Famous for its five and a half miles (9 kilometres) of golden beach, the island of Porto Santo, situated 22 miles (37 kilometres) northwest of Madeira, has in recent years become a popular golfing destination. A challenging golf course designed by Spanish golf legend Seve Ballesteros is one of the main attractions of this relatively undiscovered island.
Porto Santo was discovered by the Portuguese explorers João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira who were blown off course during a storm.
These days the island is developing eco-tourism and is fast becoming a magnet for hikers, cyclists and horse riding enthusiasts. Lovers of water sports may go diving and snorkelling, windsurfing, water skiing and fishing.
The capital city, Vila Baleira, was home to Christopher Columbus before his expedition to the Americas, and it is said that it was in Porto Santo that he planned the journey that changed the world. There is a small house open to visitors where it is suspected that Columbus lived. Here you’ll find a collection of maps and other navigational instruments of his time.
This small volcanic island has incredible land formations, shooting up into the sky, known as “Picos”. From these peaks you may enjoy fabulous panoramic views of the island and of its natural surroundings. To visit the island you may take the ferry from Funchal, which takes approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes. You may also fly in on a light aircraft with regular daily flights that take around 15 minutes.
Places to see
Vila Baleira is the small capital of Porto Santo. Quaint whitewashed cottages, little squares and cobbled streets are lined against the seafront making Vila Baleira a peaceful and picturesque town. With a population of only 2,600 inhabitants, it transforms into a bustling centre in summer, when cafés, bars and restaurants open their terraces, and shops are busy attending tourists along the Rua João Gonçalves Zarco and the Pelourinho square.
Casa de Cristóvão Colombo (Colombus’s House)
Historical records show that the world-changing explorer, Christopher Columbus, first arrived in Porto Santo around the late 15th Century. This Genoese born navigator arrived as a representative of the sugar merchants from his home town. He met his wife Filipa Moniz here and is said to have lived in a small house in Vila Baleira. This is now a museum, showing a collection of navigational instruments, maps, and all sorts of tools from the time.
Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Piedade (Church of Our Lady of Sorrows)
This charming little church, consecrated in 1430, is famous for its aquamarine azulejo medallion that is embedded into the building’s white façade. In the mid-16th Century it was nearly entirely destroyed by pirate raids, and by the 17th Century it was almost completely re-built in a Baroque style, preserving only the Mudejar Chapel from its original form.
Pico do Castelo (Castle Peak or viewpoint)
Three miles (five kilometres) north of Vila Baleira are the ruins of an old fortress where locals used to take refuge when the island was subjected to pirate attacks in the 15th Century. Nowadays, the Pico do Castelo is one of the most beautiful viewpoints of Porto Santo, overlooking the copper coloured land leading down to the ocean.
Fonte da Areia (Sand Fountain)
It is said that whoever drinks the waters at the Fonte da Areia, is blessed with eternal youth! Located on the coast, about four miles (6 kilometres) from Vila Baleira, is this bizarre and beautiful sandstone formation that surrounds a natural spring.
Pico das Flores (Flowers Peak or viewpoint)
From this viewpoint in Porto Santo, you can practically see the entire island, as well as some of the deserted islands of Madeira surrounding it. You may enjoy a picnic here, whilst contemplating the breathtaking panorama.