There are some sights that are burned onto your retina long after you have arrived back at your hotel. The Valley of the Nuns, Madeira is one of those sights.
Get the lowdown on why you should add this to your Madeira itinerary and how to make this happen with this Nuns’ Valley guide. There is all you need to know about how to get from Funchal to the Nuns’ Valley by bus and what to do in the village of Curral das Freiras.
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What is the Nuns’ Valley, Madeira?
The Nuns’ Valley is a deep crater surrounded by near-extinct volcanoes in the heart of Madeira. At its foot is the tiny village of Curral das Freiras (“Refuge of the Nuns”).
Although this huge crater is now thought to have been formed by erosion, some still hold that volcanic activity was to blame.
Why is it Called the Valley of the Nuns?
Nuns on the run are responsible.
In 1566, the sisters from the Santa Clara convent in Funchal fled from French pirates attacking the city and found refuge in this secluded valley. Before their arrival, Curral das Freiras was simply called Curral (“pen”) or Curral de Serra (“mountain pen’), as it was used solely as grazing ground by the resident shepherds.
It’s easy to understand why the nuns made a beeline for this settlement. They would have been well hidden, protected on all sides by inaccessible mountains. The area’s rich volcanic soil and abundant sunshine supported agriculture.
Their settlement became permanent and the village continued in splendid isolation until the 20th Century when tunnels were bored through the mountains to bring the first road.
Why Visit the Valley of the Nuns, Madeira?
Although the village of Curral das Freiras is nice enough, the main reason to visit the Valley of the Nuns is for the jaw-dropping views from Eira do Serrado.
From this viewpoint’s elevation of 1,094 metres, the picturesque village appears spotlit at the foot of the canyon. You may be able to make out Ribeira dos Socorridos (literally, “river of the survivors”) which slices Curral das Freiras into two.
Surrounding it are the majestic mountains of the central massif, including Pico da Cruz, Pico de Serradinho, Pico Grande and Pico da Geada. Vineyards cling to the steep slopes for dear life.
It is easily one of the most beautiful places in Madeira
Getting to the Nuns’ Valley from Funchal
The Valley of the Nuns is just under eight miles by road from Funchal.
Thanks to a frequent bus service, the Valley of the Nuns is a very easy day trip from Funchal if you do not have a hire car. There are also inexpensive half-day tours that will do the job.
Driving to the Valley of the Nuns
Exploring Madeira by car will always give you maximum flexibility. It also presents excellent opportunities for shredding your nerves.
Even if you have a rental car at your disposal, think twice before driving to the Nuns’ Valley. On an island that is infamous for its challenging roads, the drive to Curral das Freiras is in a class of its own.
We are talking about a narrow, twisting road bordered by precipitous drops. I witnessed three unfortunate drivers forced to reverse their vehicles along the narrow road at Eira do Serrado to allow a bus to pass.
At one point, I had to shut my eyes.
Bus to Nuns’ Valley from Funchal
For me, a far better option is to take bus #81 from Funchal.
Most buses stop at Eira do Serrado before continuing to the village of Curral das Freiras. You can check the bus #81 timetable here.
The bus sets off from Funchal’s cable car station and the journey takes around 30 minutes. A return ticket will cost you no more than €8.
You have two options to continue from Eira do Serrado to Curral das Freiras: wait for the next bus or walk. To pass the time as you wait for the next 81 bus, there is a hotel and restaurant at Eira do Serrado as well as a few shops.
The Nuns’ Valley walking trail to Curral das Freiras is clearly signposted and leads straight into the heart of the village. It takes around one hour.
As I was travelling alone in Madeira, this was not an option for me. However, if there is a group of you it is worth considering getting a taxi from Funchal to the Valley of the Nuns.
Cost-wise, you are likely to be looking at €20 – €25 for a one-way journey.
Day tour to the Nuns’ Valley
Alternatively, let someone else take care of all of the arrangements for you and join a half-day tour from Funchal. Many of these excursions include a stop in the lovely Câmara de Lobos.
This is a good option if you don’t fancy the walk down to Curral das Freiras or don’t want to kick your heels waiting for the next bus.
If you are a solo traveller, day tours are a great way to make new friends on the road. I went to Madeira solo and met some great people this way.
Take a look at this inexpensive half-day tour that has attracted great reviews. For a memorable and fun day trip to the Nun’s Valley, take a look at this tuk-tuk tour here.
What to Do in Curral das Freiras, Madeira
I’ll level with you; exploring Curral das Freiras won’t take you long. The main reason for visiting Madeira’s Valley of the Nuns is for those sensational views from Eira do Serrado.
Walking up the high street of Curral das Freiras will take you less than five minutes. Unless you have a real thing for chestnuts, there’s not much to detain you.
Chestnuts are a very big deal in the Valley of the Nuns.
The surrounding area is abundant with chestnut trees and the village is famous for its liqueurs and cakes made from these. You won’t have a problem tracking down chestnut-based souvenirs.
A Chestnut Festival is held on the 1st of November every year, which originated when the parish had a glut of chestnuts.
Curral das Freiras does have a lovely parish church.
The Church of Our Lady of Livramento (Paróquia de Nossa Senhora do Livramento) was built in the late 18th Century to replace an earlier chapel. It’s more restrained than the typical gilded Baroque churches in Madeira and has a lovely painted ceiling with Christ at its centre and a fine stained-glass window.
And that’s a wrap! I hope that you’ve found this short guide to Madeira’s Valley of the Nuns and Curral das Freiras useful and that the views are nothing short of sensational when you visit.