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THE ISLAND OF PORTUGAL NOT TO BE MISSED

 

The reddish cliffs and shaped by the winds give way to the hills that emerge from the crystalline sea, offering a beautiful setting, with long beaches of pure sand. These are the wonderful Portuguese islands, a piece of paradise that each year attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists with its incomparable beauty.

 

See everything you need to know about the most beautiful islands in Portugal and the destinations we’ve selected to make your trip unforgettable.

 

MADEIRA AND CULTURE

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MADEIRA

This archipelago, which belongs to Portugal, is of volcanic origin. It is located in the Atlantic Ocean, 545 km off the northwest coast of Africa. Its main islands are:

  • Madeira
  • Porto Santo
  • The Desert Islands (uninhabited)
  • The Wild Islands (uninhabited)

 

Funchal (Madeira)

Panoramic view of Funchal, Madeira Island
Funchal is the capital of the volcanic archipelago of Madeira. Immersed in the waters of the Atlantic, the place is surrounded by mountains, which serve as protection against the north winds – that’s why the climate is wonderful, mild throughout the year.

 

Funchal is named after the wild aromatic plant wild fennel, or “wild fennel”, which grew along the coast of the island and was one of the predominant species of the place in ancient times. However, it was not until 1424 that the island officially began to be populated and, from the 19th century onwards, Funchal became a tourist destination, along with the whole emerging area of ​​Madeira.

 

First, we’ll pass through the wonderful historic center of Funchal, in the western part, where we find places like Praça do Município, which impresses with a play of light created by the contrast between the black and white paving.

 

The entire city is rich in contrasts like this, as we will see throughout the tour. On the south side of the square is the Archbishop’s Palace, a 16th century building now transformed into the “Museum of Sacred Art”. Also nearby is the Town Hall, a Portuguese noble palace from the 18th century. Don’t miss the Jesuit College Church, which runs along the entire north side of the square.

 

Among the places you can’t miss, don’t forget São Pedro, where you can visit the Convento de Santa Clara and the fortress of São João do Pico. One of Funchal’s biggest attractions is probably the Old Town, in the heart of the city’s nightlife, which runs through the Santa Maria district and dates back to the 15th century.

 

Also in this region, it is worth visiting the Fortress of São Tiago, facing the sea, and the chapels Corpo Santo and Boa Viagem. Lovers of wine and good cuisine can find out all about the local food at the Mercado dos Lavradores.

THE AZORES

The Azores are an archipelago of volcanic origin, located in the Atlantic Ocean. There are nine main islands, divided into three groups, and numerous smaller islets:

Eastern Group Islands: São Miguel, Santa Maria, Ilhéus das Formigas
Central Group Islands: Terceira, Graciosa, São Jorge, Pico, Faial
Western Group Islands: Flores, Corvo

Let’s take a look at these beautiful Portuguese islands, all part of the Azores archipelago:

  • São Miguel
  • Ilha Terceira
  • São Jorge
  • Pico
  • Faial
  • Flores
  • Graciosa
  • Santa Maria

SAO MIGUEL

 

 

Also known as “The Green Island”, São Miguel is an oasis in the middle of the Atlantic, in the Azores archipelago. Despite being the most populated island in the region, São Miguel has only about 150,000 inhabitants, of which 50,000 are residents.

 

The scenery found by tourists is so varied and constantly changing that it never gets boring: with its enchanting lakes, beautiful beaches and imposing mountains, the islet offers breathtaking views. Visitors to São Miguel have a difficult choice when it comes to things to see: each small village on the island has something special to offer, both from the point of view of culture and natural beauty.

 

Take, for example, Ponta Delgada, a mix of the old and the modern, with its narrow streets full of shops and bustle. It is worth visiting the churches of São Giuseppe and São Sebastião. If you come from the capital, when you reach the outskirts of the city, you will be able to admire two splendid twin lakes in Lagoa das Sete Cidades.

Another interesting city is Ribeira Grande, with its ancient and suggestive architecture, and Nordeste, almost a desert, where the best known tourist spot is Salto do Farinha, the main lighthouse on the island.

 

The beaches of São Paolo will enchant you with their beauty: the sand is dark and volcanic at Praia do Pópulo, but Ribeira Quente will also take your breath away. Don’t miss Praia do Lombo Gordo and Praia de Santa Barbara. In the Azores, there is always plenty to do: in addition to being a great place for whale watching, São Miguel is also perfect for canoeing and paragliding.

