AZORES ARCHIPELAGO

THE ISLANDS

THE ISLANDS

 

The archipelago of the Azores is comprised of 9 islands each offering something slightly different.  Highlights of each island:

Sao Miguel - Sao Miguel, also known as the "green island", is the main island and is home to more than half of the Azorean population.  It is the gateway to the Azores and a great island for a first visit, with easy flight connections, a wealth of things to see and do, and some of the Azores’ most spectacular volcanic scenery. From quiet fishing villages to remote crater lakes, rolling hills and high mountains, to boiling pools, green fields and blue ocean, this island has it all.

Highlights

  • Visit 3 stunning crater lakes, Sete Cidades (one of the 7 natural wonders of Portugal), Furnas and Lagoa do Fogo.

  • Relax on unspoiled sandy beaches at Populo and Praia

  • Explore the cosmopolitan capital of Ponta delgado with its turn of the century Portuguese architecture, cobblestone streets, museums and churches (Rosario Church), shopping and restaurants.

  • Taste local delicacies

  • Head to the beautiful Furnas valley of the eastern highlands, with it's flower lined lake, botanical gardens and hotsprings

  • Terra Nostra Park - one of the most beautiful gardens in Europe, featuring a thermal swimming pool and more than 2000 different trees

  • Ponta de Ferraria - unique healing hot springs on the coast, that have been used for centuries.

  • Whale watching, swimming with dolphins, walking and trekking, diving, fishing, jeep safaris, bird watching, sailing, snorkeling, swimming, golf and many other outdoor and indoor activities.

Sao Jorge - Sao Jorge Island has an indented coastline with an oblong shape. A mountain range forms the back-bone of the island and its highest peak, the Pico da Esperanca at 3455 feet (1053 m), offers great views of the other islands of the central group.

Sao Jorge is also known as one of the island of the “triangulo” (triangle) which also comprise of Faial and Pico.

Sao Jorge Island is a paradise for sports fisherman and scuba divers interested in underwater exploration and a great abundance of  fish can be found along its coastline. Its diverse landscapes are fascinating for walkers. Thrilling views of deep ravines (Fajas) disappearing into the ocean, the geometrical shapes extinct volcano cones, and colorful hues of wild flowers make Sao Jorge arguably the best trekking island second only to Sao Miguel.

Gastronomy:  Sao Jorge is best known for it cheese, the famous being “Queijo de Sao Jorge”. The grass from it's green pastures produce a creamy, straw-colored cheeses in large wheels which weigh from 14 to 22 pounds. Cured for several months in a constant temperature, the cheese acquires a honey colored rind. It is appreciated for the piquant flavor it acquires with time and makes it a delicious appetizer or dessert.

Points of interest:


  • The Faja of the Caldeira do Santo Cristo – a protected nature reserve with an underground cave and a lake located in the Ribeira Seca area.

  • The Topo islet lies on the eastern tip of the island. It is also a natural reserve and a breeding ground gulls of the central group of islands, as well as a home for migratory species of sea-bird.

  • A walk along the sea-shore near Urzelina takes one to the “Furnas da Pombas”, a curious volcanic rock formation which is populated by wild pigeons.

  • Urzelina where the tower is all that remains of an ancient church that was buried when the Pico de Esperanca erupted in 1808.

  • Manadas – A picturesque village with attractive country houses surrounded by orchards and cultivated fields.

  • Church of Santa Barbara. Built in the 18th century, in Baroque style with carved archway and chancel with a carved cedar roof, features a valuable collection of hand-painted tiles depicting scenes of the life of Saint Barbara.

Faial - Faial, the blue island, derived its name from the blue colors that decorate the houses, divide the fields and line the roadsides. It is part of the Azores central group of islands.

