The hilly island of Graciosa is located within the central group of Azorean islands, and was discovered around 1450. Soon after, people began resettling there from Portugal and from Flanders. Today it is home to some 5,000 residents. When Flemish settlers came, they added their own style of windmills to the landscape —many of which make up the currently stunning landscape.
Santa Cruz da Graciosa is the main town, sitting on a small bay with many historic churches that date back to the 16th and 18th centuries. The houses are bright and whitewashed, and the island has several active hot springs from its volcanic past. Several extinct volcanic craters are surrounded by low hills at the center of the island.
Visitors to Graciosa should check out the amazing views from the Caldeirinha, where you can see many of the other Central Group Azorean islands, from Terceira to Faial. The thermal mineral springs at Termas do Carapacho spa provides a place for visitors to soak in the thermal waters that are said to cure bone and skin ailments.
The grotto at Algar do Carvão runs deep into the red earth, while the sulfur cavern at Furna do Enxofre leads from an ancient crater into a huge undergorund cave with an underground lake. Visitors can climb down into the crater’s depths using steps taking you all the way to the bottom, where you’ll find a cave with a grey mass that still bubbles beneath the rocks. A tunnel above you leads to the edge of the crater, offering sweeping views of the entire island.
While one the smaller members of the Azores, Azoreans know Graciosa for its fine wines and brandy, both made from the Isabella grapes that are grown on sunny hillsides. Farmers work hard to keep the land in balance, rotating grapes with other crops. Oxen are often still used to work the fields and it’s not uncommon to see dairy cows throughout the island.
But the Queijada da Graciosa are the real export here – star-shaped pastries that are sweet and tasty!
In addition to farming, fishing is also a way of life on Graciosa. The local fisherman use small wooden boats to catch a variety of fish, seafood and shellfish, plus a variety of seaweed that is exported. And, that means boats at the ready to take visitors on outings into the surrounding Atlantic.
Several years ago, Graciosa got its first hotel. Modern, well appointed, but made of local volcanic rock, it makes for a great base to explore the island.
Visitors to Graciosa can also find many small shops selling local crafts, including handmade embroidery and linens.