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The Azores islands

The Azores is a group of nine islands, part of Portuguese territory. The group is divided in three subgroups:

  • the western group: Flores and Corvo
  • the central group: São Jorge, Pico, Terceira, Graciosa, Faial
  • the eastern group: São Miguel and Santa Maria

The archipelago was named after the "Azor", an eagle-like bird of prey which was very common on the islands when discovered.
Flowers (and "Hortensia" in particular), vulcanic rocks, hiking trails, vistas, silence, thermal baths, natural pools, good food. You'll find it all on the Azores.

Whatever your plans on the Azores, it will always begin and end in Ponta Delgada on the the main island São Miguel. Ponta Delgada airport is the hub between Europa, USA and the other 8 islands.
You can spend a week on São Miguel and tour around, but you would miss out on the specifics of the other islands in the archipel. Islandhopping is the way to get to know the Azores. We did so, but not the usual unscheduled approach I prefer. Since we only had a week to spend we opted for a package deal, start and end in Porto.
I am not too keen on group travel since I prefer to be without commitments while travelling but in this case it saved a lot of organizing. Can always go back a second time and magnify the real highlights.


July 26, 2010

After a week of family obligations in Porto we took off for the 1500 kilometer flight to Ponta Delgada. We met our guide for the week and the rest of the group. All Portuguese, all ages, so I was overwhelmingly outnumbered. Since we would not stay in São Miguel but would move on to Terceira the same evening we had a short excursion to some nearby highlights.


Ponta Delgada

Ponta Delgada

Ponta Delgada

Sete Cidades

Azulejo de 7Cidades
Back to the airport for a local flight to the island Terceira. One of the larger islands and still in use as a military base because of its strategic position between the USA and Europe. Nowadays activity is low but the airbase is still active. Civil aviation uses the Aerogare de Lajes. This is the way to fly! The Dash-8 is parked right in front of the terminal and it only takes 20 steps to be out of the "airport".
A bus transfer to our hotel (Terceira Mar) in Angra do Heroismo, settling in, and dinner with the group.

caldeira 7Cidades

lagoa Santiago

Take off from P.Delgada..

.over craters..

Terceira


July 27

The childhood sensation of a fieldday. Waiting for the bus, picking a good seat. First stop: the Monte (=mountain) do Brasil. A fortress on a strategic point, overviewing the area and the ocean.


Aerogare de Lajes

Monte Brasil. Islands of
S.Jorge and Pico in distance.

Angra do Heroismo

Convento de S Gonçalo

Angro do Heroismo
Onwards to city centre for a free walk in which we visited the "Convento (=convent) de S. Gonçalo", the Museu do Angro, the "Sé" (seat of the Archbishop) and the Cãmara Municipal (=city hall).

Lunch with the group in the scenic village of São Sebastião, in a rustic setting. I'm quite sure all the tour operators use this place for lunch and/or dinner...



House in Angra

São Sebastião

Império in S.Sebastião

Império in Praia da Vitoria
After lunch we were free to tour the village. We knew we would find the first "imperio" here. A little explanation:
An imperio is a small, chapel-like one-storey building. Built and maintained by the well-to-do of the community, the imperio was stocked with goods for use by the less-fortunate inhabitants. A form of welfare that is typically Azorean; the only place on earth where imperio's can be found.
From this moment on it became our target to locate the imperio in every community we passed and make a pic of it.

Serra do Cume

Serra do Cume

Serra do Cume

Algar do Carvão
Continue to the city of Praia da Vitoria (favorite hang-out for the enlisted men) and the remarkable landscape of "Serra do Cume". From the top of this ridge the spectator has an impressive view over the valley, in which one sees more and more patterns and lines. Partly vulcanic origin, partly man-made. To top off the experience a few genuine Dutch thoroughbred cows (Fries stamboek) sensed a fellow countryman and straddled over to say hi...

Next stop: Algar do Carvão: an old volcano which can be visited inside the crater. Our guide assured us it was dormant for centuries now.

Back to the hotel. Some time left to spend in the pool before we set out for dinner in a local restaurant, where we had folkloric music and dance while enjoying our meal.


