Graciosa is characterised by its mountains that seem to fall into the blue of the ocean, and by its black basalt walls interrupted by green vines and white windmills with red domes surrounded by a very peaceful atmosphere.
Once in Graciosa, you will have the opportunity to visit a volcano, admire traces of Renaissance art, and dive into the colourful underwater flora and fauna.
Graciosa is the second smallest island of the archipelago; its weather conditions are mostly favourable as there are no elevations: the highest peak on the island is slightly less than 400 meters above sea level.
It is worth discovering the beauties of a small island that deserves such a name!
There are so many things to see in Graciosa, and so many places to explore, also because this is a very characteristic island: it is called “the white island” because of the predominance of this color, and it is also an island rich in traditions and habits to be known.
It is an island rich in mountain ranges, which create a special contrast of landscapes, a few steps from the peaks, there is in fact a beautiful sea.
Santa Cruz da Graciosa is the main inhabited village of the island; it is characterised by its traditional houses and its paved roads.
It is worth visiting the Mother Church of Santa Cruz de Graciosa, Saint Christ, the Cruz da Barra as well as the Ethnographical Museum where to learn more about the viticulture of the island. Among the other activities, it is worth going on a whale watching tour.
From the peak of Monte Nossa Senhora da Ajuda it is possible to enjoy an extraordinary view over Santa Cruz. Here it is also possible to visit three hermitages dedicated to São João, São Salvador, and Nossa Senhora da Ajuda which represents one of the best examples of fortified religious architecture in the Azores.
Next to it there is the pilgrims’ house which is designed to accommodate the pilgrims traveling in that area.
The architectural heritage of Graciosa is made of different types of buildings including churches, chapels, and rural houses. There is also an interesting movement of “water architecture” connected to century old tanks, which are necessary to provide fresh water to the citizens of the island.
It is also interesting to visit the several windmills with red domes built in Flemish style, which were used in the past for the production of cereals.
The Church of Saint Mathew is located in Vila da Praia; the church is home to a pipe organ from 1793, one of the most beautiful of the Azores.
Caldeira de Graciosa is a must visit place in Graciosa. Recognised as Regional Natural Monument, it is an inactive crater next to which there are two authentic natural wonders, that is to say the Furna da Maria Encantada and the Furna do Enxofre.
Going up Furna da Maria Encantada it is possible to admire the luxuriant organic nature of Graciosa in addiction to the plants planted by its inhabitants, which create a strong contrast compared to the vegetation of the other areas of the island.
Inside the Caldeira de Graciosa there is a even larger volcanic cavity named Furna do Enxofre, which reaches up to 40 meters on its central area. It is possible to reach it by going up a spiral staircase made of 183 steps, that was recently built inside a tower.
There are not big elevations on the island of Graciosa. The most important ones are Pico Timão which – with its 398 meters above sea level – represents the highest peak of the island along with Pico do Facho – 375 meters hight. It is easy to walk up to these peaks; once you have reached the top you will have the opportunity to admire an extraordinary landscape stretching over Graciosa and the nearby islands.
The islets along the coast of Graciosa add a peculiar touch to the island. Ilhéu da Praia is home to different species of seabirds; however, it is also worth to mention Ilhéu de Baixo, Ilhéu das Gaivotas and Ilhéu da Baleia: the latter one has been given such a peculiar name due to its shape, which reminds of a whale.
Graciosa is full of beaches to visit in which, perhaps, rest after a day of excursions and activities. Some are special, with volcanic sand or rocks, others are classic and really like everyone.
Although it is not really a beach, it has a promenade and attracts tourists everywhere: it is the Termas do Carapacho, a perfect place to relax in a thermal pool and at the same time enjoy the pristine sea of this island.
The indoor spa has an absolutely affordable cost and that’s why it’s a really popular destination for locals as well.
It is then absolutely necessary to visit the beach of Barro Vermelho, made of basaltic rocks of volcanic origin, with an aspect that can intimidate or enchant depending on the tastes of tourists: the beach seems almost red, the sea is full of rocks that seem nothing but huge stones, but the beauty is all in the sea, which instead of being blue as it is often the sea of the neighboring islands, is an electric blue, pure and uncontaminated.
Surely this is the most appreciated and visited beach of the island of Graciosa.
Graciosa is a destination for water sports enthusiasts. First of all surfing and windsurfing, but you can not give up a boat ride along the coast with the help of some tour guide, you would not think, but you can also practice sailing in freedom, because the sea is rough only at times.
The sea of Graciosa is, also and above all, very exploited for diving, to be practiced at all levels to enjoy all the beauties of the local marine flora and fauna.
Every year Santa Cruz da Graciosa celebrates the Feast of the Holy Christ of the Miracles, with colourful and beautiful decorations.
In Furnas, on the very first Sunday after Easter, it is the day of the “Procissão do Senhor dos Enfermos“, that is to say the Procession of Our Lord of the Sick. During this celebration, flower petals are used to shape multicolour carpets on the street.
The Feast of the Divine Holy Spirit is one of the most traditional and oldest holidays celebrated on all Azores islands. It starts on the Pentecost Sunday and its origins date back to the Middle Age: it is a very popular celebration in Graciosa and it would be a shame to miss it.
During this holiday you will have the chance to eat some sopa do Espirito Santo, a soup made with meat blessed by the priest and some sweet rice.
Santa Cruz da Graciosa is the main village of the island, and most of the accommodations are located here. Staying around this area can be very handy as most of the services are located here, such as shops, pharmacies, bars, and restaurants.
Graciosa airport, IATA GRW, is located 2 km north-west from Santa Cruz da Graciosa. It is used exclusively by the company SATA Air Açores, which operates flights to and from the islands of Terceira and Ponta Delgada. It is necessary to make a stop over at one of these two islands before reaching Graciosa.
Alternatively, it is possible to reach Graciosa by the sea. The main port is the one of Praia, which is located on the east coast.
The best choice to visit Graciosa is to rent a car or a motorbike. There are also taxis and buses connecting the city to the main points of interest of the island, but these can be very pricey, especially on summer time.
Driving around Graciosa can be very fun, as its streets are never straight and every corner hides a surprise: a new landscape, a flower blooming on a rock on the ocean, some extraordinary colours reflected by the sun. It will be easy to forget about the crowded and polluted streets of the city.
The citizens of Graciosa meticulously respect speed limits; however, you will see very few cars around as locals prefer too walk. Driving at night can be very fun and unusual as there are very few cars around, especially after sunset. Those who live here don’t need to move around that much, and traffic is almost non existent. Sometimes you may find yourself alone on the road, maybe even next to a cow! You will feel so far away from home and so lucky at the same time for being in such a special place.