in the price we paid for the excursion. Porto Moniz Castle was also built to offer protection from those Barbary Pirates. Today it is now an aquarium.
After lunch it was back up the mountains for a brief visit to Sao Vincente with its church and monumental cemetery before our final photo stop at Encumeando about 1000 metres above sea level.
We booked the excursion, which for a change actually included lunch with wine, through Thomson for £38.99 each.