The Azores group includes nine inhabited islands of various sizes. With Graciosa we get to know the second smallest island in the Azores. The sparsely populated island, measuring 61 square kilometers, occupies the northernmost position within the central group of the Azores. On Graciosa, the name stands for “graceful” in Portuguese, fewer than 4.400 people live in four communities.
Graciosa - worth knowing
Graciosa is a manageable island. Graciosa measures a little more than ten kilometers from north to south. There are seven kilometers between the easternmost and westernmost points. An oval caldeira with a unique volcanic cave is evidence that Graciosa is of volcanic origin. The island is considered to be the driest and flattest island in the Azores. The highest point measures 402 meters. In contrast to the neighboring islands, Graciosa has no mountains where the clouds are raining down. Graciosa has little in common with the mountainous neighboring islands in terms of topography. And yet the island is extremely worth seeing. This was also the conclusion reached by UNESCO when it declared Graciosa a biosphere reserve in 2007.
Caldeira da Graciosa - out and about in Parque Florestal
It is not known when the island was discovered. Some sources claim that Graciosa was found in 1450 by a resident of the neighboring island of Terceira. In terms of time frame, this fits in with the discovery of the other islands. Agriculture has shaped Graciosa from the beginning to the present day. Livestock and agriculture ensured the settlers a modest livelihood. In the 19th and first half of the 20th century, many residents made their living from whaling and brick production. After the slaughter of the whales was finally stopped in 1982, the brickworks gave up earlier and the population was left with the dairy and livestock industries as sources of income. The milk is mainly processed into cheese on the island. Agriculture deals with the cultivation of corn and wheat. Sugar cane and wine are produced on a small scale.
Graciosa - walls and hedges separate meadows and fields
Graciosa - flowers along the way
Typical of the island: pastures and fields are separated by walls made of lava stones or hydrangea hedges. In the present day, hopes rest on tourism. Graciosa has had an airport since 1981, and there have been ferry connections to the neighboring islands for a long time. Every now and then small expedition ships like the WORLD VOYAGER visit Graciosa. We owe lasting memories of the beautiful island to the ship.
Graciosa is an Eldorado for lovers of gentle tourism. Despite the seemingly small land area, Graciosa offers its visitors plenty of space for various activities. Hikers and cyclists appreciate the extensive range of routes. Water sports enthusiasts can choose between diving, surfing and deep sea fishing. Animal lovers enjoy excursions to the bird protection islands of Ilhéu da Praia and Ilhéu de Baixo or take part in whale watching tours. The 190 meter long volcanic cave Furna do Enxofre is one of the “must see”. And nearby thermal springs ensure modest SPA offers in Carapacho. We, who are denied such activities during the day, take a tour of the island and enjoy wonderful views from several miradors, visit the island museum in Santa Cruz and the Caldeira with the large lava cave.
Panoramic tour of Graciosa Island
The WORLD VOYAGER is located in the port of Praia, which has the addition of São Mateus. The fishing village consists of a few dozen houses and a manageable sandy beach. The place is unspectacular apart from the several Flemish windmills that are currently used as tourist accommodation.
The 800-strong community of Praia is known as one of the oldest villages in Graciosa. The community enjoys a supraregional reputation because of the cakes called "Queijadas da Graciosa". It goes without saying that on our tour of the island we will visit the bakery that is dedicated to these delicacies.
Praia - Queijadas Bakery
Queijadas from Graciosa
Santa Cruz da Graciosa
The main town of the island is the sleepy-looking small town of Santa Cruz da Graciosa, with around 1.800 inhabitants. As early as 1486, Santa Cruz was appointed the administrative unit of the entire island. This decision is still valid in the present. The small island airport Aeródromo da Graciosa is located in Santa Cruz's neighborhood.
The first thing that catches the visitor's eye is the Lagoa da Vila in the center. It consists of a small park with a pavilion and two water basins. The water basins once served to supply the inhabitants with drinking water and as a cattle trough. Currently they are used exclusively for optics. The structure of the place is remarkable. Town houses compete with stately buildings and two beautiful churches.
Buildings worth seeing
The island museum Museu da Graciosa is a few steps from the Lagoa da Vila. The ethnographic museum is dedicated to the traditions of the island and invites you to visit the long-term exhibition and to temporary exhibitions. It uses a representative building that was formerly used for the storage of grain and the production of wine. Traditional tools, carts and furnishings bear witness to times gone by. In addition, concerts, lectures and theater performances take place regularly in the rooms. The museum has themed branches in other places on the island.
Museu Graciosa - Flour Mill
A striking building in the center of the village is the Igreja Matriz church. The three-aisled church comes from the 16th century. In the first half of the 18th century the church was enlarged. In addition, a church tower was built later. It is noteworthy that the church has ten side altars in addition to the main altar.
The Igreja da Misericórdia is a bit smaller and much simpler. This church was also built in the 16th century. The former monastery of Ermida de São Pedro adjoins the church. The monastery complex is currently used for residential purposes.
