Berlenga Grande, Portugal

Photo: Pedro Chagas (tirada por mim) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Pedro Chagas (tirada por mim) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Maybe this was a bad idea. It was supposed to be a quick ferry ride. The island is less than 10 miles off the coast. You could practically see your destination from the shore. But before you even departed, plastic bags were distributed and life vests were pointed out—more than once. Now you know why. The sea is rough. The boat is being tossed between the waves. While everyone around you looks a little green. Thank goodness you’re getting closer and closer to land.

You’re approaching the Berlengas. The archipelago sits in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of central Portugal. The small rocky islands were claimed by everyone from the Romans to the Vikings to pirates before a monastery was established on Berlenga Grande in 1513. The monks didn’t last very long; disease, horrible weather, and those relentless pirates forced them to abandon the island before the end of the century. A fort was eventually constructed on the monastery’s ruins, and a lighthouse was later built nearby.

Today the islands are known as the Berlenga Biosphere Reserve. They’re home to nesting birds, sun-loving lizards, hidden caves, and clear green water. After arriving at the stone dock on Berlenga Grande and steadying yourself once you disembarked, you set off to explore the largest of the six islands. Hike up to the white lighthouse, which locals call the Duke of Branganza. Take in the 360-degree view: the mainland is on one side, while the rough, open Atlantic is on the other. Pass yellow-legged gulls, puffins, and guillemots along the way. Cross a stone-arched bridge and walk around the Fort of the Berlengas. Then hire a small boat to see the grottos, the rock formations, and the sandy beaches around the edge of the island.

Back near the dock, stop at the little restaurant, Mar e Sol, for lunch. Eat caldeirada (seafood stew), nurse a cold drink, soak up the sunshine, and take in the gorgeous view. You’re completely relaxed on this little Portuguese island. The only problem: at some point, you’ll have to board the ferry again.

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