July 28

Today was going to be one of my favorites: no schedule for the morning part. We were free to go where we wanted, so we took a taxi downtown to start with a visit to the Convento de São Francisco. Afterwards an improvised city tour (on the lookout for imperio's) and passing Alto da Memoria and Igreja (=church) de Misericordia. After lunch the afternoon was spent with the group, touring around the island coastal road past Doze Ribeiras (12 rivers) and Biscoitos, and ending at the Lajes Aerogare for our next flight to the island of Faial.

The flight takes you over the island of Pico, offering a nice view of the volcano (Pico). Flights are low-altitude so plenty to see!


Convento de São Francisco

Angra

Império in Angra

Igreja da Misericordia

Biscoitos
Transfer from the tiny airport to the city of Horta, and our hotel Do Canal. Dinner and a nice evening stroll around the marina.


July 29


Biscoitos

Vila Nova

flying over Pico

Faial

Horta, Faial
We only stayed one night here, so packing and leaving the suitcase in the bus. Morning excursion to Caldeira (the highest volcano of Faial), Capelinhos on the western coast (where the signs of recent volcano activity are still very visible).
A nice stone-grilled lunch in a restaurant back in Horta (yes, Horta can be taken in on one morning..) and private time to check out Horta.

Caldeira de Faial

Cabeço Gordo (fat head)

Rooftop of house,
buried under lavastream

Capelinhos

Porto Pim, ancient
whale processing plant
Horta has a famous marina, used as intermediate point for noncommercial vessels between Europe and the Americas. Many sailors leave a legal piece of graffiti on the docks...
Other landmarks in Horta are Porto Pim and the ancient whaling factory, igreja Matriz São Salvador and the Scrimshaw museum.

Legal graffiti

Império

Senhõra das Angustias

Goodbye Horta

Pico
We left Faial on the local ferry for a one-hour crossing to the island of Pico. Landing in port Madalena, we found our hotel Caravelas right in front of us. Great hotel! Nice rooms, quiet, nice pool. Approved!
Organized dinner with the group and yes: the inevitable folklore group to enhance the mood.


July 30


Guide Martins

Incredible trees..

vineyards

flowers everywhere

Porto Cachorro
On the bus, and a tour of the island:
Museu do Vinho, with typical Azorean vineyards in rectangles of black vulcanic rock
Picturesqe village of Lajes do Pico and its Museu do Baleeiros (the whale-hunters)
The Museu Industrial of São Roque du Pico
The tiny settlement of Porto Cachorro, in a unique setting of black basalt and lava.

This last stop was more or less next to the runway of the aerogare. Logically we terminated there and had the evening flight back to Ponta Delgada on the main island of São Miguel. We stayed in the Hotel Atlãntico for the next four nights.


Azor vs. Dash-8

São Miguel

Furnas

Terra Nostra

Thermal bath


July 31

Excursion day on the bus to get to know São Miguel.
The longest leg first; all the way to the Northeastern part of the island, passing Furnas in the centre where vulcanic activity can be watched. Steam escaping the porous rocks, spreading a sulphuric smell. We passed the Caldeiras to bury our prepared lunch in the sand, to be heated by the subterranean heatsources. This form of preparing is called "cozido".


Caldeiras

Cozido being retrieved

=lunch

Terra Nostra

right of way for them!
A bit down the road is the wellknown hotel Terra Nostra, which has a thermal pool filled with golden-yellow sulphuric water of about 40C.
We were advised to bring swimgear and an old towel. Now we know why. The water looks filthy and it took some courage to submerge but as soon as you did it was bliss! Good for your skin, very good if you have arthritis or skin trouble. No real showers so dressing up again was a bit fussy for some of the ladies. I had fun, being almost bald...

Back to the Caldeiras to retrieve our "cozido" and took it to the Terra Nostra hotel to be consumed. Fill a huge kettle with meat, potatoes, vegetables, spices and some oil and let it simmer for two hours under ground. Delicious!


Ponta do Sossego

Yes, that is a tourist bus
down the ravine

Gorreana tea plant

Gorreana tea plant

Tea
Onwards to Ponta do Sossego, Nordeste and back direction Ponta Delgada. On the way a stop at Gorreana, where actual tea is grown, processed and shipped. Since I love tea I bought several packs to travel back home. Never knew they grew tea in the Azores...


