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The Graciosa Island

The Graciosa Island is the island located to the north of the Azores Central Group, located at 28º 05′ West longitude and 39º 05′ North latitude, lies about 80 km northwest of Terceira Island.  With an area of 61 km2 and an oval shape (about 12.5 km long and 8.5 km wide), Graciosa is the second smallest island of the archipelago. It is also the flattest island (only 5% of the area rises above 300 meters in altitude) and has the lowest rainfall in the archipelago, having no rivers but only few natural sources.

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The location of Graciosa Island in the archipelago and in the world.

 

The maximum altitude of the island, 405 meters, is reached at the peak located in the eastern part of the “Caldeira da Graciosa” (Graciosa Caldera), which is a huge crater resulting from its volcanic origin, dominating the southeastern part of the island.

Vista Graciosa

 

The Graciosa Island probably owes its name to its enchanting landscapes, gently rolling, marked by small clusters of low mountains, hills and scattered small volcanic cones, where the vast majority does not reach the 100 meters of altitude.  Its epithet “white island” due, presumably, to the fact that there are clear rocks on the south coast, where the slope of the “Serra Branca” (White Mountain) joins the sea.

One of the symbols of Graciosa are undoubtedly the windmills, at the Dutch style, with their peculiar red roofs (domes) onion-shaped, considered the most beautiful of the archipelago, especially when its sails are unfurled, which unfortunately do not see much today.  Not long ago there were about 30 mills, some of which have been restored in recent times for housing and there are still three or four to work, one of them recovered by the Graciosa Museum for visits.

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The fate of Graciosa has always been closely linked with that of its neighboring islands, Terceira, Faial, Pico and São Jorge, as well as it was from these islands that Graciosa was discovered in the mid-fifteenth century.  The island received cattle around the year 1432, ordered discharge by order of prince D. Henrique.  Graciosa settlement was made about the year 1451, being the first inhabitants coming from continental Portugal.  The first settler was Vasco Gil Sodré, a native of Montemor-o-Velho, who having arrived at Terceira Island, moved next to Graciosa with his family and his servants.

It is believed that the place where Vasco Gil Sodré established the first settlement was Carapacho, having built there the house customs, although other sources point to the Praia (São Mateus) as the site of the first settlement.  From early on, two zones were up showing: the Santa Cruz and the Praia (São Mateus).  Both were considered Village, receiving its charter Santa Cruz in 1486 and Praia in 1546.

Because of the richness of its soil and the mildness of its relief, as well as the fact that Graciosa have been spared to natural disasters, agriculture quickly developed, through its main crops of cereals and vine.  As was usual in those days, the fame and prosperity of the island attracted many corsairs and by the need to protect the coast, a defense waist was built, comprising not less than 13 fortifications.  The economic prosperity of the island reached its peak during the eighteenth century when pirate attacks fell down, and Graciosa became the leading producer of cereal and wine from all over the archipelago of the Azores.

In the second half of the nineteenth-century the good luck of island changed when most of the vines were devastated by phylloxera, leaving the families without of their livelihoods, which caused a wave of emigration to the United States and Canada during the twentieth century, reducing the population of the island to half.

Nowadays about 4800 inhabitants still live mainly from agriculture, viticulture and farm animals, becoming dairy production the main source of the island’s income.  The island now has one municipality (Santa Cruz, with 1800 inhabitants) and four parish councils: Santa Cruz, São Mateus (Praia), Luz  and Guadalupe.

Heráldica do Município de Santa Cruz da Graciosa                         Bandeira da Região Autónoma dos Açores

The heraldry of the municipality of Santa Cruz da Graciosa and the flag of the Autonomous Region of Azores.

 

In general the village of Santa Cruz da Graciosa presents picturesque, with a very interesting climb to Monte da Ajuda (“Ajuda’s Hill”), where you be able to enjoy the loveliness of the layout of its streets and their homes.   The water tanks that a time ago served to satisfy the thirst of animals today is a beauty spot in the central square of the village, giving an air of grace and combined with the outstanding architectural environment.

