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The first glance at Graciosa left no doubt – what am I going to be doing here all month!?!?
The windmill where I am staying is great, not far from the beach, nearby there is one restaurant and two cafés, wooo hoooo!
Well … I can finally edit the photos, I can learn Portuguese, I can meditate, go jogging and watch sunrises every single day.
So… there is a lot to do!
The routine of the day, however, always starts with sunrise.
The Island of Graciosa, classified by UNESCO as a World Biosphere Reserve, is the northernmost of the five that make up the central group of the Azores archipelago. It is known as the White Island, a designation inspired by the island’s geomorphological characteristics and place names, in particular those given to places like Pedras Brancas (White Stones), Serra Branca (White Hills) and Barro Branco (White Clay).
Graciosa Island stretches over an approximate area of 60.66 km2, spread over 12.5 km in length and 7.5 km in width.
Inhabited by about 5000 people, most of which are concentrated in the Santa Cruz da Graciosa area, its capital, Graciosa occupies the second place in the ranking of the smallest Azorean islands, just after Corvo Island.
The best destination for the first trekking was the caldeira.
The trail from the Praia (São Mateus) village is well marked, it climbs quite gently, and turns back, where there is a view of Praia and Ilhéu da Praia harbor from behind the greenery.
Grande Rota Da Graciosa (GR 01) the main walking trail of Graciosa is 40 km long. Its difficulty is estimated to be moderate, and the average trekking time is around 14 hours. It starts from sea level in Santa Cruz, and reach a maximum height of less than 400m above sea level.
Marked in white and red, the trail especially surrounds the southern part of the island: Praia – Graciosa’s main port and several well-preserved windmills, and then ascends towards the volcanic caldera.
The views here are so beautiful, especially when the visibility is good, that I recommend adding some additional time to take photos. On the eastern side of the caldera there is a view of Ilhéu da Praia, a habitat of endemic bird species, further to the southeast we see the Ilhéu de Baixo, and behind it the outline of Terceira in the distance.
On most of the way there are only lash green pastures around, from where you can see happy cows. While walking around the crater, we reach the Carapacho viewpoint from where, on a clear day, you can see the islands of São Jorge and Pico with a perfectly shaped volcanic cone.
Moving on, we can chose the way to Furna do Enxofre down the road or continue the Volta padding towards Furna da Maria Encantada. I would suggest seeing the Furna Encantada first, because if you choose to trek down, this convincing saboteur who lives in all of us will probably speak up and you will be reluctant to make it up again, and it’s worth it!
On the other hand, skipping Furno do Enxofre is not an option at all because it is a must-see when visiting Graciosa – the bottom of the volcanic crater is a natural phenomenon.
Let the photos speak for themselves. This gray slush between the rocks is bubbling, steaming, and giving off a sulfur odor.
From the road surrounding caldeira you can go down via marked trail to Luz village, although the section is only 1.3 km long, it can be quite inconvenient. A dry, steepy sloped path easily slides under trekking boots.
Luz is a tiny village that exported wine to Brazil and Portuguese colonies in Asia and Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries. Apart from rustic houses, a few windmills and a beautiful trail leading down the cliff just above the ocean, there is not much there. I recommend staying in Baia da Folga until sunset, enjoying the golden hour and lurking for fresh fish in Estrella do Mar. This small restaurant is located at the end of a cul de sac, overlooking the great blue and its height Pico. Add to that freshly caught boca negra and cagarros squawk and you have an Azorean antidote to all the cares of this world.
The relatively low nordeste terrain, consisting of about 30 cones connected by solidified lava, is rich in basalt ground. There are many pebble beaches and steep cliffs, the maximum height of which is up to 90m.
A piece of the beach with red brick sand, and a wonderful place for a picnic nearby. It just so happens that I always have something with me for this occasion.
Going further, on the right side the eye attracts the Atlantic Ocean, on the left we pass a tiny airport. The view is all the more charming as a pair of horses graze in the foreground and the only scheduled flight of the day rises in the background – the SATA airlines connection from Graciosa to Terceira.
The area is full of basalt checkered fields where young grapevines are just sprouting.
Ponta da Barca is a protected area of 42 hectares. The main attraction here is the lighthouse and the rock cliff and a basalt ridge emerging from the ocean, resembling a whale, hence its name – Ilha de Baleia. Volcanic rocks form a pleasant bay with crystal clear water.
Ponta da Barca lighthouse started operating on February 1, 1930. The lighthouse tower is 23 meters high, and the lighthouse itself rises to a height of 71 meters above sea level, which makes it the first place among the Azorean lighthouses according to the altitude criteria. The range of the light is 20 nautical miles. The mere fact that it is located on the edge of a cliff provides an absolutely amazing experience.
Vitória and Porto Afonso
Historians, despite differing opinions, have unanimously stated that the area of Porto Afonso was attacked by pirates from Algiers, who explored these areas in search of caravels and less defended areas to plunder or take people captive and then sell them.
Around 1622, after repulsion at the ports of Praia and Santa Cruz, 3 frigates from Algiers appeared here. They anchored in the bay and attacked the place. The courage of the inhabitants was legendary, their sacrifices made the pirates finally give up their intentions. According to the sources, there were victims on both sides.
Only later did the port take the name of Vitória due to the events that took place here.
Nearby, there is a chapel built in honor of the Virgin Mary as a gesture of thanksgiving for helping the locals defeat the pirate frigates.
Today, Porto Afonso is one of the natural landmarks of the island where high cliffs, carved by volcanoes, the ocean and strong winds create a landscape with a hint of aggressiveness characteristic of islands where the elements clash in all their power.
