Azores Holiday Destination Guide

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Praia da Vitória

Historic Praia da Vitória, a major point of interest about 20 km northeast of Angra, is one of the most modern towns in the Azores. Located in a large bay on the east coast, this pretty town boasts a long and attractive sandy beach, a smart marina, a nice pedestrian shopping zone and a very pleasant ambiance. Founded around 1456 as Vila da Praia, it received its present name from Queen Maria II in 1837 in grateful remembrance of the first victory of the Liberals over the Royalists on the 11th of August 1829 in a battle, which took place off the town’s shores. Seat of the first captain-donees of the island, Praia served as capital until it was superseded by Angra do Heroísmo in 1476. Badly damaged by several earthquakes (1614, 1841 and 1980), this attractive town boasts an appealing layout and an interesting historic centre with many narrow, parallel running streets and alleys, lined with colourful old houses featuring the characteristic, often grated, sash windows.

With its recently modernized and extended harbour, featuring a 1,400 m long jetty and a marina with a capacity for 210 boats, Praia da Vitória has got the better of Angra and now constitutes Terceira’s most important seaport. The north quay accommodates the local fishing fleet while the south quay is occupied by the commercial harbour, with big container ships mooring here. Unfortunately, to every upside there is always a down side, as this new harbour complex is taking in a big part of the bay, limiting Praia’s originally beautiful wide sandy beach more to a harbour basin.

Praia’s centre has a pleasant pedestrian zone with many attractive shops and some notable historic buildings that well deserve a glance. The most impressive of all is probably the all-dominating Igreja Matriz de Santa Cruz, an attractive parish church with a large façade with two imposing bell-towers that can be seen from far. Founded in the middle of the 15th century by the first captain-donee of the island, this three-naved church was only consecrated in 1516 and over the centuries of its existence, it was damaged several times by earthquakes and restored again. Featuring a beautifully adorned Gothic main portal, whose arcade is composed of five vaults, a gift from King Manuel I, this church has also a Manueline lateral doorway. Among the treasures in its interior, which is a blend of several styles, are, apart from some elaborate gilded wood-carvings throughout the church and its chapels, a beautiful alabaster statue of the infant Jesus kept in a silver chest in the sacristy, a richly decorated choir, featuring a wood-carved retable and azulejos panels from the 18th century, some interesting paintings, antique furniture as well as its original font, which was dug up during the renovation works after the 1980 earthquake.

South of the Matriz stands the noteworthy Paços do Concelho (Town Hall) at the main square Largo Francisco Ornelas da Câmara, which is adorned with the Estatua da Liberdada, a monument in memory of the heroes of the battle of 11th August 1829. The town hall was originally founded in 1591 and shows the typical architectural of north Portuguese manor houses, featuring an impressive double-staircase in the middle of its façade, which is flanked by a massive bell-tower on one side. The earthquake of 1614 destroyed the original Paço to a large extend, which explains the influences of 17th-century architecture that can be seen on the present building.

North of the Igreja Matriz, in the Rua de São Paulo, you will find a notable 17th-century building, which was remodelled in the 19th century and houses today a permanent exhibition of fine joinery works. This is the birthplace of the town’s most famous son, the novelist, poet, journalist and teacher Vitorino Nemésio (1901-1978). Some beautiful stone carvings can be seen in its backyard.

East of Nemésio’s birthplace, almost at the end of Rua da Misericórdia, stands the Casa das Tias (the house of Vitorino Nemésio’s aunts), which, since 1994, can be recognized by a bust of the poet on its perron. Erected in the 18th century, it was completely rebuilt after the earthquake of 1841. It was in this house where Nemésio grew up, a fact of which he relates to in his works.

Map of Terceira
Map of Terceira
Praia da Vitória
Praia da Vitória

Right opposite lies the Igreja do Senhor Santo Cristo or da Misericórdia. Founded in 1521 and partially destroyed by a fire in 1921, this large church boasts a curiosity, as it has two choirs, each with a magnificent high altar. Due to the insoluble conflict between the two orders Santo Cristo and Misericórdia and in order to please everyone, everything was built in double! There is also a beautiful Flemish statue representing the Eternal.

A stroll further west of the old centre brings you to a small but very pleasant municipal garden with a monument of José Silvestre Ribeiro, the governor responsible for the reconstruction of the town after the earthquake of 1841. On the south side of the park lies the old market, whose architecture has not changed since 1670 when it was built.

Towards the sea, parts of the old town wall, which was erected around 1480 and once consisted of four walls and four access gates, can still be seen here and there.

The small 16th-century Fort of Santa Catarina, located south of the beach towards Cabo da Praia, is the only remaining witness of all fortifications once built to protect Praia’s bay. A viewpoint, the Miradouro Riviera, at Ponta do Cabo provides splendid panoramic views over the east coast and the town. There is also an interesting 17th-century three-naved parish church housing precious religious robes and vestments in its sacristy as well as various statues from the 17th and 18th centuries.

A visit to the northern end of Praia’s natural bay, to the Ponta da Má Merenda, where the town’s other fort – the Forte do Espírito Santo – was once located, is quite rewarding for its Miradouro do Facho, a belvedere with excellent views over the town and its bay, the coast and the mountains of the Serra do Cume in the backdrop.

Praia da Vitória is also the town, which boasts an impressive variety of colourful, prettily adorned ‘Impérios’ (Holy-Ghost temples), such as the blue and white Império dos Pescadores in the Largo José Silvestre Ribeiro, the Império Santa Rita in the Largo da Igreja, the brown and white Império de Santa Luzia in Canada de Santa Luzia and the colourful Império da Casa da Ribeira in the suburban village of Casa da Ribeira – all from the last quarter of the 19th century. The newer ones, built mostly in the first half of the 20th century, are the Império das Tronqueiras in the square with the same name, the extremely colourful Império da Caridade in the Largo José São Ribeiro and - last but not least – the red and white Imperio do Rossio in the Largo Dr. Sousa Junior, erected in 1979.
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