Hi everyone! This post in continuation of my full coverage of my trip to the Açores, the group of Portuguese islands in the middle of the Atlantic. Check out my other posts about the Açores here.
Vila Franca is a town on the southern part of the island of São Miguel in the Açores. It is equidistant from both Ponta Delgada and Povoação. The town prospered from the 18th century onwards from orange plantations, and later, from pineapple production. Today, it is a bustling town filled with life, being one of the larger municipalities on the island.
Ilhéu da Vila Franca
One of the most unique things about Vila Franca is the small island off the shore. The ilhéu (islet) is shaped like a crescent moon and so creates a wonderful bay. The bay itself feels like a lagoon, though the lake has a tiny channel open to the sea.
During the summer months, the ilhéu can be reached by a regular boat service from Tagarete, Vila Franca do Campo’s habour. My family always goes first thing in the morning and trying to catch that early boat is always a struggle. It’s nothing short of humorous to see loads of families rushing to the dock with their small children. In the winter you can still take a boat out onto the water, but not to the island itself.
Like many Azorean attractions, the ilhéu is ‘rough’ in that there are not a lot of tourist-friendly amenities available. That being said, make sure to pack food and snorkelling equipment! And even though things are not laid out perfectly for tourists, the pool is spectacular. How often do you get to do something like this? The roughness of the attraction makes it all that more authentic and unique.
What perhaps is not obvious is that the ilhéu is the result of a submerged volcano. The ilhéu is also famous for the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. 2018 will be the seventh year in a row the ilhéu’s cliffs host this event. I honestly do not know too much about the sports scene on the Açores, but I do know that there are boundless opportunities for physical activity. From hiking to swimming to diving (apparently) to boating, there is just a lot of options. Plus, you get to enjoy so many natural wonders by doing these things! I mean, check out this diving cliff!
Nossa Senhora da Paz
Vila Franca’s beautiful landscape allows the ilhéu to contrast with the town rising up from the sea. And, if you look all the way up, there is a church high up in the mountains. Nossa Senhora da Paz (Our Lady of Peace) is a gorgeous, tiny church with equally gorgeous views. Once you get up there, all you have to do is turn around.
The Açores has plenty of churches, many of them in a Baroque style. When you visit any Azorean village the most prominent feature is always a church. Despite the Açores having limited resources due to their remoteness, religious architecture and religious art flourished. Many churches were not originally in the Baroque style, but as is typical of the time period they were transformed.
You can easily see why this particular church is called Our Lady of Peace. With the birds, flowers, cows, sunshine, and vistas, this is perhaps one of the most tranquil places on the island.
Of course you can’t talk about a town in the Açores without mentioning something good to eat. The Açores have certain passions, including the ocean, the views, and the food. And of course, with good meals comes delicious treats. Interestingly enough, most Portuguese sweet treats have a secret recipe guarded by a family or a convent that has been passed down for centuries. Like all Azorean sweets, nuns and monks had an important role creating recipes based on two main ingredients: eggs and sugar.
Vila Franca do Campo is famous for a very special Azorean treat: Queijadas (de Vila Franca). In Vila Franca do Campo, the nuns of the old Convent of Santo André created the recipe for Queijadas. They are no longer produced by the Convent, but are now made by two families who keep the original recipe a secret. The Morgados are one of the families that have made the famous ‘Queijadas de Vila’ since 1961.
Essentially, Queijadas are little pastries made of milk, egg yolks and sugar. While the ingredients are simple, the taste is incredibly unique. Do not miss out!
And that completes my coverage of the Açores (for now)! Check out my past posts for more.