Ribeiro Frio - Where Madeira Runs Cold

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Ribeiro Frio in Madeira lives up to its name which, when translated, means Cold River.

This small village is situated in a natural wilderness, located high up in the north eastern part of Madeira Island. It has a rapid flowing river, chilled by the altitude, that gives rise to one of the main tourist attractions that is responsible for pulling so many visitors to this remote destination.

Popular with both tour companies and individual holidaymakers who have a hire vehicle, the roads entering Ribeiro village are usually lined with parked cars and coaches. The road from Santana on the north coast climbs as it approaches, whilst the road from Funchal in the south slopes down quite steeply as you enter the village. Either way, don't be surprised if, open arrival, you are required to abandon your transport and walk a hundred metres or so to get to the heart of the village.

Once you have finally arrived, you will perhaps be a little disappointed because, upon first glance, Ribeiro Frio seems to consist of nothing more than a single restaurant, a small bar and a tourist souvenir shop. However, do not misjudge this delightful rural village, for those in the know, there are things of interest to see and do.

Just down from the main restaurant, and on the same side of the main road that dissects the village, is the free to enter government run trout farm. Here, you can walk around the pleasantly planted grounds whilst you make your way amid the several trout ponds. The uninspiring, plain, white, square hatchery tanks are perfunctory and nothing else. Whereas, the round, brickwork, green hue of the adult pools can leave you gazing into an endless twirl of performing rainbow trout. And, each is fed by the chill, fresh waters of the local river that gives the village its name.

Unfortunately, for those who are keen anglers, fishing is definitely not allowed. I have even heard it suggested by some local sceptics that the trout offered for consumption at the adjacent restaurant is definitely not obtained from the farm. Indeed, it has been said that not one fish from the farm ends up on a menu anywhere in Madeira. This is something I find hard to believe because the hardships of history means that the Madeiran people are very adept at utilising the natural resources that are available to them.

At the other end of the Ribeiro Frio village is the SRA Loja do Ambiente, an environmental education centre housed in a large white building. The SRA Loja do Ambiente is part of a consortium of similar establishments covering Madeira, the Azores and the Canary Islands. Not really intended as a tourist attraction, but rather aimed at educating local children in the need for protecting their island home, this establishment may be of interest to those involved in such issues. This facility is not really intended as a tourist attraction. As such, it will be a case of hit and miss if it is actually open when you visit. The presence of an English speaking attendant is similarly a matter of chance.

Apart from these two attractions, the local restaurant is where most day-trippers head. If you do intend to dine at the restaurant, then keep a look out for arriving coaches. The village is a frequent stop on many Eastern Madeira tours and the sudden rush of 60 or more passengers, all simultaneously hungry, can leave the staff overstretched. Internet reviews and feedback on the Restaurant Ribeiro Frio are contradictory and carry a range of opinions. Usually open from 12noon to 6:00pm, it is not expensive given its position and the almost total lack of competing outlets. If you are visiting during the height of the tourist season, you can always phone ahead and reserve a table. The telephone number is (291) 575 898.

Alternatively, if a snack or a casual drink is all that you are really looking for, then the dated but friendly confines of Victor's Bar will be more suitable. The outside tables, although basic, are very welcome on a hot summer's day.

After having enjoyed your meal, the surrounding laurissilva forest, waterfall and panoramic views provide the ideal backdrop for taking a walk in a natural, unspoilt environment. The flat, easy and ever-popular 1 hour round journey walk to the spectacular Balcoes viewpoint is really a must do. At the end, a rocky, balcony outcrop offers a marvellous view across an open valley to a rising mountainside that stretches out across the volcanic landscape to the north coast.

Alternatively, if you are feeling adventurous, you can set out along the demanding Levada do Furado walk to Portela. This walk is very narrow in places, with shear drops and with little protection in the way of railings. The journey lasts around 4 hours and you can only expect to cover it one way. It is also definitely not a recommended undertaking for novice hikers. If you do fancy the challenge, then it is advisable to check with the local official tourist office in Funchal for advice beforehand and, in any case, always observe any warnings given on the noticeboard at the start of the levada just below the Restaurant Ribeiro Frio.

Finally, before you head for a well-earned night's rest at your hotel, there is one little thing that you simply must do - locate a convenient spot and lower your hand into the rapid movement of the flowing river. From the instant that your fingertips dip below the surface, a lasting memory will be etched on your being and you will always remember just why Ribeiro Frio was so called.

 

Robert James BSc(Hons) is the editor of the independent Madeira travel guide. He has been a Freelance Computer Professional for 25 years and has had numerous articles published in the trade press.

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