Faial, is defined as an islands that lives for the sea and is a must stop for all serious yachtsmen. Horta bay and the Pico-Faial straight, know as “O Canal” (the channel), are privileged areas for practicing sailing, windsurfing and rowing. Hundreds of yachts make Horta their mandatory port when crossing the Atlantic.  Horta is also the port of arrival or port of call, for international regattas. The Horta marina has expanded its capacity to receive and support large yachts in the North Atlantic and is the ideal starting point for a cruise round the archipelago. 

The curvy coast, the volcanic ocean floor, and the wealth of flora and fauna also provide divers with hours of pleasure.

The sea around Faial, Pico, and Sao Jorge constitutes one of the richest big game fishing reserves in the Atlantic. Combative, large-sized sharks, bonitos, pecos, sword and tuna fish, are among the most frequent catches. Other species that are abundant in these waters include common sea bream, barracuda, amberjack, , bluefish bream, snapper bream, congerl, moray, Jack Grevale, and mackeral.  The best places to fish are in in Laginha, Castelo Branco, Costa Brava, Cedros, Almoxarife, and Espalamaca.

Faial does not have heights and scarps that present a challenge to a climber or hiker. However, its lovely green landscape cut by masses of hydrangeas is an invitation to invigorating walks that offer the possibility of enjoying its charms and discovering small treasures of beauty that can be found at the top of a hill or on the slopes of a valley.

Gastronomy: Lovers of shell-fish will be delighted at the taste of the local lobsters, cavaco, deep-water crabs and delicious arroz de lapas (limpets cooked with rice).

Points of Interest:

  • Cabecao Gordo – Located in the centre of the island with an altitude of 3422 feet (1043 meters), Cabecao Gordo offers amazing views of the neighboring islands of Pico and Sao Jorge.

  • The Caldeira – Also a great attraction, an enormous crater with 6560 feet (2 km) diameter and 1300 feet (400 m) deep. This area is classified as a natural reserve.

  • Monte da Guia – A mountain from where you can have a look over the town; also a protected natural reserve.

  • Ponta dos Capilinhos – One of Faial’s main tourist attractions. Here visitors can see the results of the eruption of 1957/8 which transformed the landscape, burying fields and houses. The old lighthouse can still be seen.

  • Lajinha and Ponta Furada – Great attraction for their caves and strange lava arches, where the sea crashes violently against the rocks.

  • Vale de Flamengos – Attractive area full of colorful plantations, flowers and picturesque houses.

  • Scrimshaw Museum – This is a private collection belonging to the owner of the popular Peter’s Cafao. Over a hundred pieces are exhibited here, engraved with beautiful sailing boats, mermaids, images of whale-hunting, among many others.

  • Horta Museum – Housed in the former Jesuit College, the museum is noted for its collection of fig wood, one of the island’s traditional handicrafts.

  • Port of Horta – Built in 1876, this important sea-port is a principal port-of-call for many transatlantic yachts. The sea wall is of special interest as it is covered with hundreds of paintings and messages left by the sea-travelers who call in at the port.

Pico - Pico is named after its imposing mountain and dormant volcano, and is one of the most beautiful and underrated islands of the Azores. This, the 2nd largest 'mountain island', stands in the center of the Azores' Central group. 

Pico was built around its whaling and winery based traditions. The famous Pico wines and the UESCO world patrimony designated vineyards, as well as wooden boat building, are contemporary fixtures of Pico. Whaling gave way to the humane treatment, study and observation of these species and also dolphins and other sea mammals. Whale and dolphin watching trips can be organized from Madalena or Lajes.

Pico features some of the best natural swimming holes along it's coast, and every so often a new sand beach will appear. Popular swimming holes include Madalena, Santo Antonio, Sao Roque and Prainha.

 

Walking, trekking, and hiking trails are abundant features including the demanding hike up Pico mountain. Other activities include bird watching, whale and dolphin watching,fishing, mountain- and quad-biking. Spelonking is also a popular activity - “Gruta das Torres” is a must visit place.  It is the longest volcanic lava tube in Portugal, and is a UNESCO world heritage site.

