Curral das Freiras, the Valley of the Nuns, is a hidden valley in the mountains just north of Funchal, Madeira.
The nuns found the place in 1566 and lived there in isolation. The only connection to the outer world was a winding footpath along the steep mountain face.
Since then the nuns have left but the village remained remote until a road was built in 1959. Today you can drive to the Nuns’ Valley in less than an hour.
We made a day trip by car to the hidden valley. It was a nice drive and for us the highlight of the trip was the amazing view of Curral Das Freiras from Eira do Serrado, 1094 m above sea level.
Curral das Freiras Drive on the Map
The map shows the driving route to Curral das Freiras, 18 km one way. Google Maps only gave me the route along the old road from Eira do Serrado onwards. We took the tunnel road which makes the distance even shorter.
The first stop was still in the city, the viewpoint of Pico de Barcelos, 364 m.
Pico de Barcelos
We took the road uphill to Pico de Barcelos that is a viewpoint located at 364 m. After a few minutes drive we were already this high!
Pico de Barcelos gives you good views over Funchal and the whole bay. The viewpoint is surrounded by typical Madeiran flowers that are very nice to look at as well. So the flowers and the scenery together make a perfect view.
The first photo was to east and this is the view towards west. You can see the mountains of Cabo Girao in the background.
Of course most visitors to Funchal want to see this view and they come here with buses and cars. So there are restaurants and souvenir shops to serve their needs.
This view is towards north. It’s where you are going, Madeiran interior mountains where Curral das Freiras is.
There’s also a monument, and a beautiful decorated pebble pavement. So you know you are in Portugal.
From Pico dos Barcelos take the Curral das Freiras / Eira do Serrado road. There are more Eira do Serrado than Curral das Freiras signs.
The road is very good. It winds up the mountains through an eucalyptus forest. The road follows the eastern side of the deep Socorridos Valley that leads to Curral das Freiras.
Just before the road went into a tunnel we took a road left uphill, there was a miradouro sign adn the road led to Eira do Serrado.
On this road no trees were hiding the views so we could see the Socorridos valley and the villages down in the valley. We thought this is the viewpoint to we parked the car and walked around.
We had good luck with the weather. The day was sunny but there were some scattered clouds that indicated what it’s like here on a cloudy day. You wouldn’t see anything at all. So check the Curral das Freiras weather before leaving.
Can you see the village on the other side on the valley? Even when we tried we couldn’t figure out how people get to those villages.
Next stop: Eira do Serrado.
Eira do Serrado
Eira Do Serrado is already at a high altitude. There is a car park, hotel and restaurant. You can walk from here down to Currar das Freiras, there is a cobbled footpath with many twists and turns.
There’s also a lookout where you get exhilarating views of the Nuns’ Valley. To find the path to the lookout you have to walk past the restaurant,
So the miradouro sign we had seen pointed to this place and not where we stopped before.
Curral Das Freiras
So finally we could see the Valley of the Nuns.
Why did the nuns come here? The nuns of Santa Clara convent that is in Funchal escaped pirates that attacked Funchal in 1566. At that time there was a severe pirate problem and people had to escape.
Curral das Freiras was several hundreds of metres below us. Earlier it was believed that the valley was an extinct volcano crater which is not a wonder since the place really looks like a crater.
Can you see the old Currar das Freiras road that’s carved into the cliff? I could never ever drive on that road.
Here you can see terraced fields at the end of the Socorridos Valley. Beautiful!
But look again on that road… (see below).
We didn’t want to take the risk of possibly having to drive on that road so we drove back to the tunnel.
The tunnel road takes you down to the village of Currar das Freiras.
The area has laurisilva and chestnut trees and you can also see them on the way down to Curral das Freiras. That’s the reason people in the village use chestnut to make chestnut bread, cake and liqueur that the village is famous for. We walked around in the village for a while but very soon decided to leave since clouds were gathering on the sky.
Anyway, this was a great day out and I hope my article helps you go and visit the hidden valley on your Madeira vacation.
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