Santa Maria Island, The Incredible Rising Island ♦ For those who have just heard of this paradise on earth: Keep reading to understand what you’ve been missing. Santa Maria is the oldest volcanic island in the Azores archipelago and is home to one of the best music festivals in Portugal. S.Lourenço bay – The São Lourenço Bay Nature Reserve is located in São Lourenço Bay, Santa Bárbara Parish, Vila do Porto – a small and simple village built on the seafront, featuring a well-designed geometry designed in a simple but careful house, the Anjos – a beautiful bay hosts the oldest settlement on the island with its safe harbour guarding in its vault of history the reward of welcoming Christopher Columbus and his sailors, Barreiro da Faneca – a desert kind of place with red sand, and Praia Formosa – in almagreira, inserted in the Natural Reserve has a unique beauty are some of its most worth seeing places. Secrets From Portugal is totally overwhelmed by the Sunny Island (as its called). Keep reading to understand why Santa Maria Island should be your go-to island in your next vacations.
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Santa Maria has as it’s capital Vila do Porto and is in the Eastern Group of the Azores archipelago, along with São Miguel, 81km away. The green fields, traditional culture, the chimneys of the whitewashed houses, the dark ochre of the earth, the golden beaches and the turquoise waters make Santa Maria different from the archipelago’s other islands.
The island has two areas with distinctive reliefs and features: one area to the west is flatter and low-lying where the airport can be found, and the houses of Vila do Porto, the largest town on the island, and the parishes of São Pedro and Almagreira; and another more rugged area in the east of the island, with lush vegetation, which includes the Pico Alto mountain, the highest point on the island at 590 metres above sea level, from which you have a wonderful panoramic view. The parishes of Santa Bárbara and Espírito Santo are located in this region.
Santa Maria was the first island to be discovered by the Portuguese explorers, the first to be settled, and was also the first island in the Azores to be formed, so its diverse geological past is etched into its volcanic and sedimentary rocks. This can be seen in Pedreira do Campo, where a basalt flow more than 100 metres high houses within it numerous fossils of marine organisms, proving that this island was submerged until a few thousand years ago. This geological wealth can also be admired in the Dalberto Pombo Environmental Interpretation Centre, right in the historic centre of Vila do Porto.
The so-called “barreiros” of Santa Maria are also worth seeing, terrains of reddish to bright orange hues, with an arid appearance and a clayey nature, the most famous being the Barreiro da Faneca, known as the “red desert.” It is considered an area of unique Protected Landscape in the Azores, which also includes the Raposo, Tagarete and Cré Bays.
In São Lourenço, the natural beauty of the bay shaped like an amphitheatre is complemented by the vineyards on the hillside terraces above the white houses by the sea, and the cove which has a wonderful beach of white sand and rock pools. At the far end of the beach lies the Islet of Romeiro.
Praia Formosa is one of the most popular beaches on the island, either for its extensive stretch of fine sand and clear water or because it is one of the best spots for surfing.
This island rests on very young seafloor, which is expected to be rapidly subsiding. In fact, most other islands in this archipelago are indeed sinking. Santa Maria, however, shows signs of significant uplifts, such as old shorelines now located several tens or even hundreds of meters above sea level. At about 3.5 million years ago, however, volcanism on Santa Maria waned, and unexpectedly the island started to uplift, a trend that continued to the present day.
The houses of Vila do Porto retain some traces of the early settlement, some bearing ogival doors and windows in the Manueline style. The Parish Church of Nossa Senhora da Assunção, the town’s patron saint, is one of the oldest churches in the Azores, although it has undergone various alterations over time. In the São Brás Fort, guns pointing out to sea recall the days of pirate attacks. In Espírito Santo, it’s worth taking a look at the Baroque facade of the Church of Nossa Senhora da Purificação, as well as paying a visit to the Santa Maria Museum, housed in a typical house, with its two tubular chimneys and pot-bellied oven, architectural elements characteristic of rural Santa Maria.
The chromatic colour schemes are also notable in the traditional houses of Santa Maria, mostly inspired by the traditional architecture of the Alentejo and Algarve, where the first settlers of this island came from. These homes have a rectangular shape from which emerges a cylindrical chimney resting on an unfinished pyramid, and each of the island’s five parishes has adopted a different colour to contrast with the white masonry.