You can also visit one of the quaint villages to experience the bustling culture or the occasional festival. 

Gastronomy:  Pico's dry climate makes it perfect for fruit growing, and it's known as the orchard of the Azores.  Apple and pear trees, damson and peach trees,  plum and orange trees all flourish here producing sweet and juicy fruits.  However, it is the figs with their ruby red interiors that best symbolize Pico.

Viticulture: Grapes grown in Picos black lava soil are sweet as honey. They produce a dry white wine that, after ageing serves as an excellent appetizer. The vineyards, which characterize the landscape of the island, also produce a dry, fresh, light, and fruity wine that is the ideal accompliment to seafood. They also produce the red vinho de cheiro.

Points of Interest

  • Pico Mountain with an altitude of 2351 meters stands as a challenging hike.

  • Whaler museums in Lajes, Sao Joao, and Sao Roque are worth visiting and depict an important historic and era of Pico.

  • Wine tasting in Madalena and visiting the UNESCO protected wine country in Lajido, Cabrito, and Madalena.

  • Gruta das Torres. A must-do in Pico features the longest lava tube in Europe.

  • Pico features the best natural swimming holes in the Azores. Worth mentioning are the ones in S. Prainha, S. Roque, Santo Antonio, and Madalena.

  • Wine tasting in Madalena and Lajido’s “Museu do Vinho”.

  • Whale observation in Sao Joao and Lajes.

  • Aldeia da Fonte. A “nature hotel” with its offering of excellent organic cuisine and wellness activities such as yoga.

Terceira - Terceira, also known as the Azores' 'Lilac Island' is the 3rd largest and second most populated island in the Azores.

Angra do Heroismo and Praia da Vitoria offer excellent conditions for watersports, such as sailing, windsurfing and water skiing.

Grottoes set in the below the surface of the earth stimulate the curiosity of speleologists. 

Terceira offers coastal fisherman a chance to catch the conger eel, Jack Grevalle, mackerel, snapper bream, moray eel, and broadbill sword fish. The best fishing grounds are situated in the areas of Angra de Heroismo, Sliveira, São Maleus, Pesqueiro, Biscoitos, Praia da Vitoria, Porto Martins, Porto Novo, and Porto Judeu.

Some of the best hikes can be found at Monte Brasil, a protected natural park in Angra do Heroismo, offering some of the most beautiful scenery in Terceira. The hydrangea covered trail running along the Serra of Santa Barbara hillside offers breathtaking views. While there you can visit the Santa Barbara Caldeira.  

 

Tackle Pico Alto, the islands most challenging hike and be rewarded by stunning panoramic views.  

Hike though Serreta forests and to the Peneiroa view point. The Caldeira of Guilherme Moniz with its 9 mile circumference is another must see.  Other hiking trails include Picos da Bagacinha and Cabrito.

Algar do Carvão nature reserve features caverns full of stalactites and stalagmites 100 meters deep which lead to a subterranean lake. Nearby visit the sulfur caverns of Agulhas and many more.

Ilheu das Cabras, on the island's south coast, is an important and protected breeding ground for a variety of bird species.

 

Some other lakes worth seeing are Pico do Boi, Lagoa das Patas, and Lagoa do Negro. 

Stop at Biscoitos with its lava formations,vineyards and natural ocean pools.

Points of Interest

  • Monte Brasil, classified as national protected landscape, provides a recreational area, hiking trail, and resting place as well as a fantastic view over the ocean and the city.

  • The  Sao Joao Baptista do Monte Brasil fort, is a large fortified wall 2.5 miles long.

  • The Angra do Heroismo Museum, is located in the old Convent of St. Francis and is adjoined to the Nossa Senhora da Guia Church (Our Lady of Guidance).

  • The Imperios (religious monuments) are all over the island and are a spectacle in and of themselves due to their colorful facade.

  • The Algar do Carvao is famous for its’ grottoes that reach a depth of approximately 328 feet (100 meters). These spectacular grottoes contain stalactites, stalagmites and an interior lake.

