Curral das Freiras

Curral das Freiras

The hidden parish

 

Imagine a safe place where a pirate from other centuries would not dare to search. There is such a place and it is in Madeira Island. Located far from the sea and protected by high mountains that defend those who live there from invaders, this incredible place is called Curral das Freiras.

In fact, the civil parish of Curral das Freiras has a unique location in Madeira Island, on the bottom of a deep valley. The place looks like the crater of a huge volcano. However, its aspect is simply due to the strong erosion it has felt over the years.

As such, this is one of the most picturesque civil parishes in the island.

Due to its location, Curral das Freiras has a very hot summer climate and a harsh winter.

The name Curral das Freiras (nun’s pen) originated from a curious situation. It was given, it is believed, around 1560, at a time the place served as refuge to the nuns of Santa Clara convent, in Funchal. The nuns, running away from the Lutheran pirates that invaded the island and plundered the city of Funchal, found in this place hidden by the mountains, the ideal sheltering place. Worth mentioning is the fact that the connection of the nuns to the parish goes back to the end of the 15th century, when the place was sold to João Gonçalves da Câmara, whom in turn donated in to Santa Clara convent, as a dowry for his daughters, Elvira and Joana who taught there.

The fact that Curral das Freiras is more protected and of difficult access is due to the fact that it is one of the few places in the island that cannot be seen from the sea. Still today, even by car, the only access is through a long winding road.

The settlement of Curral das Freiras only took place years later. From being a hiding place for running slaves and outlaws, a small population core is established. From then on, little by little, the civil parish started to grow.

In the beginning of the settlement, Curral das Freiras was called Curral (pen) or Curral da Serra (mountain pen), since it was solely used as grazing ground. At that time, is was solely attended by shepherds.
Jardim da Serra, Boca dos Namorados and Boca da Corrida are all places from where you can enjoy a breathtaking view of Curral das Freiras. Eira do Serrado boasts one of the most beautiful belvederes to gaze upon the beauty of the civil parish, way down, at your feet.
However, even though you can look at
Curral das Freiras from above, this does not excuse you from going all the way down to the centre of the parish, where you can visit the mother church and buy handicrafts.

There are pedestrian walks that start from there. You can go for a 16 km hike to Boaventura, which according to the experts, takes you about 8 to 9 hours to walk.

Nowadays, the parish's economy relies on agriculture, as well as on the retail and the hotel and catering industry.

In catering terms, one would like to point out the use of the chestnut, the most typical production of the place, namely in preparing chestnut soup.

It is precisely to take advantage of the typical chestnut production that in the 1980s the “Festa da Castanha” (chestnut feast) was introduced, taking place once a year, on November 1. This festivity tries to serve as a vehicle to make this civil parish, its activities and its productions known to the world.

The “Semana do Turista” (tourist week) and “Cantar dos Reis” (singing of kings), are also other high moments in the parish.
With an area of 25.07 km2, Curral das Freiras is the largest civil parish of Câmara de Lobos municipality.

The parish church constitutes the sole historic heritage of Curral das Freiras.

Adding to the church, one would like to point out the existence of century old levadas (water-courses) originating from the parish: Levada dos Piornais, which irrigates São Martinho parish, Levada do Curral e Castelejo and Levada da Velha, which was never finished.

 

 

How to Get There

 

The best way to get to Curral das Freiras, although there are other ways, is to go up Luís de Camões avenue (in front of Madeira Carlton Hotel). At the roundabout, go around it and turn towards Ribeira Brava.

Follow the Ribeira Brava road-signs until you get to the freeway, where you will stay for only a few hundred metres.

On the freeway, towards Ribeira Brava (Funchal - Ribeira Brava), you must leave on the first exit on your right. At the crossroads, turn right once more and go straight ahead.

Keep on going straight ahead.

A little further up, you’ll go pass Pico dos Barcelos. You can see the view, but you do not need to go there.

Keep on going straight ahead and pay attention to the road-signs, particularly for the next two roundabouts. Afterwards, you cannot go wrong.


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