Graciosa, the white island
Approximately 31 miles northwest of Terceira lies the island of Graciosa.
It has a surface area of 61 km2 and is the least humid island of the archipelago. It was given the nickname of the white island due to the delicate landscape and the names given to certain places including “Pedras Brancas” or White Stones, “Serra Branca” or White Mountainside, and “Barro Branco” or White Clay.
The town of “Santa Cruz” is the seat of the only municipality on the island that bears the same name. In the town centre two water reservoirs are found. Although their original use was to provide water for the cows of the area they now reflect the tranquil crowns of the Brazilian pines and the elms surrounding them. This effect contributes to the already agreeable surroundings of the town centre. The architectural patrimony is demonstrated in the following structures:
In the town of Santa Cruz, the “Igreja de Santa Cruz” (mother church), “Santo Cristo” Churches, and the “Nª Sª da Ajuda” (Our Lady of Charity), “São João” and “São Salvador” Chapels along with the “Cruz da Barra” (Iron Cross) and the Ethnographic Museum which contains items related to the culture of wine and the now defunct whaling industry, are definitely worth visiting;
In Guadalupe, the Church of “Nossa Senhora de Guadalupe” (Our Lady of Guadalupe) is recommended followed by a visit to, “Nossa Senhora da Luz” (Our Lady of Light) in Luz and “São Mateus” in Praia;
On the western side of the island in the picturesque village of Vitória the “Nossa Senhora da Vitória” Chapel commemorates the 17th century defeat of the Argelian pirates.
Just outside the town of Santa Cruz, the “Monte de Nossa Senhora da Ajuda”, is the mountain overlooking the town, the north side of the island, and the interior plain of Guadalupe. This unforgettable view offers a prelude to the many wonders of Graciosa’s landscape.
The “Furna do Enxofre” (Sulphur Cavern), is a unique geographical phenomenon. In the interior of the “Caldeira”, or crater of a former Volcano is an extraordinary sight. A tunnel, about 100 meters deep, opens into a huge grotto with a magnificent volcanic vault (80 meters high), and a lake filled with cold sulphur water. The diameter of the lake is about 130 meters and its depth about 15 meters. There are two other entrances to this cavern with a stone stairway for easier access. Prince Albert of Monaco was one of the first visitors of the cavern using a rope ladder to gain access in 1879.
A little less spectacular but just as interesting are the “Bolos, Lembradeira, Manuel de Ávila, Labarda, Furada, Linheiro, Cardo, Gato, Castelo, Calcinhas, Queimado, Vermelho, Cão, Urze and Luis” Caverns Proper equipment and guides are recommended. The “Timão” summit at an altitude of 398 meters, and the “Facho” summit at an altitude of 375 meters are popular and restful outings amid the primitive vegetation and the “Dormida, Branca and Fontes” mountain ranges. Extraordinary scenery, not only of the island, but of the surrounding ocean and the islands of Terceira, São Jorge, Pico and Faial make the trip unforgettable. The “Carapacho” Hot Spring Baths merit mention due to the richness of their medicinal waters.
The islets along the coast of Graciosa add a peculiar beauty to the islands. The “Praia” Islet, totally covered by vegetation, and the “Baleia” Islet, naturally formed to appear as if a giant whale were anchored along the coast, are the most attractive and also serve as shelter for the numerous sea birds.