August 1

No schedule for the morning. We went for a local walkabout and visited Igreja de São José and the Convento da Esperança.


Convento da Esperanç

Estufa ananases

Estufa ananases

Estufa ananases

Ribeira Grande
The afternoon was the last group excursion, taking us to the northern coasttown of Ribeirinha. Circling back over the central vulcanos to see the Caldeira Velha (old crater) and the Lagoa de Fogo (Lake of fire). Well, for me the "fogo"-part was more aptly translated into "fog" since the clouds masked the entire Lagoa.

Dinner in marina-side restaurant "Auditorium" and say goodbye to the group. They are leaving tomorrow morning while we will stay a few days more.


Lagoa de Fogo

Ponta Delgada

Moinho Bibi

Moinho Bibi

Farol da Ferraria


August 2

Free at last! Rented a car and toured the west point of the island, stumbling on the Moinho de Bibi.
Next along the road we found the Farol (lighthouse) da Ferraria. Farols in Portugal are under supervision of the armed forces and therefor manned by military. The sergeant on duty was more than happy to give us a tour. Company is scarce on these outposts so any visitor is more than welcome. Besides: they know the territory and it was him who suggested a visit to the "Termas da Ferraria" down the cliffs: a natural thermal bath right on the coastline, where jets of hot water emerge from the porous rocks and form some kind of natural jacuzzi. He was right: this was GREAT!


Farol da Ferraria

Farol da Ferraria

"Bearded Terceiran"
(no joke, it is a breed!)

Ferraria thermal spring

Império de Fajas
On to the village of Mosteiros for our lunch of seafood. We had some kind of oyster (forgot the name) but not recognizable as such. Looks like your plate is full of debris from the coastline but boy: the taste! Fresh as can be. The other dish is "cracas": grilled kind of clam. And fresh from the ocean too. Worth making a detour to Mosteiros!





A little tour around the western coastline of São Miguel, passing Ponta do Escalvado and onwards to that mysterious ruine of a windmill on that deserted hilltop in Vàrzea. We have seen it several times while driving from different angles, and it keeps attracting our attention. Some survey and local enquiry told us that the hill AND the mill are up for sale. Interesting... to be followed up.

..daydreaming..

..our new project..?

Várzea

Império de Várzea

..everywhere you look..
A second visit to the Caldeira da Sete Cidades, just because it was so breathtaking. A caldeira is a vulcanic crater. This particular one is a large one, and the lake in it has two distinct shades of blue. Has to do with two kinds of algae which don't mix. A must see!

Slowly heading back to our homebase, while passing Pico de Carvão, the old aqueduct and the cimetério (graveyard) de Covoada. We like to visit graveyards in general and the ones on the Azores had this specific headstones, shaped in the form of what seems to be a signalling lamp. In effect those are picture frames, offering kind of protection to the image inside.
Back to Ponta Delgada and handing in our rental.


Sete Cidades

Lagoa Rasa

Pico de Carvão

Covoada cimetério

Covoada
Consider exploring the island by car. No need to book in advance, there are plenty of budget rental agencies in the city. Traffic is a piece of cake, compared to what we are used to in the big West Europe cities.


August 3

Last day on the Azores, and still no whale or dolphin spotted. Time for a "Whale watching"-adventure. At least one spot guaranteed... The crew made an effort to locate a target via radio contact with a shore lookout, but every time we reached that spot the target was gone.
Finally, after one hour of bumping and jumping the waves, leaving us all soaked, we managed to spot one glimp of a small brown dolphin. It might have been a radiocontrolled dummy, set out by the organization, to fulfill the guarantee?

No joking, it was a nice experience. Especially the fellow spotters who did NOT expect to get totally soaked and did not look too happy afterwards. Hint: bring a towel and a dry shirt.


..possible..

Whalewatching

..is it..?

seafood lunch

Bye Ponta Delgada!
Time to wrap up, take lunch, and fly the 1500 kilometer back to continental Porto. Surely beats the promise of having to drive back the 2000+ kilometer from Porto to Brussels the day after tomorrow.

Azores: wonderful! Will be back to visit the two Western islands of the archipelago.



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