PORTO SANTO – MADEIRA ISLANDS
Porto Santo is the smaller of the inhabited islands of the Madeira Archipelago. It has a rugged volcanic moonscape with no vegetation apart from palm trees and vineyards, few buildings and a long golden beach lapped by a turquoise sea. It is Europe’s only desert island.
THE HISTORY & DISCOVERY
It all began in 1419 when two captains of Prince Henry the Navigator, João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira, were driven by a storm to the island they called Porto Santo, or Holy Harbour, in gratitude for their rescue from shipwreck. One year later, they discovered its neighbouring island – Madeira.
The following year an expedition was sent to populate the islands of Madeira and Porto Santo, therefore taking possession on behalf of the Portuguese crown, together with captain Bartolomeu Perestrello. There is no record of anyone living on the islands at that time. Portugal began colonizing in 1420.
One of the island’s first inhabitants and its only claim to fame, was Christopher Columbus. While on a trip to Madeira in 1478, he met and fell in love with Filipa, the daughter of Porto Santo’s governor, Bartolomeu Perestrello. Columbus’ house is the island’s only tourist attraction. Located in Vila Baleira, it is a two-storey, white-washed building with a few etchings of the explorer, maps of his journeys and a facsimile of his diary.
It was in Porto Santo that Christopher Columbus expanded his knowledge of cartography and navigation, and planned the journey that led him to America. It is generally accepted that he was born in Genoa, Italy as Cristoforo Colon. In Portugal it has been claimed that he was born in that country, as Salvador Fernandes Zarco but this is disputed.
NATURE CULTURE IN PORTO SANTO
Despite its proximity, this island differs greatly from Madeira. The soil is quite sandy and very poor in nutrients. It is a very flat island with a 9-km long beautiful sandy beach. The therapeutic qualities of its sand help treat orthopedic and rheumatic problems, drawing many people to the island every year. The seawater rich in calcium, iodine and magnesium, ideal to recover from lack of minerals caused by stress and fatigue, is another of the reasons that make this destination so unique.
One of the most iconic beaches on Porto Santo island is Fontinha Beach because of the prominent pier stretching out from the coast. This area of Porto Santo is a hub for cafes, restaurants, and small shops so it is always lively with action.
Ponta da Calheta is the most southern point on Porto Santo Island, with a nearby islet called Ilhéu da Cal.
Zimbralinho Beach is tucked away, requiring a little bit of an adventure to find. There are a few ways to reach this hidden gem beach on the southern coast of Porto Island.
The Porto Das Salemas natural pools are one of the best places to swim on the north coast of Porto Santo Island. At low tide, you can float and swim in a vast array of beautifully shaped natural tidal pools. The water was crystal clear in the pools and it was incredible to watch the waves smashing against the outer wall of the pools.
Calhau da Serra is the beach you go to if you want to get away from the tourists in the south and enjoy some time out in nature. It’s a rocky beach so don’t expect the powdery sands of the south, but what you do get is some peaceful solitude at quite a stunning little spot on the north-east coast of Porto Santo Island.
The primitive beauty of the landscape enchants anyone walking the paths or cycling the island’s trails. The north part of the Porto Santo has some peaks, and with an altitude of 517 metres, Pico do Facho is the island’s highest peak.
The Vereda Pico Branco and Terra Chã hike is the most popular hike on Porto Santo Island. The route leads you to the second-highest peak on the island, Pico Branco. The other viewpoint on the trail is Terra Chã, which has coastal views and is one of the greenest areas on the entire island.
Ponta da Canaveira sunset viewpoint is right next to Morenos and is on the far western coast of the island. You have a great view of the lighthouse nearby an islet called Ilhéu de Ferro.
Pico de Ana Ferreira is a rock formation is incredibly unique, with an organ-pipe arrangement of pentagonal rock columns, which was caused by volcanic activity millions of years ago. The crest was produced by differential erosion, which means the ‘host’ rocks were worn out exposing the more durable and resistant inner layer of mugearitic rock.
The Pico de Baixo peak is a 209-meter, steep mountain on the east side of Porto Santo Island. It’s not an official hiking route but it is one of the best sunrise views on the island.
Fonte da Areia is not only a great sunset viewpoint on the cliffs but it has some incredibly unique rock formations. You can really see the erosion over many years along these cliffs, on the north of the island.
Pico do Maçarico hike on Porto Santo Island is a great peak for either sunrise or sunset with panoramic views of the entire island.
Porto Santo teams up with big sister Madeira for this 5-day festival. Organised by the tourist board, it’s the brainchild of aptly-named Terry March, an award-winning travel writer and photographer. The thinking behind it is simple – the island’s walks are just too good to miss. Every day, there are 4 organised walks in beauty spots like Pico do Facho, Fonte da Areia and Zimbralinho. Anyone can join in – there are walks for every age and ability. Best of all, they’re led by a professional guide, so you get snippets of info about the island along the way.
A fun alternative to exploring the dramatic landscape of Porto Santo.
DIVING & KAYAKING
In these clear, warm turquoise waters off the coast of Vila Baleira are ideal for snorkelling. A coral-smattered seabed lures a variety of marine life. For pro-divers, you can even get to explore a cargo ship that was deliberately sunk in 2000. While kayaking you can dicover hidden caves and take in the beautiful coastline.
Praia do Cabeço e Cais for beginners, while Praia do Matador and Praia da Serra de Dentro are for intermediate/advanced surfers.
WINE HARVEST FESTIVAL
The Festas das Vindimas, is one of the island’s biggest events, sampling and learning about the different grape varieties produced here. The agenda includes winemaking demos, exhibitions of harvesting equipment, and traditional music and dancing.
CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS FESTIVAL
As one of Porto Santo’s favourite adopted sons, after all. At this three-day event, the whole island celebrates the explorer with historic costumes, music, shows, exhibitions and a big parade. Come along, and you’ll also get to see a re-enactment of Christopher’s first steps on Porto Santo.
Quinta das Palmeiras is a mini-zoo and mini-botanical garden, it offers visitors the opportunity to see several bird species and a variety of lush plants in a covered area of 5,380 m2. This farm creates an unexpected patch of green in a dry area west of the airport, and is the product of Carlos Alfonso’s vision and 15 years of hard work. The garden was designed and planted by Alfonso.
This oasis is a haven of shade with roses, torch lilies, hibiscus and Angel’s trumpets aplenty. Here you will find swans swimming around a small fountain, cooing doves, and stunning parrots, among many other types of birds who live here.
Porto Santo’s golf course will offer you unique sporting challenges and superb views. Surrounded by serene landscapes and a sea breeze, the Porto Santo Golf Course boasts perfect year-round golfing conditions.
Designed by the Spanish champion Severiano Ballesteros, it offers a 18 hole circuit with a 6 par 3, 6 par 4 and a 6 par 5 circuits. Stretching from the vicinity of the São Pedro chapel to the Marinhas area, it offers players breathtaking views over the South and North coasts of the island.