Things to do on Terceira and Graciosa

With the introduction of direct flights throughout the summer from the UK, Boston and Toronto, Paul talks us through his favourite things to do on Terceira and Graciosa.

Terceira’s capital Angra de Heroismo has some of the Azores’ most historic buildings: the Sé Cathedral, the Palacio dos Capitaes Generais and the impressive Câmara Municipal. The city suffered considerable damage during the New Year’s Day earthquake in 1980. It took three long years to reconstruct the city – Angra’s centre was subsequently awarded  UNESCO protected status.

Tour of Angra

Another of Angra’s historic buildings, the 17th Century Convento de Sao Francisco is home to the Museu de Angra do Herosimo. The museum houses the Azores’ most extensive collection of 18th and 19th Century art, ceramics, traditional costumes and musical instruments. I highly recommend their ‘Do Mar e da Terra – a history in the Atlantic’ exhibition, which charts the history of the Azores from their settlement in the 15th Century up to the revolution in 1974. It’s also worth checking their events calendar for short-term exhibits of contemporary Portuguese artists. Opening hours are 10:00 to 17:30, Tuesdays through Sundays.

Thinking ahead to gifts for family and friends, a good option is a box of Queijadas Dona Amelia. Queijadas are small, sweet cakes – the recipe varies from island to island but my favourite variations are baked here on Terceira. The recipe dates back to 1901, baked in honour of Queen Dona Amelia during her visit to the island. A great place to buy Dona Amelia’s (and many other wonderful Azorean products) is Basílio Simões & Irmãos on Rua Direita – one of the Azores’ oldest shops (est. 1860).

Also on Rua Direita is Verde Maca – one of the our favourite coffee and home-made cake shops in Angra. Terceiran recipes tend to use more spices than the other islands of the Azores. Angra was a key resupply point for Portuguese ships sailing between her colonies in the 17th Century. A happy by-product of the influx of trade was the introduction of spices from the East Indies and beyond – perhaps most prominently cinnamon, which the islanders happily adopted into their existing Azorean dishes. More of an evening venue, but I’d also recommend seeking out the Garoupinha Wine Bar. Owner’s Bruno and Sofia serve some of the best Portuguese wines and petiscos (Portuguese ‘tapas’) on the island.

Terceira’s home to some of the Azores’ most facinating and impressive volcanic caves. Algar do Carvao is a unique volcanic chimney formed by two eruptions, separated by a thousand years. The cave was first discovered by local farmers in 1893, but it wasn’t until 1963 that organised descents by qualified climbers allowed the cave to be explored more extensively. They discovered an 80m deep conical-shaped chimney, with a second chamber heading away horizontally, giving the whole cave system a kind of wonky Y-shape. To safely open the cave to the public, the local Os Montanheiros mountaineering association spent eighteen months digging an entrance – their work was completed in December 1968 and the caves are now a protected Regional Natural Monument.

Slightly less well-known is the cave at Gruta do Natal – originally named Gruta do Cavalo (the cave of the horse), until the Os Montanheiros opened the cave to public on Christmas Day 1969. Gruta do Natal is in the Reserva Misterio dos Negros  – the Black Mysteries reserve whose landscape is dominated by three distinctive volcanic domes, (aka the Mysteries). They were formed during a major eruption in 1761, when a lava flow descended 7km from the lower slopes of the Santa Barbara volcano, down to the village of Biscoitos on north coast of the island. When visiting both cave systems, I strongly recommend grippy footwear as it can be very slippery under foot. I always take along a jacket as it can be quite cold underground (even in the summer).

Things to do on Terceira and Graciosa

Things to do on Terceira and Graciosa

The aforementioned Biscoitos is one of the island’s most popular swimming spots. On the northern-side of the village is the Museu do Vinho which charts the history of winemaking in the Azores. Azorean vineyards are traditionally based around rectangular drystone-walled plots known as Currais, to protect the vines from the elements. This method was quite common across the islands until a pan-European blight wiped out most of the vines in the 1850s. Family-owned vineyards still exist here on Terceira, on Santa Maria and Sao Miguel; only Pico really produces wines in commercial quantities. The Museu do Vinho is often manned by volunteers – opening hours are 13:30 to 16:00, Wednesdays through to Saturdays.

Crossing the channel to Terceira’s smaller neighbour Graciosa: in the island’s charming capital Santa Cruz, you’ll find the the Museu da Graciosa. The museum celebrates Graciosa’s agricultural past – this now-peaceful island was once home to 14,000 farmers, labourers and their families as they cultivated wheat and cereals for export to Portugal’s Brazilian colonies. The enormous South American Araucarua trees which line the main square are more evidence of the island’s once far-reaching trade links, and the large ponds beneath the Araucaruas are still fed by a complex network of underground reservoirs and aquaducts which distribute water for irrigation. Nowadays, Graciosa (together with the islands of Corvo and Flores) is a UNESCO-protected Biosphere Reserve – acknowledging the island’s balance between sustainable development and the protection of her landscape. The museum’s opening hours are 10:00 to 17:30, Tuesday through Sundays.

Arguably the most impressive volcanic landmark in the Azores is the lave cave at Furna do Enxofre. Graciosa was formed around 600,000 years ago – the more interesting eruptions (in terms of what we can see today), occurred 50,000 years ago and formed the large caldera on the southern-side of the island. At the height of its volcanic activity, the caldera held a huge lake of lava 240m deep and almost 1km wide, fed from the Furna do Enxofre cave below. The Enxofre visitors centre guides you through this geological history, before a spiral staircase drops you down into the cave itself. And it’s a vast cavern: 200m long and 50m high, with its own permanent sulphur-infussed underground lake (complete with rowing boat). Opening hours are 10:00 to 18:00 every day, and entry costs 3.50€.

Although Furna do Enxofre is no longer active, the same volcanic boiler which once fed the erupting caldera is still super-heating water in thermal aquifers deep underground. In the small hamlet of Carapacho on Graciosa’s south coast, the villagers have been enjoying the benefits of swimming in these mineral-rich hot waters since the 1700s. Nowadays, you can enjoy a spa treatment in the modern spa at Termas do Carapacho.



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