Santa Cruz das Flores & Surroundings (North & Northeast):
Santa Cruz das Flores, the administrative centre of the island, which according to history books received its town charter in 1548, became administrative centre for the western group of the archipelago in 1841. Located in the middle of the east coast, Santa Cruz is probably the only town in the world where the runway of the airport leads you almost directly into its centre (or to say it in other words… you can easily walk from the airport to the centre!). Yet, despite its close location to the airport, the noise generated by jets or propellers is not very disturbing as there are only a few planes arriving during the day. For the inhabitants of Santa Cruz the arrival of a plane is even a welcome interruption of their daily monotony, as it often means to either to pick up or drop a relative or a friend there.
Santa Cruz has not much to offer to retain a tourist on a sightseeing tour and the little there is can be viewed on a short walk through town. The few points of interest are all in the centre, marked by the Praça do Marques de Pombal, the main square where the 17th-century town hall and a Holy-Ghost chapel are located. Nearby is the former Franciscan convent with an interior cloister, built in the first half of the 17th century, which houses today one part of the Museu das Flores, the island’s ethnographic museum. Here, visitors can learn everything about authentic life on the island, including whaling, navigation and the art of scrimshaw. There is also a small department dedicated to religious art. Adjacent to the museum is the Igreja de São Boaventura, whose construction started in 1640 and took more than 100 years to be finished. Originally part of the Franciscan convent, this Baroque-style church, featuring valuable stone reliefs, also served as a hospital after the monks had been driven out of Portugal. Remarkable in its interior, which also shows Mexican and South-American influences, are a beautifully painted cedar-wood ceiling and elaborate woodcarvings. The second part of this museum, mainly displaying antique furniture, is accommodated in the Casa Museu (also called Casa de Pimentel de Mesquita), an old town house from the 17th century, probably one of the oldest on the island.
The foundation of the parish church, Igreja Matriz da Nossa Senhora da Conceição, dates back to the 16th century, but it was reconstructed in the second half of the 19th century and, boasts a splendidly adorned Baroque façade, flanked by two, differently styled towers. Notable in its large interior with three naves are a painted ceiling, a richly ornamented high altar and a beautiful collection of religious figures.
The liveliest places in Santa Cruz are the already above-mentioned Praça and the harbour, which actually consists of three harbours. The first one is the freight and passenger harbour Porto das Poças, which is the busiest. A few hundred meters north lies the old Porto Velho with a lighthouse, which today is only used by local fishermen. The smallest and the furthest north is Porto do Boqueirão, the location of the old whaling factory, which was closed in the beginning of the 1980s. Yet, since a new harbour, with a jetty wall where also freight ships can moor, was built in Lajes das Flores, the harbours of Santa Cruz have lost much of their importance.
Going south along the coast, between Porto Velho and Porto do Boqueirão, a large and beautiful natural swimming pool, formed by black lava, can be found.
South of the town, on the road down to Lajes, a small road leads to the 210 m high Monte das Cruzes with a viewpoint providing great views over Santa Cruz and, in the other direction, across the north of the island with the prominent peaks of Pico da Sé, Pico dos Sete Pés and Morro Alto and the neighbour island Corvo.
Behind the airport, an old mill, which was completely renovated and is still functioning, can be visited.
Going north on the only road leading to the northern tip of the island, the next point of interest reached is the tiny hamlet of Fazenda de Santa Cruz, which surprises with its spectacular church of Nossa Senhora de Lurdes and a nature park, the Parque Florestal, embedded in the surrounding hilly landscape next to an artificial lake from where the island’s only power station, built in 1967 at sea level, is supplied. The park has, besides a small trout farm next to the entrance, a few aviaries with exotic birds as well as a deer enclosure and displays a unique selection of endemic flora. With its many picnic places, this park is a popular venue for a nice day out surrounded by beautiful nature and tranquillity.
The road along the north coast ends at the most northern village of the island, sleepy, little Ponta Delgada, to which it winds down in many serpentines. Yet, it is not the villages that attract visitors to this area, but the beautiful walks along the steep coasts, providing fascinating panoramic views over the Atlantic and of Corvo, which often seems only a stone’s throw away.
About 7 km south of Santa Cruz, at the coast north of Caveira, the Gruta Enxaréus, a large about 50 m long and 25 m wide cave, which used to be a favourite hideaway for pirates, can be visited, yet access is only possible by boat.