Nestled midway along Madeira‘s more densely populated south coast, just 9 kilometres from the centre of Funchal, the quaint little fishing village of Câmara de Lobos is a popular stopover for travellers heading west from the capital towards Cabo Girão, one of the world’s highest cliffs.
Literally meaning ‘den of wolves’, the village takes its name from the flocks of monk seals resting on the rocks when Madeira’s discoverer, João Gonçalves Zarco, landed after his second voyage to the island in 1420, mistaking them for wolves.
Set in a peaceful cove, Câmara de Lobos is a huddle of white-washed, red-tile roofs and the view from the sea-front is particularly idyllic, a fact well illustrated by Winston Churchill who used to set up his easel on a little knoll above the horse-shoe of black lava that cups the village on one of his many visits to Portugal.
Besides some aesthetic improvements, little has changed since Churchill’s day and this pretty seaside village remains worthy of any artist’s attention, with its brightly coloured boats and fishing nets strung out in the sun like giant cobwebs. Black basalt rocks give the tide a darkly secretive look, particularly in the twilight, overlooked by the zigzag of fishermen’s cottages marching haphazardly down the hillside.
The most highly-prized catch at the local fish market is espada, the black scabbardfish that’s plentiful in the deep-blue waters surrounding the island and therefore a regular feature on local restaurant menus.
Journeying inland, the road to Cabo Girão snakes up through vineyards to the mountain village of Estreito de Câmara de Lobos situated in the heart of Madeira’s wine-making region, a land of palms, banana trees and swathes of exotic flowers and shrubs.
Close by, and always an imposing presence, Cabo Girão rises abruptly from the water’s surface to almost 600 metres. This great humped cliff, whose name translates as something like ‘turning cape’, is reminiscent of the forehead of a huge whale dropping sheer into the sea.
And for those who enjoy head-spinning views, there’s a vantage point on the summit with some of the best vistas on the island.