Porto Afonso Bay is one of the geosites of the Graciosa National Park, of spectacular beauty especially at dusk, when the last rays of the sun illuminate the colorful rocks. The riot of colors of the layered formations, from intense orange and red to dark grays, triggering the imagination of what the volcanic spectacle that formed the island could look like. In some areas of the cliffs, sea erosion has left exposed chimneys and veins of volcanic cones. In the caves visible to the naked eye, wooden boats and fishing equipment are stored, protecting them from strong winds. In the higher parts, in such pits, birds find shelter. Exposure to natural factors can have a huge impact on the reception of this place. In summer, it is popularly visited by locals due to its access to crystal clear waters.
Before visiting this place, however, it is better to check the weather conditions, take precautions, especially when it is windy. I had the pleasure of being there on a sunny, late afternoon, when the warm light softened the harsh nature of the place. With a favorable aura, the sunset can be really stunning in this place.
Termas de Carapacho
The Termas do Carapacho is a thermal resort located in parish of Luz. Known for its miraculous waters since 1750.
The thermal water used in all available services has a temperature between 35ºC and 40ºC, highly mineralized with magnesium, chloride and sodium as main characteristics. It is especially indicated for the prevention and treatment of rheumatological pathologies, being used in thermal services in a concept of health, leisure and well-being. Outside it is possible to swim in cristal clear water in spectacular surrounding.
Once you feel hunger after swimming in the ocean you have to amazing options use the BBQ area or going to Dolphin restaurant and enjoying both taste of fresh sea food and amazing view.
Moinhos de Graciosa
The windmills are the flagship of the White Island, dating back to the time when Graciosa was considered the “Celeiro dos Açores”, or granary of the Azores, due to its enormous grain production.
Currently, there are 28 windmills on the island, most often in the Scandinavian style brought to the island at the end of the 19th century.
The mills have ceased to have their original purpose, a few have been converted into apartments, also for rent to visitors. However, many remain deserted and are slowly decaying.
In the museum center, created in one of the historic Moínhos in the town of Fontes, Santa Cruz, visitors have the opportunity to learn about the architecture and equipment characteristic of the Graciosa mills. For just over two years, Moinho de Fontes has undergone a major renovation due to the damage caused by the 2017 storm.
While being on Graciosa I strongly reccommend you staying in one of the renovated windmills.
I have chose Moinho de Pedra in Praia (São Mateus).
Moinho de Pedra
If you are looking for unique place to stay, located just by the ocean, clean and designed with passion that will be perfect spot for you.
The apartments are located in the renovated wind mill in Praia – little village on the East side of Graciosa Island. Yes, you will be able to enjoy spectacular sunrises every day✨
The host is a very nice and helpful person. I felt very welcomed there from the very beginning. There was even welcome gift waiting in the apartment – local wine and sweets.
Each apartment has living room, bedroom, bathroom and little kitchen equiped well enough to prepare your own meals. The biggest appartment is a true masterpiece – along with the lower floor, which is similar for all apartments, it has another living area on the first floor and bedroom under the round dome, on the second floor.
The island has just one municipality, Santa Cruz da Graciosa, comprising four parishes: Vila de Santa Cruz, Vila da Praia, Guadalupe and Luz. Santa Cruz is notable for its typical houses and its narrow cobbled streets, which branch out from the large central square where you can see the bandstand, some water tanks and candelabra trees.
It is worth visiting the Parish Church of Santa Cruz da Graciosa, the Church of Santo Cristo, the Cruz da Barra and the Ethnographic Museum, which houses exhibits linked to wine culture, with traditions on the island, and to whaling.
There’s a wonderful panoramic view of Santa Cruz, the northern part of the island, from the Mount of Nossa Senhora da Ajuda. In this area you can also visit three shrines dedicated to S. João, S. Salvador and Nossa Senhora da Ajuda. The latter is one of the best examples of “fortified religious architecture” in the Azores.
This cave, also known as Algar dos Diabretes, located in Serra Branca, is easily accessible, and it is possible to get around its entire crater. However, among all the caves on the island of Graciosa, it is currently the only one that needs climbing equipment and qualified personnel to be able to access its interior. “Os Montanheiros” descended and explored this algar for the first time in 1964.
Queijada da Graciosa
Considered as one of the most famous sweets in the Azores, the Queijadas da Graciosa are star-shaped, have a delicate flavor, with a thin and crunchy outer dough and their filling is eggs and milk, and you can also find the flavor of cinnamon, coco or almonds. Its confection is all made with natural products, always respecting the region’s standards.
In 2015 Queijadas da Graciosa received the “Azores certified by nature” thus being the first product in the region to receive this type of certification.
In the pick period a daily production of queijadas can be even around 3,000 pieces.
popularly known as Dwarf Donkey, is an autochthonous breed of the island, which is characterized by gray hair, a docile nature, but mainly because of its stature – in adult age it reaches a little more than one meter in height.
This animal that played a fundamental role, helping in the work of the land and as a means of transport, was in endangered until a few years ago. Nowadays there are about 70 animals, when, in the 60’s, the number exceeded 1000. In Ribeirinha, parish of Guadalupe, there is a farm that you must visit if you want to interact with these charming creatures.
The most efficient and quick way to get around Graciosa island, as in all other Azorean islands, is by car. There is also a public transportation but its schedule is rather limited, and the last bus is around 5-6PM. As the island is rather thiny, I explored it mostly walking, having in mind that just in case I can call a taxi or do hitch-hiking, which I adore especially once traveling in such a safe place as Açores Archipelago.