Although summer has slowly come to an end, you should write down in your travels list one of Portugal’s wonders. By seeing the picture above, you’re probably asking: does this even exist in Europe, and it is visitable? The Berlenga Grande Island situated just 5.7 miles off the mainland, is the kind of island that you dream of finding but don’t hope it exists. However, it does exist and someone else found it before us.
For those of you on the lookout for adventure and willing to travel miles and miles just to enjoy an hour or so a site’s spectacle with your own eyes, then Berlengas Islands may be what you are looking for in Portugal, except you don’t have to travel endless miles.
Now let’s make a quick geographic exercise: Do you know how many archipelagos Portugal has?
The answer: THREE! The Azores Islands, the Madeira Islands and finally…the Berlengas Islands!!
Berlenga Grande, as the name suggest, is the largest island and a designated natural reserve since September 3, 1981. The other islands in the group, known as the Farilhoes and Estalas are simple rocks poking out of water, reachable by smaller boats.
We often wonder, leaving aside any scientific explanation, how did islands come to see the light of the day? There must be tremendous forces deep in the earth that thrust them up, and is those forces that leave us silent…but so much with the contemplative moment!
It’s been one year since we were there and we’ve had so many places we visited and planned to talk about that these islands skipped our mind. Yes, how could we?
How to get to Berlengas Islands from Lisbon?
Before anything else, you should know the main island is accessible between May and September, so bare that in mind when you plan your trip to Portugal. Drive a car or take a bus to the city of Peniche, just one hour away from Lisbon. If you haven’t visited Peniche before and you love surfing, then undoubtedly you have to check it out. From Peniche, you have to take a ferry to the Berlenga Grande Island, which costs around 20€ round trip ticket for the same day. Go here to see the timetable and to book your trip! There is a strict timetable so make sure you are by the dock on time if you don’t want to find yourself stuck over night without at least a sleeping bag.
What can I do on the island?
You don’t have many entertainment options, but who cares when you have such views to stare at all day long?
- You can sunbathe on the small sand beach area, and try to bathe in the clear turquoise, yet cold as ice, water. Then, when ready, you can set about travelling through the island with amazing views all around you, cliffs revealing remote beaches, alleys that lead to steep cliffs.
While walking down to the fortress, you will pass by the lighthouse, which, as a curiosity, rises above the ocean at 120m (395ft), its light being visible at sea for 45 km (28 miles).
The island is home to thousands of sea gulls (Yellow-Legged Gulls) nesting colonies and flying all over the island – we’ve never seen so many per square meter! The reason is that being a natural reservation the waters are rich in food. Stay away from the baby seagulls even if it’s tempting to feed them because you don’t want to mess around with a protective seagull mom.
- THE HIGHLIGHT: Arriving at the Fort of São João Baptista equals very few moments of *splendor-in-a-bottle and now that we think about it, I (Diana) spent too much time hooked on my camera while descending the set of stone stairs instead of really enjoying the spectacular view. This iconic fort, the island’s main attraction, was built in the 17th century and it stood as a military fort. Then in the ’50s it used to be a well-respected Pousada, which was left deserted after the 1974 revolution that overthrew Salazar.
- Book a circuit around the island, to see the coastal reefs and the several existing caves. You will have the chance to see Cova do Sonho (Dream Cave) and also the Blue Cave. For this trip that won’t cost you more than 5€, you can hop in one of the small boats next to the beach.
- If you’re up for it, diving in the above mentioned caves is claimed to be a one of a kind experience since the Berlengas Archipelago is also a Biosphere Reserve with a unique variety of sea plant and animal species.
- Canoe is also an option for the more experienced ones.
- On your way back to the dock stop for a drink at the café bar or even a meal at the only restaurant on the island.
I want to sleep on the Berlenga Grande Island. What are the options?
You have three options:
- Pavilhão Mar e Sol, which is the more expensive option, and the reservation must be done by phone (75€ double room)
- The camping area that may be booked at the tourism office of Peniche
- The hostel inside the São João Baptista Fortress where you must book a room well in advance, and for that you should contact Associação Amigos da Berlenga
At the first sight the hostel seemed very basic, more like a shelter home, and soon some of the tourists confirmed they had to bring extra sleeping bags and flashlights because the light is cut at 1 a.m. and at night it is unbelievably chilly and dark. Moreover, the water tap is closed at 10 a.m. so bringing water supplies is a must. They also said that there’s great homemade food at the bar. Nevertheless they were advised beforehand by other campers that it is best to take along additional food. Despite the precarious conditions, everyone wants to reserve a night in this paradise, that’s why you have to book well ahead.
We haven’t gone for any of the above, but strolling around and sightseeing left us more than happy. Still, we have no doubt it must be a lovely experience to stay there overnight, with just the stars above and the ocean below. Hm hm hm..
Visit these islands, it’s something that you’ve never seen in Europe before! You will sure have plenty of photos to take back home and pride yourself to your friends. 🙂
*Splendour-in-a-bottle is that moment that you want to bottle, carry and open it whenever your heart desires.