Santa Maria is the most southerly of the nine islands of the Azores – it’s also the sunniest with some of the best beaches in the archipelago, making it a favourite holiday destination for many Azoreans.
Between the beaches, there are some spectacular coves and cliffs – geologically, Santa Maria’s the oldest island with quite a different landscape to the younger, more obviously volcanic islands like Pico or Faial. Inland, the volcanoes that first formed Santa Maria have had time to erode down into pleasent rolling hills, (very reminicent of Cornwall). The island was also the first to be inhabited, with the first Portuguese settlers arriving in 1439 on the site of the current village of Anjos. Christopher Columbus famously came ashore at Anjos in 1493, on his return voyage from the Americas; attending mass at the chapel of Nossa Senhora dos Anjos.
Santa Maria’s famous for its handicrafts, with most Azorean families owning a blanket, patchwork quilt or linen tablecloth which was woven by hand on a traditional loom at the co-operative in Santo Espirito. Wines and sweet liqueurs are also produced on the island, including Aguardente, Licor de Amor, Vinho Abafado and Vinho Abafadinho.
Santa Maria’s just a short fifteen-minute flight over from the main island of Sao Miguel, making it the natural choice if you’re thinking of splitting your stay between two islands.
From relaxing on sandy beaches to hiking and biking the many trails of Santa Maria, this lesser visited, sunny island is just waiting to be discovered.
Our favourite B&B accommodation is the boutique Charming Blue Hotel in the main town of Vila da Porto. As well as the hotel’s own ‘Mesa d’Oito’ restaurant, you’ll have the island’s best selection of resturants and cafebars on your doorstep, as well as the 16th Century Forte de Sao Braz, and the Centro de Interpretação Ambiental Dalberto Pombo - which houses a collection by the naturalist Dalberto Pomba who made extensive studies of the geology and wildlife of the island. If you’d prefer to self-cater, there are some lovely traditional cottages dotted around the island – many still have their Alentejo style chimneys still intact; an architectural/practical feature brought over by the original settlers from mainland Portugal.