PICO

 

 

The highest point in the Azores is on Pico, an island that is home to the volcano of the same name and is also the highest point in Portugal. This is a magical place, surrounded by the sea, where dolphins and whales calmly swim in the blue waters. You also can’t miss the day hike to Pico, which is 2,351 meters and isn’t beyond the capabilities of anyone equipped with good shoes, reasonably strong legs and a bit of determination. This is not a difficult path, just a little long, which takes about 6 hours.

 

Visitors with different tastes may prefer to visit Cellars, the volcanic vineyards and wine cellars, a UNESCO designated heritage site. Though small, the town contains a number of charming vineyards, interspersed with distinctive rock-wash structures.

 

We also recommend a visit to the “Museu dos Baleeiros”, where some traditional hunting boats are on display. The area has many interactive features that make visiting fun for young children as well. The Wine Museum extols the uniqueness of Pico’s vineyards and offers an overview of the varieties cultivated for centuries in this place.

 

In Pico, you will also find the “Vilaggio Felice”, which is not just a human settlement, but a philosophy of life. Here, houses are built by hand and the passage of time will take you to another dimension: we suggest that you pay a visit to better understand what we are talking about!

 

It must be said that this is the part of the Azores that is perhaps the least suitable for bathing in the sea. Thus, those who wish to spend part of their vacation sunbathing on the beach should opt for other resorts, such as São Miguel or Faial.

FLORES

 

We seem to be talking about Ireland or Switzerland, but this is Flores, one of the islands in the Portuguese Azores archipelago, and you will surely fall in love with it. Its verdant hills rise between beautiful lagoons and bays, from where its waters flow directly into the Atlantic Ocean.

 

Sailing along the coast of Flores, you can admire the beauty of Santa Cruz das Flores, the islet Maria Vaz and the marine caves of Gruta dos Enxaréus and Gruta do Galo. Diving lovers will fall in love with the Alagoa Bay, but to discover a truly dark cave you need to go to Praia do Garajau.

 

In Flores, there are 7 volcanic craters that, over time, turned into lakes. The landscape is magnificent and we especially recommend a visit to Lagoa Funda. An excursion to Rocha dos Bordões is also highly recommended, with basaltic columns resulting from a volcanic eruption that create a fantastic landscape.

 

History lovers will feel at home in Santa Cruz das Flores, where you can admire the Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Conceição, followed by a stroll through Praça do Marquês de Pombal.

 

No visit to Flores would be complete without a stop at the Morro Alto Natural Forest Reserve, from where you can enjoy the best views of the entire island. You reach the site via Pico dos Sete Pés, where there is also an enchanting waterfall.

 

Nature lovers will also delight in the two adjacent lakes, Negra and Comprida, located on the plateau at an altitude of around 600 meters. The first, notable for its depth, is connected by a waterfall that flows into the other lake, Lago Comprida.

 

Want more waterfalls? Then visit the Poço do Bacalhau waterfall, where there is a 90 meter high waterfall, near the village of Fajã Grande; it is a great place for swimming, although the water is quite cold.

GRACIOSA

A traditional windmill on Graciosa Island

 

One of the northernmost islands of the Azores, Graciosa offers a unique blend of natural environments and enchanting rocky beaches. Characterized not only by its magnificent blue seas, but also by its basalt walls, Graciosa exudes an atmosphere of serenity and relaxation that will conquer you.

 

Despite being one of the smallest islands, Graciosa is full of things to see. Take, for example, Santa Cruz da Graciosa, a village you can visit to fully immerse yourself in island life. From here, we pass the summit of Monte da Nossa Senhora da Ajuda, which offers a breathtaking view.

 

The scene is full of reddish windmills, with a charming Flemish style, where cereals used to be processed. In Vila da Praia, you can visit the Igreja de São Mateus, where there is a church organ dating from 1793.

 

Backpackers can also enjoy a trip to Caldeira, the crater of an ancient volcano that has now become a Regional Natural Monument. Inside, there is a large cavity, called Furna do Enxofre, about 40 meters high in the center and can be reached by a spiral staircase.

 

Among the peaks of Graciosa, a special mention should be made to Pico Timão, which is the highest point on the island, at almost 400 meters. Also visit Pico do Facho, 375 meters high: the trail is easy and suitable for everyone and the views from the top are worth the effort.

