7 reasons to book a holiday to Porto Santo
Not heard of Porto Santo? Don't worry, Porto Santo may not be a destination known to many British people, but the mainland Portuguese know all about this glorious Macaronesian island.
They escape here to savour arguably the best beach in Portugal* and that is saying something in a country blessed with world-class strips of sand - and relax away from the crowds you can find on some mainland beaches.
Swirl the tantalising ghost of Christopher Columbus in with superb seafood and fantastic hiking, and the bijou island of Porto Santo proves to be an intoxicating holiday cocktail.
As you will discover, Porto Santo is bursting with things to do, especially for those who enjoy the great outdoors. While Madeira is well known, brands such as First Choice* are helping to put Porto Santo on the map for holidaymakers.
1. It's remarkably beautiful
Porto Santo is a wee stunner. The island may only measure 14 km by 8 km, but it is perfectly formed and packs in a swathe of jaw-dropping scenery. This ranges from wide sandy beaches to rugged rocky coastlines and tempting offshore islands.
Then there are the volcanoes, which are sprinkled across Porto Santo and seem to loom into view whatever you are doing on the island. And, if that is not enough, from many spots on Porto Santo on a good day you can peer over to other islands in this archipelago like Madeira (40 km away) and the evocatively named Desertas islands.
2. That beach...
Porto Santo's epic main beach is the island's number one attraction. It sweeps away from the ferry port for over 7 km. No matter the season, there is plenty of space to unfurl a towel and soak in some rays on the puffy white sand.
It is backed by a ribbon of sand dunes, which perfectly frame the scene as you gaze along its expanse towards rugged Ponta da Calheta
Waters in this part of the world are cleaner than the Mediterranean and a little cooler too*, while the breezes that drift in from the Atlantic are more than welcome in summer.
Most of this sandy stretch is gloriously unspoilt, although there's a sprinkling of hotels, cafés, restaurants and watersports operators if you want to do more than just beach bumming.
3. Vault the volcanoes
Porto Santo is a paradise for hikers so don't forget to pack your walking boots. You can just stroll along the sands but more exhilarating adventures await tackling the network of hiking trails that snake off up the flurry of volcanoes that dot the island.
Porto Santo is around 13 million years older than neighbouring Madeira* and time has ravaged these once epic peaks down to more manageable sizes, with the highest hill, Pico do Facho, only 516m.
You can cheat a little by catching a taxi up a huge chunk of Pico Castelo, before finishing the job on the easy-to-navigate trail to a summit that is a great spot for a picnic. The views from up here are truly epic.
4. Walk in the footsteps of Columbus
Legendary explorer Christopher Columbus arrived in Porto Santo in 1478 before his pioneering voyage out to the New World. His time was troubled here as he lost both his wife and newborn son. He was left to wonder and wander on Porto Santo's sands dreaming of an escape to distant lands.
A fascinating legacy of Columbus' time on Porto Santo remains in the form of the Casa Museu Colombo, where the great explorer is said to have lived.
Various exhibits delve into both the man and his attempts to sail off the map, while others open up the rich story of this most beguiling of islands.
5. Savour the seafood
As an island outpost in the Atlantic it is no surprise that Porto Santo dishes up a rich bounty of fresh seafood. There is all manner of white and bluefish, plus shellfish.
The highlight, which attracts diners from as far away as Lisbon to the Madeira archipelago, is the scabbard fish. Known locally as espada, this strikingly ugly creature is actually delicious served simply grilled with olive oil and garlic.
If you feel like eating fish don't confuse your espada with your espetada, as the latter are delicious chunky meat kebabs that you can order on Porto Santo too. They come dangling on metal skewers and are a carnivore's dream.
6. Escape the crowds
Few destinations boast the opportunity to savour something that many of us crave these days in our hectic and crowded lives - the chance to finally escape the crowds. On Porto Santo you really can.
I embarked on a half-day hike up Pico do Facho and a few other peaks nearby and didn't come across a single person anywhere on the route. If you are looking for a holiday where you get to slow down and gather your thoughts, Porto Santo is ideal.
7. Porto Santo is a golfing paradise
Little Porto Santo may seem like an odd location for one of Europe's finest golf courses, but that is exactly what you will find at Porto Santo Golfe.
This award-winning championship course was expertly crafted around some spectacular terrain by legendary Spanish golfer Seve Ballesteros. Handily, they will pick you up for free from many island hotels.
The clubhouse also sports a decent restaurant and café with great views of the course and the surrounding volcanoes. If you dine here you get that free transfer too even for non-golfers.
Does Porto Santo sound like your kind of island paradise? For a base on the island with every amenity to hand, check out the latest deals on holidays with First Choice.
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