"PORTO SANTO" Porto Santo Island by ghislain69
Porto Santo Island Travel Guide: 66 reviews and 143 photos
Often referred to as Madeira's little sister, the tiny island of Porto Santo lies less than 50 miles north-west of Madeira, but it would be hard to find a pair of siblings more radically different than these two. Compared to Madeira's imposingly majestic mountains, Porto Santo's peaks are merely gentle hills. Whilst Madeira is cloaked in lush, tropical vegetation, Porto Santo's dryer climate is reflected in a rather more barren landscape. And where in Madeira, the mountains meet the sea almost vertically in most places, with only the odd rock pool or volcanic stone beach to facilitate sea swimming, the entire length of Porto Santo's south coast is seamed by one of the most stunning beaches in the whole of Europe, a vast 9-km expanse of soft, golden sand backed by dunes and low shrubbery.
The remarkable contrast between Madeira and Porto Santo makes these two islands a natural choice for a split-centre holiday, especially bearing in mind that travelling to Porto Santo almost always involves flying via Madeira. However, those simply looking for a wonderfully laid-back and truly relaxing beach holiday will find Porto Santo an enticing destination in its own right.
Although discovered and settled some years earlier than Madeira, Porto Santo never achieved the affluence of its larger neighbour and remained a true backwater throughout the centuries (electricity didn't make its debut until 1954!). Today, the island's fabulous beach makes it a popular venue for weekend breaks amongst Madeirans in the summer, but thanks to the lack of international flights Porto Santo remains one of Europe's least discovered beach destinations, with no more than half- a-dozen hotels of any size, so that there is never any need to get too close to your neighbour's beach towel!
The beach is undoubtedly Porto Santo's prime attraction, but the island also offers some rewarding terrain for walkers, and a handful of charming villages in which to potter around and enjoy the laid-back ambience. Vila Baleira – officially the island's capital but really just a lively village of less than 3000 souls – is situated in the centre of the south coast. A very picturesque village with cobbled streets and an assemblage of 17th-century houses fanning out from the palm-shaded square, Vila Baleira also boasts a small museum dedicated to Christopher Columbus, as well as a selection of shops, banks, restaurants, bars and cafés.
The only notable village in the north of the island is Camacha, renowned for its restaurants and an excellent starting point for walks to the island's three tallest peaks, which afford magnificent views across the island. Those who like walking but are less keen on hills can enjoy long strolls with their feet in the water along the seemingly endless beach.
A unique mineral composition is said to give Porto Santo's beach all manner of therapeutic qualities, and there is an excellent thalassotherapy centre at Cabeço da Ponta, offering a wide range of treatments. Whether or not you believe in the sand's healing properties, the island's utterly relaxing atmosphere makes it almost impossible not to return from a holiday there feeling totally refreshed and invigorated.
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