 

Among the beaches you shouldn’t miss is Termas do Carapacho, where you’ll find a thermal pool and crystal clear water. Barro Vermelho Beach, with its basaltic volcanic rocks, is also very beautiful.

FAIAL

 

Turquoise waters off the coast of Faial Island
Nicknamed “Ilha Azul” by the poet Raul Brandão, Faial is considered the pearl of the Azores, due to the abundance of hydrangeas found everywhere. With an area of ​​approximately 173 square kilometers, the highest point on the island of Faial, at 1,043 meters, is Cabeço Gordo, a volcano whose crater is wide and deep.

 

In addition to being a wonderful place to relax, Faial offers many other interesting attractions. Take, for example, the Marina da Horta, with its colorful murals, handmade by sailors as symbols of good luck. In fact, these murals are not just old inscriptions, but paintings created by crews that passed through there, which makes Faial a unique place. On the island, there is a saying that any boat that does not leave a memory of its passage through there will have bad luck. In Horta, you will also find the Scrimshaw Museum, where there is a beautiful collection of works made with pieces of whales or inspired by these giants of the sea on display.

 

At the top of the Capelo Peninsula is the Capelinhos Volcano, formed by eruptions that occurred over thousands of years. You can take a 3 km excursion to the volcano and enjoy a splendid panorama of the surroundings. In addition, you can also visit the Natural Park’s Interpretation Center and learn more about the hydro-geological phenomena that affect the Azores.

 

The best views of Faial are those of Monte da Guia and Ponta da Espalamaca. A road surrounded by hydrangea leads to Caldera, the volcanic crater in the heart of the area.

 

Among the unmissable beaches are Praia do Almoxarife, Praia Norte, Praia do Varadouro and Praia de Porto Pim. In the latter, you can also pay a visit to Estação da Baleia, a former animal processing factory.

SANTA MARIA

 

 

Located in the south of the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores, Santa Maria is a pearl of unspoiled nature, blessed with breathtaking beaches and stunning natural beauty. Nicknamed “Island of the Sun”, it is the perfect place for you to spend your holidays and regain your inner peace. Visitors to Santa Maria can’t miss Barreiros, a bright red patch of land that offers the best sunsets.

 

In Santo Espírito, you can visit the Church of Nossa Senhora da Purificação, where incredible local frescoes can be admired. Nearby is Pico Alto, the highest point on the island, with yet another breathtaking view. In Vila do Porto, the largest village on the island, is the Forte de São Brás, where there are cannons that remind us that these wonderful islands used to be targets of pirates.

 

We also recommend a visit to Pedreira do Campo, where today, within a flow of basalt, you can see impressive marine fossils, a reminder of the island’s antiquity. Within Espirito Santo, there is the protected area of ​​Baía da Maia, characterized by basalt stones and vines, and which borders Ponta do Castelete and Ponta do Castelo.

 

Among the beaches of Santa Maria that you cannot miss is Formosa, in the south of the island, not far from Vila Do Porto: a stretch of sand where there is a camping area. We also recommend Baía dos Anjos, an artificial concrete beach, and São Lourenço beach, whose natural pools will delight children and adults alike

TERCEIRA

 

 

The first thing you should do, even before putting on your hiking shoes, is to take a walk in Angra do Heroísmo, the former capital of the Azores and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Much remains from the former glory days and you can explore the cathedral, Igreja da Misericórdia, Rua Direta and Jardim Duque da Terceira, a large park that descends towards the Memory obelisk.

 

The heart of Terceira hides natural wonders of volcanic origin. In Algar do Carvão, there is the Gruta do Natal, a lava tunnel that solidified over the centuries. It contains an altar, where a mass is celebrated on Christmas Day. Another alternative is the Furna do Enxofre fumaroles and the Lagoa das Patas, a romantic paradise in the interior of the forest.

SãO JORGE

 

 

This island is the perfect destination for backpackers, who can spend days exploring São Jorge on foot. From Serra de Topo, you pass through the coastal plains of Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo, Fajã do Belo and Fajã dos Cubres. More experienced hikers can also follow the path that leads from Norte Grande and Urzelina, through the volcanic peaks, until reaching the highest point on the island, Pico da Esperança.

 

São Jorge is also known for its cheese production. It is here that São Jorge Cheese is produced, a protected EU name, which owes its characteristic aroma to the wild mint that feeds the local cattle. Another local specialty is tuna from Santa Catarina.

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