The once-private island of the Gago Da Câmara family of Gorreana, this small little islet off the coast of Sao Miguel, is named after the town that overlooks this small island; Vila Franca. Vila Franca was the first capital of Sao Miguel island and therefore, one of the first settlements in all of the Azores. After a massive earthquake in the 1500s, the islanders decided to move the capital to the other end of the island in Ponta Delgada, a small fishing village, then between two natural bays. The town of Vila Franca then became a more of a weekend retreat town and has remained a quiet part of the island, filled with exotic vegetation, making it perfect for beachgoers and summer cottage rentals.
The island of Villa Franca is the perfect place to relax in the beautifully forested area surrounding this ancient crater that arose from a submerged volcano. The waters inside the bay are very calm as the island’s small channel is facing the island of Sao Miguel and not into the open ocean, preventing the unpredictable Atlantic waves from overwhelming the beach. The island is about 1 km from the coast of Sao Miguel, and although it looks much closer then it is, that is not the case, so don’t make the mistake of trying to swim there, as the ocean waters are very unpredictable. The island is classified as a nature reserve by the local government since purchasing the island in the 1980s, which has limited the number of visitors the island can receive a day.
The island can host up to 400 visitors a day; however, it does not receive many people as it still is a relatively undiscovered tourist destination. In the 1940s and 50’s many of the islands high society would take baskets and crates filled with cured meats and cheeses and would have private lunches and celebrations on the island as well as send their teenage children to camp their overnight, knowing it was safe from danger; with a fantastic view of the milky way above. It became an island of legend amongst fishermen. Many tales of sea monsters rising from the ocean and settling on the island are stories of the past with no evidence of any mammal creatures other than birds ever visiting this island.
This is the site of the annual Red Bull Cliff Diving competition that has taken place annually here on this small island since 2006. Before the discovery by Red Bull of this unique diving location, it was relatively desolate with the odd group of tourists or ecology groups visiting it to study its flora and fauna. It now has become a popular destination for couples looking to relax in this quiet bay while admiring the beauty of Sao Miguel from 1 km away. The island is accessible by a small ferry-boat with the schedule and prices varying depending on the season.