  • The Algar, the Enxofre, and Cabrito caves and the Balcoes and Natal grottoes, are of special interest especially to scientists.

  • Praia da Vitoria is a young town with the best and most inviting beach in Terceira.

  • The architectonic patrimony is concentrated in the churches and chapels.

  • Biscoitos where you can visit the only wine museum in the Azores archipelago.

  • The museum, Museu do Vinho dos Biscoitos, established in 1990 illustrates the process of traditional wine making in the Azores.

Santa Maria -  It is the third smallest island of the Azores, known as the “Yellow Island”. The green fields; ripe, yellow crops; the white-washed houses with lace-like chimneys; the black chiseled basalt churches facades; the colorful flowers; the dark ochre earth; the gold sandy beaches; along with the joyful festivities and traditional delicacies, make Santa Maria stand out from other islands in the Azores.

Santa Maria is best known for its white-sand beaches which strongly contrast to the dark volcanic beaches on the other islands. Santa Maria’s activities are centered around the ocean, and it offers excellent windsurfing, surfing, water-skiing and sailing.  Praia Formosa and Sao Lourenço are the two best beaches due to their fine-grain sand and length. In addition to it's beaches, Santa Maria's coastline also offers natural swimming holes such as Sao Lourenço, Maia, and Anjos.

Skin- and scuba diving can be better appreciated in Prainha and Xareus Cave.

 

Fishing is also a popular past-time wiht fish such as bluefish bream, amberjack, conger eels, stone bass, grouper, mackerel, snapper, anchovies, and many others. 

Throughout the island you'll find a variety of walking and hiking trails, allowing the visitor to experience the diverse eco-systems and protected areas that are not accessible by motor vehicles. 

Since there is no history of volcanoes on the island and few incidences of earthquakes, Santa Maria features structures that are much older than those found on other islands. 

Gastronomy: Santa Maria gastronomy is rich and diverse. The “Sopa de Peixe” (a fish soup) and “Caldeirada de Peixe” (a mixture of fish or seafood in broth and/or bread) along with  sweet desserts such as “Suspiros” (meringues), “Melindres” (honey cakes), “Sopa de Nabos” (turnip soup), “Bolo de Panela” (cake), “Caçoila” (a thick meat stew in traditional ceramic pot), “Molho de Figado” (a liver stew/sauce), “Biscoitos Encanelados”, “Tigeladas” (a pudding), “Biscoitos de Orelha”, ”Biscoitos Brancos”, “Biscoitos de Aguardente”, and “Cavacas”  (sugar-coated biscuits) are features in the local cuisine. As with the other islands, Santa Maria is also known for its local cheeses. “Alheiras de Santa Maria” (hand made local sausages) are another well known element of the local cuisine.

Viticulture: Santa Maria’s wine comes from the São Lourenco foothills. Wines and liquors include “Vinho Abafadinho” and “Vinho Abafado” (both fortified wine liquors), “Licor de Amora”  (blackberry liquor), ” Licor de Leite”  (milk liquor), and “Aguardente”  (Portuguese brandy).

Points of Interest

  • Maia Bay and Sao Lourenco Bay – Two of the most beautiful bays in the archipelago, with cliff side vineyards. Both have bathing facilities.

  • Anjos – The village is historically very significant as the first landfall of Christopher Columbus on his return from Americas.

  • Santo Espirito – A pretty village surrounded by pastures with a beautiful parish church.

  • Praia Formosa – Yellow sandy beach, one of the best in Azores.

  • Some viewpoints – “Fontinhas”, “Lagoinhas”, “Espigao”, “Picos”, and of course “Pico Alto” with 1926 feet (587 m).

Graciosa - is known as the “White Island” due to its landscape and place names like “Pedras Brancas” (“White Stones”), “Serra Branca” (“White Mountain”), and “Barro Branco” (“White Clay”). The island has about 4,600 inhabitants. The main municipalities are Santa Cruz and Lajes.

