Getting the bus up to the Valley of the Nuns, Madeira (or Curral das Freiras in Portuguese) was one of the first short day trips we did from Funchal, back on our first ever visit to Madeira. Since then, we’ve been back to the valley several times and always enjoyed it. There’s not much there, but the views are spectacular. And even though it’s a tourist attraction, it’s very quiet and peaceful.
So I thought I’d put together this little guide on visiting Curral das Freiras in case anyone else is thinking of exploring the area…
Why visit the Valley of the Nuns, Madeira
If you want the great near-death experience of a Madeiran bus journey, this is the perfect trip for you. Or if you like incredible views, unlike anywhere else on the island, it’s worth going (just make sure you’re braced for the bus journey of doom).
Curral das Freiras is a small village almost bang in the middle of Madeira, nestled between nearly perpendicular mountains in what’s argued to be the crater of an extinct volcano. Apparently the nuns escaped to hide from pirates on the coast to come and live here. They definitely picked the place with the best views. There are no nuns there now I’m afraid, as some hilarious TripAdvisor reviewer pointed out with great disappointment. Soz about that.
There’s not really anything much to do in the village, but the beauty of it is just walking round. There are a few tourist shops and a spectacular graveyard (not as creepy as it sounds). More on that further down this post.
How to get to the Valley of the Nuns, Madeira by bus
- Take bus 81 from the centre of Funchal (it starts by the cable car terminal) to Curral das Freiras. See a timetable here.
- A return ticket will set you back €6.70.
- The journey takes about 45 minutes each way.
- You’ll get to enjoy a vomit-inducing journey with sheer drops on the side of the road. Madeiran bus drivers are something else.
- With most buses, you can get off at the viewpoint of Eira do Serrado and walk down (clearly marked) to the town, or stay on and be deposited in the centre. With some buses, they’re direct. The walk down will take about 50 minutes, depending on how slow you are. Whether or not the bus stops at the viewpoint depends on the time, so as ever with Madeira check the timetables like your life depends on it. This also applies for getting back to Funchal. You don’t want to end up stuck in the village when the last bus has gone because a taxi will set you back about 25 euro.
Things to do in Curral das Freiras
This is the best bit: there’s very little to do. Regular readers might have seen my epic list of 40 things to do in Funchal. Well, I’m struggling to think of even 4 things to do in Curral das Freiras.
But that’s the beauty of it. You’re left to have a wander, eat, drink, soak up the view, and then get the bus back when you’ve had enough. You can easily do it in half a day, sandwiched between the usual copious amounts of eating and drinking that a trip to Funchal entails.
Of course, there are a few actual things to do in the village. They just won’t take very long.
1. Mooch up the main street
There are a few shops to have a mooch in, selling mostly tourist stuff. How many fridge magnets is it acceptable to purchase? What do people without magnetic fridges buy when they’re on holiday?
2. Find the most spectacular graveyard
Forget Père Lachaise in Paris, wouldn’t you rather be dead somewhere with this view?
You can walk through the graveyard by going down the steps on the main road. This sounds like a very vague description, but given the size of Curral das Freiras, you don’t have to worry about finding anything. It’s peaceful and offers a quiet perspective of the valley. There’s a nice tree-lined bit too.
3. Stick your head in the nun cutout
There’s a nun cutout that you can pose in outside the biggest shop in the village and well, it has to be done.
Every. single. time.
You can see that Chris’s enthusiasm for the nun cutout has grown over the past five years. I can only imagine what 2020 will bring.
Where to eat in the Valley of the Nuns
Curral das Freiras is famous for its chestnuts and has an actual festival dedicated to them every year. A lot of places serve them with a sweet sauce. We both think it’s a bit rank, to be honest. I’ve tried to like it but nope. Chestnuts are much better in a savoury situation.
Give it a go if you fancy, but the chestnut soup is a good alternative in my book. You can get this in all the restaurants/cafés in the village.
If you’re not too into chestnuts, luckily there’s plenty of other lovely grub available in the Valley of the Nuns.
Our favourite restaurant there is Sabores do Curral, which has a decent menu featuring a few veggie options. You have to sit on the rooftop area to see the view while you eat, no matter how windy it is. That’s the law.
If you’ve already eaten in Funchal or wherever you’re staying, make sure you at least stop somewhere for a drink and a pastel de nata to appreciate the view. There are a handful of cafés to pick from and it wouldn’t really matter which if you’re not having a meal, as long as it has a view.
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You might also like my other Madeira posts:
- 40 things to do in Funchal, Madeira
- Where to eat in Madeira – 14 of the best restaurants and cafés
- The best bars in Funchal, Madeira: in search of poncha and craft beer
- Funchal, Madeira: a travel guide
- A day trip to Porto da Cruz from Funchal
- How to spend a week in Madeira: a 7-day itinerary without a car
- How to do a day trip to Camara de Lobos from Funchal.
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