Ideally situated on the southern shoreline of São Miguel Island in the Azores, Vila Franca do Campo is a natural stopover for people en route between the capital Ponta Delgada and the thermal spa town of Furnas in the north-east.
It was the first capital of the island until it was destroyed by a great earthquake in 1522. Today, with its small harbour dotted with brightly-painted fishing boats, there’s nothing in this charming seaside town to recall the tragic and very violent event some five hundred years ago.
Besides its stunning Atlantic vistas, Vila Franca do Campo has plenty of interest for the passing tourist. One of the jewels in São Miguel’s crown can be found right there in the centre of town, namely the delightful 15th-century church of São Miguel which boasts the oldest bell on the island. Its beautiful Gothic portal built of basalt rock is a rare and unique architectural feature while the church’s splendid interior shouldn’t be missed for its Gothic arches carved with plant motifs.
Built in the 18th century, the nearby church of São Pedro also features an elaborate portal and an impressive statue of Saint Peter carved out of beige-coloured Ançã stone quarried around Coimbra in central Portugal. Also worth seeing is the 16th-century church of Santo André, notable for its lavish interior adorned with well-preserved azulejo tiles and an elegant panelled ceiling. Vila Franca do Campo’s multi-faceted museum has interesting collections of music, scrimshaw, pottery and local traditional arts and crafts.
Vila Franca do Campo is very well placed for visitors exploring São Miguel’s spectacular southern shoreline, with many points of interest close by. Reachable by boat, the tiny offshore island of Ilhéu is a protected nature reserve with a natural horse shoe-shaped seawater swimming pool. Well situated on a hill overlooking the town, the pilgrimage chapel of Nossa Senhora da Paz (Our Lady of Peace) offers head-spinning views along the island’s entire south coast, which is an absolute joy to see on a clear day.
Providing a pleasant stopover for visitors heading for Ponta Delgada, the small seaside town of Lagoa to the west of Vila Franca do Campo is popular for its exquisite blue-and-white pottery made from the local volcanic clay. Lagoa has long been the pottery centre of the island and one particular company to look out for is Cerâmica Viera which dates back to 1862. All sorts of bowls, vases, pots, crockery and other items are hand-made on the premises in traditional designs and colours and visitors are encouraged to drop in and tour the factory and showrooms.
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