Emerald waters, mild slopes, stone bridges built directly on the sea leading to a fort with an impossible form, cliffs with capricious shapes… It sounds like an exotic, far away place, but no. This place actually exists in Portugal, just a short boat ride away from the coast, to the north of Lisbon. Welcome to the Berlengas, the Portuguese tropical islands.
The Berlengas consist of three islands: Berlenga Grande, Estelas and Farilhoes-Forcados. Also, the most popular beaches are Berlenga Grande, Forte and Cova do Sonho.
Berlengas islands have always been considered a marvellous place. Already in 1465, a date when you would think nobody cared about nature, the Portuguese king declared it to be a protected area where no men could alter its characteristics. It is fair to say, though, that his main interest was to preserve the rabbits he so much loved to hunt. Nevertheless, the recognition of its uniqueness has continued over the centuries. In 2011, it was designaded by UNESCO as World Biosphere Reserve.
Traditionally, people lived there out of fishing and salt. Nowadays, these pristine waters are a unique spot to snorkel, with over 70 kinds of fish surrounding the area. You can even catch a sight of dolphins and whales! However, in these islands, the most sought animal is a bird that looks like a penguin, a very cute, small one. Plus, this is a great place to observe birds because of its great location in the middle of many birds’ migratory routes.
On the biggest island, you can find one of the pearls of the Berlengas - the St. John Baptiste Fort. These islands had always been the favourite target of pirates and corsairs, so the Portuguese felt a strong fortress was needed there. Its origins are unclear, but the current configuration belongs to the 17th century, under John the IV. It has six sides in order to fit on the small island, and bridges were built directly on the water to access it. You can walk all your way there, just surrounded by those emerald waters. It is an amazing view!
There used to be a convent too, but it was destroyed by navy attacks. Its remains were used to build the fort. It was located in the current Fishers’ neighbourhood, next to the Berlenga Grande Beach. By the way, only 20 houses were built on the whole ensemble of islands. It is quite a privilege to live there.
If you are visiting the centre of Portugal, do not forget to plan a day trip to these islands. Boats are leaving every day from Peniche. Tickets are very limited, so make sure you book them in advance. You do not want to miss the Berlengas, the Portuguese tropical islands!
Did you like the travel story?
Get more! Subscribe to our monthly inspiration newsletter.