São Nicolau – The Pristine Island
São Nicolau is pure nature. Steep mountain slopes with fantastic rock formation, deserted villages and fertile valleys are waiting for you to discover them on this island of 346 square kilometres. People say that there is a very special mood on this island. It’s ideal for hikers and mountain bikers because its mountains are not quite as high as those on Santo Antão. The highest mountain is the 1312-metre high Monte Gordo in the most fertile part of the island, the northwest. A mountain range of up to 700 metres in elevation, levelling out in a plateau, stretches across the more arid and very sparsely populated east of São Nicolau. The south of the island is also very dry. The coastal areas are generally quite difficult to access, which makes the mountainous island less suitable for those who just want a holiday at the beach.
With its picturesque and colourful houses, the capital of São Nicolau, Ribeira Brava, is located at the centre of an impressive mountain backdrop. Above all, the little city is very busy in the mornings. The narrow paved streets are filled and lively trading happens in the little shops with their wooden crates. In 1780, Ribeira Brava was declared as the bishop’s seat. The priest seminar of Seminário de São José, which prepares students for church and government offices, is located next to a chapel. The impressive Cruzeiro de Penedo (cliff cross) rises out of a basalt cliff above the chapel. After the bishop’s seat was moved to São Vicente, the former priest seminar was ultimately closed in 1931 and used as a prison for political offenders.
The town centre has the Praça do Torreiro church square with the Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosário, an impressive building with two towers and blue facades. However, its interior is designed in a very simple manner.
The relatively new market hall, where you can buy food and clothing, is situated nearby. A lovely park with benches and flowers for relaxing under the shady trees is located at the riverbed of Ribeira Brava. The pristine nature of the island once again becomes obvious in the São João quarter: Next to the pretty house of returned emigrants, buildings made of natural stone with straw roofs stand here.
After 26 kilometres on a very lovely route to the northwest of Ribeira Brava, you will reach Tarrafal. On the way there, it’s worthwhile to take a side trip on the coast in the valley of Queimadas: The Blue Hole, an opening in the cliffs with the ocean surging beneath it, is very definitely worth seeing. Tarrafal itself, which now has more inhabitants than the main city of Ribeira Brava, is the site of the largest harbour on the island, in addition to many shops and restaurants. Tarrafal is also one of the few places on the island with beach access for swimming. Above all, we recommend the Praia da Luz, a wide black sandy beach in the north of the town. The black sand contains titanium and iodine, which supposedly brings relief to joint diseases and rheumatism.
You will see a very fertile area in the Fajã Plain. Carob, banana and papaya trees thrive here next to dragon trees. Above all, the latter can primarily be found around the village of Cachaço in the foothills of the Monte Gordo. At the same elevation on the east end of the village, the Nossa Senhora do Monte Sentinha chapel stands solitary on a hill in front of the towering panorama of the mountain with the same name. The three-hour path from Praia Branca to Fajã is considered to be one of the most beautiful hiking routes on the island. The path winds in serpentines along steep mountain ridges, past the twin cliffs and through the valley from Ribeira da Prata into the fertile Fajã plain. Praia Branca, a valley protected by mountains, is also a lovely experience of nature, just like Ribeira da Prata. The latter is lined by sharp cliffs that have little groups of houses built on them.
South of the airport, which rarely has planes landing, is the quite destitute looking fishing village of Preguçia. In earlier times, it was still a trade harbour and a major whaling station. The town, which lies directly on a bit of coastline that drops off steeply to the ocean, still has a certain antiquated charm.
The east of the island is dominated by deserted houses and towns. Life is evident only in the coastal region with the villages of Carriçal and Juncalinho. A tour of the Capela da Sagrada Familia, whose construction was made possible in 1960 by a Capuchin monk, is worth taking in Juncalinho.