It is not without reason that this village is considered one of the most beautiful of the Azores.

Santa Cruz vista do miradouro da Srª da Ajuda.

Santa Cruz viewed by the “Senhora da Ajuda” belvedere.

Rural and green, Graciosa offers above all a peaceful and healthy environment with simplicity, ideal for those who need to escape from the frenetic routine of the day-to-day and “recharge batteries”.

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Places to visit

– “Caldeira da Graciosa” (Caldera of Graciosa)
– “Furna do Enxofre” (Cave of Sulfur)
– “Caldeirinha” of “Pêro Botelho” (Litle Caldera of Pêro Botelho)
– Viewpoint of “Nossa Senhora da Ajuda”
– Viewpoint of “Senhora da Guia”
– A single bullfight ring, localized between hills
– Natural phenomenon Rock of Whale
– Lighthouses of “Ponta da Barca” and “Ponta da Restinga”
– “Baía da Folga” (Folga’s Bay)
– Graciosa Museum (Santa Cruz)
– Ethnographic Museum of Guadalupe
– Windmill Museum (Fontes)
– “Tanques do Atalho” (water reservoirs)
– Craftsmen Association (embroidery)
– Wine House of Graciosa (Charco da Cruz)
– Natural pools of “Termas do Carapacho” (spa)
– Natural pools of “Barro Vermelho”
– Natural pools of “Cais da Barra”
– Natural pools of “Poceirões” (Vitória)
– Municipality swimming pool (Terreiros)
– “São Mateus” beach (the only with sand in the island)
– “Porto Afonso” (old fishing port)
– “Ilhéu da Praia” (Islet of Praia)
– Main Church of Santa Cruz da Graciosa
– Churches of Vitória, Guadalupe, S.Mateus (Praia), Luz

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Activities

– Hiking
– Boat trips around the island
– Canoeing
– Whale watching
– Sport fishing
– Diving, Snorkel (*)
– Horse riding
– Donkey riding (the “Burro Anão da Graciosa” – Dwarf Donkey of Graciosa, was recognized as a native breed)
– Visit to a factory of Graciosa cookies (“Fábrica das Queijadas da Graciosa”, at the backside of the Mó da Praia)
– Visit to a traditional cheese factory
– Watching milking cows

(*) Shipwreck of “Terceirense”: a few minutes by boat from São Mateus beach is the most famous dive site on the island, the ship wreck of “Terceirense”. About 20 meters deep, this cargo ship of 40 meters, sunk in 1968, is today inhabited by lush marine life such as groupers, damselfish, queen fish, among others.

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Tourism in Graciosa Island

The growth in tourism demand at Graciosa Island can be explained by the contribution of the following factors:

•  The classification in 2007 as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, noting the environmental qualities and the harmony of human presence with the need to preserve the biodiversity of the island;

•  The existence of a natural beauty that was candidate finalist in 2010 to the “7 Wonders of Portugal”, in the category of caves and caverns (The “Furna do Enxofre” – Sulphur Cavern), as well as other points of interest such as the Forest Nature Reserve of Graciosa Caldera (“Caldeira da Graciosa”), the Spa of Carapacho, the “Ilhéu da Baleia” (Islet of the Whale), the various natural sights, etc.;

•  The steady growth of tourism in the islands of São Miguel, Terceira, Faial and Pico in recent years, which has caused as a result a greater interest in the knowledge of the other islands of the archipelago by the tourists lovers of nature and of the Azores;

•  The increased range of complementary services: spa, diving, boating, fishing, whale watching, horseback trails, donkey rides (with the recovery of a native specie recognized), typical local cuisine, etc..

 

Sources and electronic addresses that we recommend to consult:

www.visitazores.com

www.visitportugal.com

www.azores-islands.info/uk/places/graciosa/graciosa.html

en.azoresguide.net/ilhas/graciosa.php

en.artazores.com/graciosa/locais.php

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