Snorkelling at Ilhéu de Vila Franca
We were keen to snorkel during our visit to Sao Miguel island in September 2014. We weren't sure whether we'd get the opportunity, but we packed our snorkelling equipment just in case.
After arriving on the island, we read that Ilhéu de Vila Franca was a good spot for snorkelling. This volcanic islet, located a short boat ride off the coast of the town of Vila Franca do Campo, encloses a natural lagoon. Take a look at the aerial photographs of the islet (with a Google Image search) to fully appreciate the almost perfectly circular lagoon.
So we took a taxi from Ponta Delgada to Vila Franca do Campo (20 minute journey; €20 each way) and then a boat ride from the marina to the islet (10 minute journey; €5 return).
The islet is a protected natural reserve and there is an imposed limit of 400 visitors per day. Get there early, especially on a sunny summer's day.
The only facilities on the island are toilets. There is nowhere to purchase refreshments or to hire snorkelling equipment, so come prepared!
The setting is ideal. The water is mild, rarely much deeper than waist height and perfectly calm. You don't have to keep an eye out for boats; the boat that travels from Vila Franca do Campo stops at a landing dock at the entrance to the lagoon.
We left our clothes, bags and towels on the rocks and made our way into the water. We had been really spoiled on our two most recent snorkelling trips (to the Maldives where we snorkelled with blacktip reef sharks and to Sri Lanka where we snorkelled with giant turtles), so the marine life at Ilhéu de Vila Franca was never going to live up to those standards. However, we saw plenty of fish (including some reasonable sized ones and some small rainbow coloured ones) and spent an enjoyable hour or so in the water.
Our Lady of Peace Chapel
We visited Our Lady of Peace Chapel (Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Paz) as part of a guided tour that we undertook with "UTC Azores" during our stay on Sao Miguel island in September 2014.
This chapel, dating back to 1764, is located high in the hills overlooking the town of Vila Franca do Campo on the island's south coast.
It was the final stop of our tour and, with falling rain and low lying mist, our guide and driver were unsure whether it was worth making the trip up to the chapel. The roads leading up to the chapel are narrow and cobbled and can be hazardous when wet. Furthermore, one of the main reasons for visiting the chapel (for me at least) is to enjoy the spectacular views from the top; this would be futile in misty conditions.
Thankfully the weather cleared a little and our driver decided to make the ascent.
We climbed 100+ steps up to the chapel, via a monumental staircase, with tiled images, that passed through a pristine green lawn. The chapel was surrounded by colourful flower beds.
I briefly looked inside the chapel, but spent most of my stay there enjoying the panoramic views from outside. With the mist clearing, we were treated to breathtaking views over Vila Franca do Campo and the offshore islet of Ilhéu de Vila Franca.
Places to visit
1. Church of São Miguel - This church dates from the 15th century;
2. Church of Santo André - Part of the old Convent of St. Andrew which was founded in 1567, this is a great example of the religious architecture of São Miguel;
3. São Francisco Convent - Built in the 16th century and remodelled and expanded on the 18th, this is the second Franciscan monastery to exist in Vila Franca do Campo because the first one was destroyed by the earthquake in 1522;
4. Church of São Pedro - built in the 18th century over a Gothic chapel, this church has a notable Baroque façade with a 16th century statue of St. Peter in stone, from Ançã in Portugal;
5. Vila Franca do Campo Museum;
6. Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Paz:
7. The islet.
Igreja de São Miguel
Mother church from the 15th century. Magnificent high altar and bell tower with the oldest ornamental bell of the island.
- Religious Travel
Shrine of Senhora da Paz
Located on a peak with the same name (beautiful panorama over Vila Franca) it is a Marian sanctuary.
- Religious Travel