Today we escaped the city and visited the island of Berlenga Grande, the largest island in the Berlenga group of islands, about 10 km off the coast. The island is a Natural Reserve, added to the Unesco World Network of Biosphere Reserves in 2011. But it is possible to visit the island using a ferry service provided by one of several companies operating in the coastal town of Peniche. I‘m not sure if they limit tourists, but between the 2-3 companies we saw operating boats, I’m sure there were a couple hundred people on the island. Some came just for the small beach that exists near the harbour. Others, like us, explored the island. It is about 1.5 km long, and rises to 100 m at its highest point. It’s made of pink granite, and underwent a lot of fault activity and erosion, leading to a shoreline with some fantastic caves and cliffs. The small sand beach is enough for many who come to the island. But we did not do that, there is so much more to see on this small fascinating island.
We debated if we wanted to spend the money on the caves tour, but we were advised that it was the best thing about the island, so we did that, and we are glad we did. It was a great way to see the many caves, that are inaccessible from land. It only took 45 minutes and was well worth the small price.
And of course we had to see the Fort of São João Baptista das Berlengas (Fort St. John). It was built in the mid 1600’s from the stones of a monastery that was abandoned in the late 1500’s. It is now a hostel that you can stay in, which would be pretty neat if it was a dark and stormy night! Thankfully we were dropped off there after the cave tour so we could explore the fort, and then make our way back to the boat in time for the return trip.
From the fort, we hiked up the 100 m to the top of the island, and then we took a refreshing walk in the wind along the backbone of the island to the end, and then back to pick up point at the other end, and 100 m down to the water.
It was a perfect day for a visit; there was very little wind for the crossing, both ways. The calm waters around the fort allowed many people to snorkel and scuba dive. We yearned to get into a kayak and do some rock gardening but we ‘made do’ with walking and exploring in the sunshine and breeze. It was a nice break from city walking for sure!