Portugal // Estremadura and Ribatejo //

Ilha da Berlenga

The craggy, ocean-ravaged Ilha da Berlenga lies 10km offshore from Peniche – it’s usually visible from Cabo Carvoeiro. Taking up just two-and-a-half square kilometres, the island is uninhabited except for a few fishermen, because the island has been declared a natural reserve, home to thousands upon thousands of sea birds, including gulls, puffins and cormorants. The birds are entirely dominant – visitors, you get the feeling, are just about tolerated as long as they don’t venture into the ubiquitous perching and roosting areas.

At the main landing dock, with its small fleet of fishing boats, there’s a tiny sandy beach that’s a mere golden notch in the cliffs. This gets ridiculously busy in summer, though you’re unlikely to come to Berlenga just for the beach. The water is lovely however, and fantastic for snorkelling. The only buildings on the island are a few huts and concrete houses above the harbour, a lighthouse on the heights and – across one shoulder of the island, reached by the only track – the highly romantic seventeenth-century Forte de São João Baptista, on a rocky islet the other side of a stone bridge. Striding out across the island seems like an attractive idea, but be warned – there’s no shade, and the ever-present screeching, swooping birds make a restful picnic unlikely.

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