The islets along the coast add a unique beauty to the island. The Praia Islet, is totally forested, while the shape of Baleia Islet resembles a whale.

The island is characterized by undulating wheatfields; green and purple vineyards delicious wines; windmills, and a quiet country life.  The island also offers a dramatic and colorful underwater world. 

Graciosa has two small soft sand beaches, at Praia and a natural pool at Carapacho. Praia and Santa Cruz da Graciosa offer good conditions for sailing, windsurfing, and water skiing.  It is, however, it's underwater environment that is the greatest attraction for visitors.  Beneath its crystal clear waters lie caves and strangely shaped and colorful rocks covered with seaweed and mollusks. Fish of all sizes and colors provide a thrilling experience for divers and snorkelers alike. The whole coast of Graciosa provides excellent conditions for diving.

Fishing delivers a catch of barracuda, oceanic bonito, scorpion-fish, conger eel, bream, amberjack, comber, fork beard, moray eel, grouper, wrasse, pork-fish, perch, octopus, and lobster.

Spelonkers will thrill at taking the winding staircase down into "Gruta do Enxofre's" enormous sulfur cavern, with its lake of lukewarm sulfurous water. 

 

Graciosa also features rift-valleys for the hiker: Furna dos Bolos, Manuel de Avila, Cardo, Cao, Gato, Queimado, Labarda, Furada, Linheiro, Lembradeira, Castelo, Calcinhas, Vermelho, Luis, and Urze.

Gastronomy/Viticulture: Fish is abundant off the coast of Graciosa and plays a big role the local cooking traditions in the form of delicious fish stews and baked parrot fish. The local lobsters and spider-crabs are a meal in themselves, while the smaller crabs and goose barnacles serve as tasty appetizers.

Sweets/desserts are rich and varied and include cheese-cakes (queijadas) and other specialties with such names as encharcados de ovos, capuchas, bolos de junça, cavacas, barrigas, pasteis de arroz, escomilhas, and massa sovada (connected with the Holy Ghost Festivals).

The famous white wine of Graciosa is a perfect complement to any meal. It is light, dry and fruity.  Then there's “vinho de cheiro”, a wine that accompanies all the island festivals. The brandy, aged in casks, is an excellent digestive and those who like something sweeter, there is a locally producted dessert wine called “angelica”.

Points of Interest

  • The Ethnographic Museum contains items related to the culture of wine and the now gone whaling industry.

  • “Monte de Nossa Senhora da Ajuda” overlooking the town of Santa Cruz.

  • The “Furna do Enxofre” (Sulfur Cavern), in the interior of the “Caldeira”, or crater of a former Volcano there’s a tunnel about 330 feet (100 m) deep and has a lake filled with cold sulfur water.

  • It is possible to visit other caverns such as “Bolos, Lembradeira, Manuel de Avila, Labarda, Furada, Linheiro, Cardo, Gato, Castelo, Calcinhas, Queimado, Vermelho, Cao, Urze and Luis”.

  • From the Timao summit, at an altitude of 1300 feet (398 m), and the Facho summit, at an altitude of 1230 feet (375 m), as well as from the Dormida, Branca, and Fontes mountains you can get a glimpse not only of the island, but of the surrounding ocean and the islands of Terceira, Sao Jorge, Pico and Faial.

  • The “Carapacho” Hot Spring Baths with medicinal waters.

Flores - Flores is the westernmost island in the Azores Archipelago and the westernmost point of the European continent. Flores and Corvo, 15 miles apart, make up the western group of the archipelago. Flores has area of around 55 square miles and is home to about 4000 inhabitants.  

The island is characterized by deep valleys and high peaks covered in dense pockets of hydrangeas, tranquil lakes, cliffs carved by caves, hot springs, the remnants of old volcanoes, and watermills beside crystal clear streams. It derived its name from the great profusion of wild flowers that blanket the island. White houses on green slopes, pastures, farms and vineyards complete the make-up of the island.

