In Madeira there’s a rather peculiar and dangerous road called Estrada Regional 101 (ER101). It is the oldest and most beautiful road of the island. Due to Madeira' s dramatic coast line, the road has many curves, narrow passages and steep climbs and descents, and is rugged, slow and old. It's one of the most scenic drives in the world.
This one-direction road runs along the ocean, with several cliffs and tunnels through the rock and was built after the World War II. The peculiarity of this road, apart from its narrowness, is that along the path, in the rainy season, there are waterfalls that cascade down from the sheer cliff and sparkle in the sunshine. The locals refer to stretches of the road as the "free car wash". On stormy days, the waves arrive up some points on the road, sweeping away all those who circulate around. Some stretches of the road are collapsed.
Many parts of the road have been renewed with bridges and tunnels, allowing most of the island to be in acceptable reach from Funchal. Do not travel this road in severe weather conditions. Avalanches and landslides can occur anytime. It has a well-deserved reputation for being dangerous because of unpredictable blizzards, and driving under these conditions, can be extremely challenging.
This road has been heralded as one of the most spectaculars roads in the world by the dangerousroads.org users. The old ER101 however remains in good condition and is still accessible. Due to the many views on the coast and the Atlantic, this is absolutely the road to be taken by tourists.
This part of the road is one of the top tourist attractions on Madeira. For safety reasons there is a one-way traffic on many parts. The surface of the road is asphalted. In the North of Madeira the coast road is more spectacular. Eventhough you're driving close to the sea, it looks more like a mountain road. From time to time the road gets very narrow. Especially between Boaventura and Ponta Delgada you hope there won't be any opposite traffic.
There are some narrow sections -scarcely wide enough for two cars- where if two vehicles have to pass each other, one might have to reverse for some kilometres of winding narrow road to get to a place wide enough to pass. It shouldn’t be attempted by those who don't know how to reverse. The road is difficult and it’s a nightmare in the wet or dark (or both).
There is little room for error on this road. It's normal for your palms to sweat looking at those photos, imagine what it must have been like before the barriers. It’s incredibly disorienting to look over the edge, or even just to see the valleys a couple thousand feet below you. It’s a mind numbing vertical drop of hundreds of meters so you might want to give it a miss on a windy day. The old road can be dangerous. Beware of falling rocks.