Church of the Misericordia
Igreja da Misericórdia - nave
From the monastery church Torre da Igreja de Nossa Senhora dos Anjos (Our Lady of the Angels) only the bell tower, generously decorated with azulejos, remained.
Torre da Igreja de Nossa Senhora dos Anjos
Monte da Senhora da Ajuda
The Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Ajuda and two other chapels are located above Santa Cruz on the volcanic crater of Monte da Senhora da Ajuda (280 meters above sea level). The hermitage is believed to have originated in the 16th century. From the height the view opens onto the Atlantic Ocean, Santa Cruz and the surrounding landscape. If visibility is good, the view of the ten hectare Ilhéu da Praia, a bird sanctuary, is also worth seeing. Among other things, the island is home to the endemic storm wave runner, an inconspicuous seabird. The view alone that Monte da Senhora da Ajuda offers is worth the visit.
Below the houses of worship is in the center of the circular Caldeira Santa Cruz 'bullring. Bloodless bullfights take place there. When building the arena, the structure of the site was used to good advantage.
Praça de Touros da Graciosa
Ponta and Farol da Barca
Our next destination is the wild cliffs of Ponta da Barca in the northwest of Graciosa. The Farol da Barca lighthouse, which has been banded in black and white, has stood there since 1930. Its height is estimated at 23 meters. It is considered to be the tallest beacon in the Azores. The lighthouse keeper's house is in front of the tower. The location offers magnificent views of the ocean and of the nearby Ilhéu da Baleia, the "whale island", shaped like a whale. The island offers safe nesting places for sea birds, especially shearwaters.
The Caldeira of Graciosa
At the southeast end of the island is the oval shaped Caldeira. The 1.600 by 800 meter green, tree-lined opening was created by the collapse of two craters. The depth is 270 meters. A picnic area, the Parque Florestal da Caldeira, was created in the Caldeira. The secluded and peaceful area offers its visitors benches and tables, a playground, a tiny animal enclosure and clean sanitary facilities.
Leisure area in the Caldeira of Graciosa
Caldeira of Graciosa - Parque Florestal
Furna do Enxofre Caldeira - the sulfur cave
We recommend visitors to the Caldeira to make a detour to the gigantic Furna do Enxofre Caldeira. Past trees and large ferns, the road leads to a stop. From there we take the sloping path to the visitor center of the cave. The modern building is also the seat of the biosphere reserve and nature park of Graciosa Island.
Access to Furna do Enxofre
Furna do Enxofre - Visitor Center
The impressive cave is far below the center. A well-tended path with several stairs and then a tower built into the rock with viewing platforms and 183 steps provide access to the cave. In the entrance area of the 40 to 50 meter high grotto, visitors can already smell sulfur. We think it belongs to a lava cave like amen to a church. The sulfur content of the air is automatically monitored. If the concentration of gases in the 190-meter-long cave rises above normal, an alarm is given and access to the cave is closed. Otherwise, only the upper level of the cave is open for viewing. Barrier tapes direct the visitors. Two funnel-shaped chimneys supply the cavity with some light.
Furna do Sulfur
Furna do Sulfur
In the lower part of the cave is the Lagoa do Styx, a 15 meter deep crater lake. It was named after the river Styx, which, in Greek legend, separates the world of the living from the realm of the dead, Hades. It fits in with the fact that the lake, which is over 100 meters long, was navigated by boat until two men died of the toxic gases from the mud pots surrounding it.
Carapacho thermal baths
There are seven kilometers between the cave and the Carapacho thermal baths in the south of Graciosa. Thanks to volcanic activity, hot springs bubble up right by the sea. The springs, discovered 270 years ago, are said to have healing properties for the skin, bones and joints or the digestive organs. Below the cliffs surrounding Carapacho, a spa house with a small indoor pool including a water basin, saunas, steam bath and hydromassage was built. Visitors stay in the hot water for a maximum of 30 minutes. Hardy types bathe in the cool sea water in the natural swimming pool below the white Kurhaus.
Location of the thermal baths of Carapacho
The thermal baths of Carapacho
Ponta da Restinga lighthouse
The Farol do Carapacho rises 191 meters above the Carapacho thermal baths. Depending on the location, it is often called Farol da Restinga. Because of its high location, the unadorned, gray beacon is just 14 meters high. In comparison, the view that the location offers is great. The view falls on the few houses of Carapacho and on the nine hectare large, uninhabited bird sanctuary Ilhéu de Baixo. The island is the remainder of an eroded volcanic cone.
With the stay at the Ponta da Restinga we conclude our seven-hour panoramic tour over the island of Graciosa. Contrary to the naming of the island, not everything we saw was "graceful". The rugged, sea-lapped rocky coast or the Furna do Enxofre did not look graceful. On the other hand, we found Graciosa's green slopes, the more than 20 Flemish windmills and the island's capital Santa Cruz lovely. Thanks to the sunny day, we enjoyed the wonderful views. Graciosa is a "piece of cake" among the Azores islands. We wish it wasn't our last visit to this beautiful island!