It is not an island miniature, but it is almost. With the beauty and grace of well-crafted miniatures. Probably that the reason they called it Graciosa. But there are those who think that its name was in honor of the Virgin full of grace. Whatever the truth is, it deserves the name.
Graciosa enchants with its natural beauty, its traditional architecture of houses and dispersed settlement, which contrasts with the dark tones of the volcanic and basalt heritage, the green of the fields and pastures, the deep blue of the vast Atlantic Ocean that encircles it.
Because it is small, elegant, charming. Titled White Island by Raul Brandão. Pedra Brancas, Serra Branca or Barro Branco, are toponyms of the island that has a volcanic rock called traquito, common in the island and that, rotted by time, acquires a whitish coloring, that lives up to the designation White Island.
Graciosa Island, classified by Unesco as a World Biosphere Reserve, it is the northernmost island of the five that make up the Central Group of the Azores archipelago.
The island has a county, Santa Cruz da Graciosa, consisting of four parishes: Vila de Santa Cruz, S. Mateus, Guadalupe and Luz. Santa Cruz stands out for its typical houses, cobble-stoned alleys, branched from the large central square, where you can see the bandstand, water tanks and araucarias. It is worth to visit the Mother Church of Santa Cruz da Graciosa, Santo Cristo, Cruz da Barra and the Ethnographic Museum, which gathers pieces related to the wine culture, with traditions on the island, and to the whaling activity. In the town of Praia, the highlight is the São Mateus Church which has a pipe organ from 1793, one of the most beautiful of the Azores and in Guadalupe, the church with the same name dating from the XVII century.
On Nossa Senhora da Ajuda Hill we have a pleasant panoramic view over Santa Cruz, the northern part of the Island and from where one can glimpse the wonderful site of Graciosa Resort. In this zone we can also visit three hermitages 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. It has attached the “house of the pilgrims” destined to welcome those who went there as pilgrimage.
The architectural heritage of the island is preserved in several types of buildings, especially churches, hermitages, rural houses, and a curious “water architecture” associated with a centuries-old network of reservoirs and drinking water systems. Another striking feature of this island’s landscape are the red-damp, windmills of Flemish inspiration, which testify to the abundant production of cereals from other times.
Caldeira da Graciosa is the most emblematic landscape element of this island. Classified as a Regional Natural Monument, this large and beautiful crater also includes Furna da Maria Encantada and Furna do Enxofre, true sanctuaries of Mother Nature.
The climb to Furna da Maria Encantada allows you to appreciate the surrounding landscape and the abundant vegetation planted by man: cryptomes, acacias, pines and incenses cover almost all the walls of the caldeira and contrast with the vegetation of other areas of the island. Inside the Caldeira is an impressive volcanic cavity, the Furna do Enxofre. Communicating with the outside through two large cracks, it has about 40 meters high in its central part. Access is through a tower built in the early twentieth century, with a snail staircase, 183 steps. Being one of the most imposing caves in the Azores has a lake of cold water and a fumarole with mud, responsible for the smell of sulfur, which refers to its designation and recalls the volcanic origin.
Timão Peaks, the highest point of the island (398 m), and the Facho (375 m), are favored by restful walks through the primitive vegetation, and the Dormida, Branca and Fontes Saws offer extraordinary scenery, not only on the island but also on the vastness of the blue sea, and you can see on the horizon the other islands of the Central Group – Terceira, São Jorge, Pico and Faial.
The islanders arranged along the coast of Graciosa add a peculiar beauty to the island. This is the case of Ilhéu da Praia, which houses a diverse population of seabirds, Ilhéu de Baixo, in front of Ponta da Restinga, Ilhéu das Gaivotas, near Carapacho, and Ilhéu da Baleia, located in Ponta da Barca Bay, so named because of its shape.
In the landscape, we highlight the Ponta da Barca and the Ponta do Carapacho Lighthouse, which the inhabitants say is the highest of the Azores lighthouses.
In Carapacho, we can take a dip in the Natural Pools and unwind in the hot and healing waters of the hot springs. With water certified and advised for rheumatological treatments. The ancients also say that it is excellent at the dermatological level, being fantastic for the skin, and usually, they know what they say!
A walk around the island, with stops at the various viewpoints, completes the album of good memories that we can keep of the graceful landscape of this beautiful island.
The pools around the island are points to explore, we like to call them seacuzzi’s, and can bathe in clear, deep blue sea water, reminiscent of a scene from a movie from the world’s farthest stars, protected by volcanic rocks and in many, with sand to bathe in the sun… and the sea around.
For example, 100 meters from the Graciosa Resort, you can find the Salemas Pool, with a romantic atmosphere and some of the most breathtaking landscapes one can see, with sea waves crashing in the protection of basaltic rocks, and a circular effect which seems to be carved by man, given its perfection, but it was not man, it was the nature that created this seacuzzi so natural, that it will not be easy to believe.
And, we could not fail to mention here “dwarf” donkey from Graciosa. Once there was one for every six inhabitants, now they will not reach 70. The “dwarf” donkey from Graciosa was recognized as an autochthonous breed in 2015 and there are those on the island who are fighting for it not to disappear forever. They are usually beautiful, calm, and rusty. Cute!