The Berlengas Islands in Centro de Portugal are a group of craggy rocks jutting precariously from the Atlantic Ocean, 12 kilometres from Peniche – is considered a popular day-trip by many who visit the seaside town. From the town’s Marina visitors can book a place on one of the many group excursions to the main island, Berlenga Grande (cost approx. €9 per person). The islands are a marine nature reserve, which are – or once were before the invasion by seagulls – regarded as an important breeding ground for several species of birds and the home of a variety of protected plants. Now it is the gulls which seem to have taken over.

Emanuele Siracusa - Centro de Portugal - Oeste - Berlenga Peniche-2Emanuele Siracusa - Centro de Portugal - Oeste - Berlenga Peniche-4To reach the Berlenga Grande do not expect a pleasure cruise on flat calm waters, where you sip a drink and watch the dolphins ride the boat’s bow wave. Yes, there are dolphins, but this is the Atlantic Ocean and on the day of my trip the seas were anything but calm. In swells of up three metres, my knuckles turned visibly white from clenching the underside of my seat. The skipper of the fishing boat ‘Atlantis’ on which I travelled, Captain João, insisted that this was unusual for mid-summer in Centro de Portugal. Through Captain João’s expert handling of his craft and the presence of his first mate, who ‘stood’ behind me throughout the whole trip, eased any fears I may have had. The first mate sang tunelessly the whole journey as I pretended to smile.

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But the journey is worth it. Berlenga Grand rises like a Gothic Cathedral from the rolling black waters of the Atlantic, and once in the small harbour, the waters are calm and welcoming. From a small flotilla of boats fisherman swings their catch onboard, gilt-head bream, wrasse, grouper and others whose names are lost to me. Glass bottomed boats take tourists on guided tours around the many smaller islands, swimmers and snorkelers take to the crystal clear waters of the bay, as others can’t wait to put their unsteady feet back on dry land.

Emanuele Siracusa - Centro de Portugal - Oeste - Berlenga Peniche-11The island is a pointed hump which has been colonised by thousands of gulls, ready to drop their own foul smelling ‘bombs’ on visitors. It appears as if they own the island, refusing to step from the paths – it is forbidden to step off the designated paths – as you pass, threatening all passersby with hisses and angry squawks.

Emanuele Siracusa - Centro de Portugal - Oeste - Berlenga Peniche-25Emanuele Siracusa - Centro de Portugal - Oeste - Berlenga Peniche-27But this doesn’t deter the many who come here to day trip and walk the islands scenic pathways. Or the many who come to camp in the island’s designated campsite, or stay in the few spaces allocated within the Fort of São João Baptista das Berlengas. The scenic and strategically placed fort was built from the remnants of a previously abandoned monastery and served as a defensive emplacement protecting the mainland from Moorish and French pirates who patrolled the seas off the coast of Centro de Portugal.

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There is no ‘sweet’ water on the island and all provisions are shipped in on a regular basis, in the same manner, all refuse is shipped off the island and back to the mainland. One has to tip one’s hat to the monks who first mooted the notion of building a monastery in this remote place.

Emanuele Siracusa - Centro de Portugal - Oeste - Berlenga Peniche-22But it is for the scenery, whilst hiking on the paths of this small island, that most people visit. The views can be stunning, especially near sunset when the sun is low to the west across the Atlantic. Standing high on the rocks, with the fort glowing golden in the evening light, and the pure clear waters bathed in pink, this is where any memories of rough crossings are forgotten surrounded by the remote vistas of nature.

Emanuele Siracusa - Centro de Portugal - Oeste - Berlenga Peniche-17There are also two small cafes on the island, one set amongst the tiny row of fisherman’s cottages and another set within the walls of the fort. But my advice is this, don’t eat too much, despite the return journey being more favourable and less of a roller-coaster ride than the outward journey, this is still the might of the Atlantic Ocean who can change her mood in an instant.

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This Berlengas Islands in Centro de Portugal post is a part of a series of  11 posts I wrote based on my journey to the Oeste Region in July 2016. Please find the links o the other articles bellow:

Oeste in Centro de Portugal

Peniche in Centro de Portugal

Nazaré in Centro de Portugal

Obidos in Centro de Portugal

Alcobaça in Centro de Portugal

Tomar in Centro de Portugal

Batalha in Centro de Portugal

Areias do Seixo Hotel

Disclaimer: 

This Berlengas Islands in Centro de Portugal post was written by my inspiring friend Brendan Harding as part of my ongoing collaboration with the Centro de Portugal Tourism Board. All opinions are my own. Photo credits to Emanuele Siracusa.