Graciosa is one of the 9 islands that form the archipelago of Açores and belongs to the so-called central group, alongside Terceira, São Jorge, Pico and Faial. Although it is rarely considered a top destination we feel the underdog tends to surprise and Graciosa is no exception. After all it can't be called Gracious by chance!
Below we write about some cool and curious aspects about this island so hit "Read More" to find out which they are.
Farming, fighting pirates and fleeing to America
The islands of the central group were all found around 1427 and the first inhabitants of Graciosa arrived in 1470 and occupied the territory that is now known as Santa Cruz and Praia.
The history of the island is turbulent and marked by ups and downs. Due to the rich soils and subtle terrain revenue came mainly from agriculture, particularly cereals and wine. These became great treasures coveted by pirates, who attacked the island fiercely during the 16th and 17th centuries. On the 18th century the attacks decreased and Graciosa flourished and became the main cereal and wine producer in the Açores. Unfortunately later came a very dark and sad period as a consequence of severe draughts and the outbreak of diseases that almost completely destroyed the vineyards. Many families who relied on winemaking to survive fled to America and between the 50s and the 70s pretty much half of the population emigrated to the USA and Canada.
Nowadays agriculture and farming are still the main economic pillars, particularly dairy and meat, but also corn, other vegetables and fruit orchards. The construction of an airline base in the 80's and a commercial port brought more visibility to this overlooked island, but it still remains kind of a secret somehow.
Graciosa remains unnoticed and we like it like that
Graciosa is the second smallest island in the archipelago, has about 5000 inhabitants in total, is marked by subtle landscapes and is a bit isolated from the other four islands that form the central group. These reasons explain why tourism hasn't grown much and why it's a lot less visited than most of the other islands in the archipelago. That's also what makes it a great place for those looking for peace and quiet. The simplicity of its people and authentic vibe really makes it an incredible destination to run away from the frantic routine, recharge batteries and enjoy nature in its purest state.
Green pastures, geological treasures and rare animals
In 2007 UNESCO declared the island a Biosphere Reserve due to the valuable natural heritage and biodiversity.
One of the main attractions in the island is the incredible Furna do Enxofre, a lava cave located 100 meters below the ground. It's unique in the world and venturing to the depths of this massive volcanic cathedral is a surreal experience.
In terms of flora and fauna the highlights are the endemic plants, wide green pastures and adorable animals, such as the tiny donkey of Graciosa. There are also many rare species of marine birds who nest in the islets near the coast. Despite its small size, the painho-de-Monteiro has great importance since the biggest community in the world chose the islet of Praia as their home.
Music and Festivities in Graciosa
When it comes to celebrations Graciosa is a winner, with an interesting mix of folklore dances, religious festivities and Carnival balls that date back to many decades ago.
The local inhabitants always had a close connection to music and the Graciosa Musical Academy has been promoting all sorts of music related activities for over 30 years.
The main events in the island are the Festividades do Espírito Santo (May), the Festa do Santo Cristo (August) and the Carnaval (between January and March). The latter culminates in a succession of parades with dances, masks and colourful costumes during the week of Lent. All the prep is taken seriously and starts as soon as the New Year begins, so you can expect a hell of a good party between the 15th and the 25th of February.
If you're curious about other Carnaval celebrations in the country read this post.
Using the local resources and creating beautiful dishes
When it comes to gastronomy the biggest secret is having excellent quality produce. Due to the rich soil and good terrain agriculture and farming have always been the two main activities, alongside fishing of course. This means whatever is grown in land and caught in the seas is delightful and eventually ends up in the plate.
It's not easy to pick the best treats in the island, so we'll recommend a full meal instead. Start with a slice of juicy cantaloupe; then try fish with molho à pescador, a bold sauce prepared with garlic, chilli, tomatoes, herbs, wine and vinegar; to finish on a sweet note go for a queijada da Graciosa, a star-shaped pastry filled with custard. Of course the whole meal should be paired with the local white wine and to finish everything off order a shot of the local liqueur.
To make up a complete holiday it's worth venturing to the central group and spending some days exploring the historical, cultural and natural heritage of each island. If you need help planning an escape to Açores we'd be thrilled to suggest the best accommodation, select some cool activities and exciting experiences and then create your own bookpack.
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