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Day 6 - Encumeada to Fajã Escura (Standard Walk)

Hiking route · Portugal
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  • Plateau of Paul da Serra
    / Plateau of Paul da Serra
    Photo: Suzel Gary
  • / Highest mountains of Madeira
    Photo: Suzel Gary
m 1200 1000 800 600 400 12 10 8 6 4 2 km
An old trail starting below Encumeada goes through several patches of woodlands and leads to another pass at Relvinha, facing Madeira's highest mountains range. A steep descent slides down to the first houses of Fajã Escura.
moderate
Distance 12.7 km
6:00 h
700 m
900 m
1,310 m
639 m

From the mountain lodge of Hotel Encumeada, a short steep climb leads you to the first track of the day which gently undulates along the contour lines, ascending slowly towards the valley bottom. You pass through a remote farming settlement and from here you commence a steady climb over a predominantly paved surface. The gradient slackens towards Relvinha, the high point of the pass between the valleys of Serra de Água and Curral das Freiras. The earthen path then descends rapidly in a protracted series of hair pin bends into the remote villages at the head of the valley, ending at the hamlet of Fajã Escura.

Author’s recommendation

Encumeada Pass divides the highlands into the mountainous eastern part and the plateau on the west part; however, it acts as a junction between the north and south sides of Madeira. Indeed, the first part of the walk follows an old path which used to be the main route from north to south as it connects to Funchal. 

Protected by the Pico Grande summit, the ascent to Relvinha is worth the effort with its rewarding mountain atmosphere and views. A rest at the noteworthy snack bar is well deserved at the end of the walk. 

Profile picture of Laura Paterson
Author
Laura Paterson
Update: January 19, 2022
Difficulty
moderate
Technique
Stamina
Experience
Landscape
Highest point
1,310 m
Lowest point
639 m

Safety information

  •  Some slippery sections. 
  • When path is narrow, walk carefully on the trail, not on the vegetation. 
  • In case of landslides, do not proceed if there is any hazard. 
  • Poor signal reception on part of the trail.
  • Poor gps coverage on part of the trail, data might diverge from given information. 

Tips and hints

Points of Interest 

  • Valley of the Nuns “Curral das Freiras” was an isolated community based loosely around the Convent of Santa Clara. Established by settlers in the 15th Century, it is widely believed that the nuns took refuge here to escape the attacks of French privateers on Funchal in the mid-16th Century. 
  •  Until the road tunnel was built in the 1950's, the main route out of the valley was a goat track, travelled most frequently by the postman who used it daily except Sundays. At the time, the postman was a woman.  
  • Traditional products from “Curral das Freiras” include liquors (cherry, eucalyptus, chestnut, …), other chestnut products such as cakes and biscuits, and honey. 

Services 

Services only at the hotel.  

Food & Drink 

  • Nothing en route. Picnic and water required. 
  • Snack bar O LAGAR at destination point, which doubles as a little grocery store. 

Start

At the Hotel Encumeada (835 m) (835 m)
Coordinates:
DD
32.748949, -17.024948
DMS
32°44'56.2"N 17°01'29.8"W
UTM
28S 310287 3625270
w3w 
///alcove.husband.humility

Destination

Small hamlet of Fajã Escura

Turn-by-turn directions

0.00 km – START at the hotel entrance. TURN RIGHT, uphill on the tarmac road until the double signpost to “Curral Jancao 13km” & “Curral das Freiras 13km” on a sharp bend of the road. 

0.81 km – TURN RIGHT, onto the rough road past the Tourist Information board. Follow the PR12 signs and pass through the open gate. 

1.32 km – BEAR RIGHT, downhill. In a bend to the left, enjoy the view to the valley. The path is now flat and soon narrows to a single track just before a small stone pillar. 

BEAR RIGHT, down the steps & UNDER the green hydro-electric pipe. Continue down on the earthen path and about 30 minutes later reach a wooden footbridge. 

3.31 km – TURN RIGHT, up the track and find another wooden bridge after 10 minutes. Pass through the terraces of the old settlement of Curral Jangão, ignoring some accesses on the left, until the stone grass covered bridge. 

4.40 km – AHEAD, cross the grass bridge & continue on a protracted stretch of path initially paved. After 2 more wooden bridges, walk 5 minutes uphill on the paved path. Look carefully no to miss the next junction, on a wide section a flight of steps climbs up the rock on your left hand-side. 

5.36 km – BEAR LEFT up the stairs and on the paved path again. After a viewpoint the path becomes steeper. Over 30 minutes later and at a bend on the left, it is possible to see the mountain pass of Relvinha bearing a few trees. Reach some log stairs. 

7.60 km – AHEAD down the steps and up again on the paved path. Walk along the rock wall and pass damp sections alternating with stone steps. When the trail gets flat with grassy sides, be carefull not to miss the junction, with some stone steps on the left near dead chestnut trees standing on the right. 

9.46 km – BEAR LEFT up the stairs bordered by thorny gorse bushes and follow the sign CURRAL DAS FREIRAS. In 2 minutes, the trail reaches the mountain pass and a new junction. 

9.52 km – BEAR RIGHT following another sign for CURRAL DAS FREIRAS on the lower path. 

NOTE 1: there is a nice place to take a rest under the trees just off the path on your left.  

NOTE 2: Here you have the option of taking the higher path to the left and climbing Pico Grande, however this is a challenging climb in the best of weathers and it can be difficult. You must be reasonably fit, sure-footed and have a head for heights. If you do decide to take this option, return the same way as you went up, back to this point. See route notes for this option under “Pico Grande summit”.

AHEAD, downhill on the earthen path which later zig-zags constantly with frequent hand rails.  

10.05 km – AHEAD across the stream. After a few steps up, mind your head on the big stone on the left. The trail goes down again. 

Caution: can be slippery. 

After rocky stretches followed by rounded paved stairs with handrails on both sides, a sharp bend on the left affords nice views. On one side Curral das Freiras lies in the valley and on the other one the chestnut trees climb on the sheer slopes. 

10.50 km – AHEAD down the main trail. Ignore steeper tracks.

Further down you pass through eucalyptus & chestnut woods. Continue downhill on the log stairs to a junction with 2 tracks and a concrete road below, on the right-hand side. A sign indicates the way back to PICO GRANDE ENCUMEADA / CORRIDA.

12.17 km – LEFT down the concrete road. After two bends, pass by some picnic tables in the middle of the trees and a water house. Carry on down the concrete road that takes you to the village. 

12.70 km – At the Café/Bar and bus stop, you have reached your destination. Taxi transfer at 4:30 pm.

Note


all notes on protected areas

Getting there

  • Walk starts at the hotel.
  • Transfer from Fajã Escura at the end of the day.

Coordinates

DD
32.748949, -17.024948
DMS
32°44'56.2"N 17°01'29.8"W
UTM
28S 310287 3625270
w3w 
///alcove.husband.humility
Arrival by train, car, foot or bike

Equipment

  •  Raingear and warm clothing. 
  • Walking boots. 

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Difficulty
moderate
Distance
12.7 km
Duration
6:00 h
Ascent
700 m
Descent
900 m
Highest point
1,310 m
Lowest point
639 m

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