In 2009 Flores was included on UNESCO’s list of World Network of Biosphere Reserves, along with Graciosa and Corvo. 

Flores is a fisherman’s paradise. The craggy seashore offers an endless number of fishing spots where bluefish bream, amberjack, conger eels, stone bass, grouper, mackerel, snapper and many other species can be caught.

 

Scuba diving has become increasingly popular in past years and divers will thrill at the abundant underwater flora and fauna residing amongst colorful rocks and in the island’s breathtaking underwater caves. 

A growing number of yachts stop by Flores, en route from Europe to America (or vice versa). They are attracted by its geographical position, the quaint port of Santa Cruz, and the welcoming hospitality of its habitants. Flores together with Faial, Terceira and São Miguel offer visitors great cruising opportunities in the Azorean waters.  Flores also offer perfect conditions for windsurfing.

The swiftly flowing streams, are also a paradise for fly fishermen in search of trout. Streams of Moinhos, Alem Fazenda, Fazenda, Silva, Urzela, Grande and Lake Lomba are very good for fishing.

 

Pebble-covered beaches with crystal clear waters are perfect for swimming - particularly in Lagedo and Castelo (Ponta dos llheus), Fajãzinha, Ponta do Albarnaz, and Cedros.

 

The beaches of Santa Cruz, Lajes, and Fajã Grande have natural swimming-pools. 

While many of the main attractions can be reached by road, there are areas of stunning beauty and can only be discovered by hiking/walking.  Hikes take you through flower covered fields, across babbling streams and beside small waterfalls. 

GastronomyBesides the traditional meat and fish recipes found throughout the archipelago, Flores also offers local specialties such as as watercress soup, boiled pork with vegetables, tripe, yams with tasty sausages, beans with pigs head, and pasteis de ervas marinhas.

The tasty cheese, soft creamy butter and delicious honey, produced in Flores are available  throughout the year.  Crab, goose barnacles, and limpets found along the coast are also worth trying.

Points of Interest

  • The Rocha dos Bordoes – Solidification of basalt into vertical fluting.

  • Aguas Quentes – Small hot springs of boiling sulfurous water.

  • The peaks of Sete Pes, Burrinha, Marcel and Morro Alto (which at 3000 feet or 914 m is the highest point on the island).

  • The seven lakes in the central part of the island make for a magnificent landscape, especially Lagoa Funda (Deep lake).

  • The Waterfall of Ribeira Grande at Fajazinha drops hundreds of meters and has at least twenty waterfalls many of which drop into the sea.

  • The Groto de Enxareus, an enormous cavern, about 164 feet (50 m) long and 82 feet (25 m) wide.

  • The Bay of Alagoa – A group of islets and peninsulas.

  • Fajazinha – A characteristic village by the sea with picturesque ruins of water mills.

Corvo Island - Corvo is the smallest island in the Azores, with an area of 7 square miles and only 400 inhabitants.  It is characterized by mountainside houses, vast views,  and a simple country.

Being so small, activities here are limited to hiking and fishing.  “Morro dos Homens” is the highest peak with at over 2100ft and is a short hike from the village.  Another great hike is around the 3.4 km circumference of  the "Cauldron of Monte Gordo", a 900ft deep crater, with two lakes.

Gastronomy: Typical dishes include: “Erva do Calhau” (rocky weed), Molho de Fígado (liver), Couves Fritas (fried kale), and Couves de Barca (kale).  The local cheese eaten with corn bread is a delight found nowhere else.

Points of Interest

  • The Corvo Caldeirao – The crater of the volcano which gave origin to the island (situated on Monte Grosso). At the crater’s bottom are two lakes dotted with tiny islets.

  • Small windmills –  Corvo’s windmills are different from windmills on the other islands; and are more like those left by the Moors in Portugal - they have an ingenious mechanism which turns the cupola so that its triangular sails are constantly in the wind.

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