Azores Islands

The Azores is such a well-kept secret most travel guides on Portugal don’t even cover the archipelago of nine scenic, quiet, agriculturally-based islands where the people are friendly, the prices are reasonable and the roads are uncrowded.

Most who visit the Azores tack a couple of days on San Miguel to a mainland-Portugal trip. But true Azores exploration is a trip unto itself. The islands are widely separated from one another, located about 800 miles west of the mainland. Most of these island feature forested interiors and quiet coastal beaches. Towns are small and quaint, and fishing and farming are the main industries. The islands are paradise for hikers and trekkers.

Pico was once a major whaling center and now is known for wines, historic villages and handicrafts. Terceira includes Angra do Heroismo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating to the 16th century. Terceira combines golf and other recreational options with history, scenery and an almost uninterrupted string of local festivals. Flores and Corvo offer the ultimate escape from modern life.

Expensive restaurants are virtually non-existent in the Azores. Capitolio in Horta (on Faial) is probably the highest-priced eatery in the islands with an average dinner price of E35.00. Most establishments specialize in seafood, and A Avore (Faial), Solar do Conde (Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel), O Pescador and Marcelino’s Bar (both on Terceira) are notable.

This group of nine islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean marks the westernmost frontier of Europe. Some say that together they once formed part of the mysterious island of Atlantis.

If you`re looking to relax and forget the stresses of your daily life, then the Azores are the place for you.

Imagine nine islands where nature has managed to preserve the beauty of its origins, where the climate is mildly temperate, where the predominant colours are relaxing shades of green and where, in spring, the roadsides are lined with blue and white hydrangeas.

Certainly you have never before heard of a place where there are lakes that are blue and green, having been formed, according to legend, from the tears shed by a green-eyed prince and a blue-eyed princess on learning that they could never marry.

The Azores are also the only place where you can enjoy a traditional dish cooked in iron pans amidst the hot vapours of mineral waters that bubble up from below the ground.

Certainly you have never before heard of a place where there are lakes that are blue and green, having been formed, according to legend, from the tears shed by a green-eyed prince and a blue-eyed princess on learning that they could never marry.

Hidden in the depths of the sea is an immense wealth of fauna and flora and (who knows?) perhaps there are treasures of another kind, for these islands marked the intersection of the ancient trade routes followed by ships as they sailed between the Old and New Worlds.

Santa Maria Island: Offers excellent water sports facilities. Special mention to: Praia, Santo Espírito, São Lourenço, São Pedro and Vila do Porto, a village with superb manor houses, mother-church and Nossa Senhora dos Anjos Chapel (where Columbus? crew prayed).

São Miguel Island: The largest of all. In Ponta Delgada, the capital, the famous 18th century portals open up to a number of monuments that are worth visiting, most of them built between the 16th and the 18th century: Carlos Machado Museum and churches of São Sebastião, São Pedro, São José, Colégio and Nossa Senhora da Conceição; convent and chapel of Nossa Senhora da Esperança and Santa Ana Chapel. Palaces: Fonte Bela and Santa Ana; Conceição and Santa Catarina; Casa de Carlos Bicudo and the Paços do Concelho. Other places to visit: Caldeira das Sete Cidades (green and blue lakes); Lagoa do Fogo; Ribeira Grande; Vale das Furnas (spas and hot mineral pools) and Vila Franca do Campo.

Terceira Island: The historic centre of its capital, Angra do Heroísmo, has been classified in UNESCO?s International Heritage list. Special reference to the forts of São Sebastião and SãoJoão Baptista (16th-17th-centuries); the palaces of the Bettencourts (Baroque) and of the Capitães-Generais; the Cathedral, with its silver altar front and treasure; the churches of Colégio dos Jesuítas, São Gonçalo and Nossa Senhora da Conceição (17th-century); the churches of Misericórdia and Nossa Senhora da Guia (18th-century, the latter encloses the Angra Museum). Other points of interest: Praia da Vitória, Santa Bárbara, São Sebastião and Vila Nova.

Graciosa Island: In Santa Cruz da Graciosa you will find ancient streets and manor-houses, a beautiful mother-church (16th-18th centuries), Santo Cristo Church (16th century), Cruz da Barra (Manueline) and Ethnographic House. In the Furna do Enxofre, dazzling sights and a vaulted cave over an underground lake (between 11am and 2pm the sunlight filters in). You must also visit Guadalupe and its Baroque church, Luz and Praia (typical windmills).

Faial lsland: In Horta, a famous yacht harbour, look at the beautiful tiles and gilded carvings in the 17th and 18th century churches of São Salvador, Nossa Senhora do Carmo and São Francisco. To visit: Sacred Art Museum, Nossa Senhora das Angústias Church, Nossa Senhora do Pilar Chapel, Império dos Nobres and Porto Pim fortifications, Caldeira Natural Reserve, Capelinhos, grottoes and caves in Costa da Feteira and Monte da Guia belvedere.

Pico Island: Owes its name to the 2351 m high volcanic cone. Special reference to São Roque do Pico, with its 18th century churches of São Roque and São Pedro de Alcntara; Lajes do Pico, with its Whale Museum; Madalena, with its Wine Museum and 17th-century church, and Areia Larga, with beautiful winegrowers? manor houses. Other places: Calheta de Nesquim, Candelária, Criação Velha, Piedade (forest preserve), Prainha do Norte, Santa Luzia, Santo Amaro, São Caetano, São João and São Mateus.

São Jorge Island: Velas, with its fishing port, is the main town. One can admire its manor houses, the churches of São Jorge (17th century), and Nossa Senhora da Conceição, Town Hall (Azorian Baroque) and 18th century walls. Do not miss Calheta, Manadas, Ribeira Seca, Topo and Urzelina.

Flores Island: In Santa Cruz, you will find manors, the churches of São Boaventura (Baroque) and Nossa Senhora da Conceição (19th century) and the Ethnographic Museum. Trips to Ribeira Grande Waterfall, to the Gruta dos Enxaréus (by boat) and to Lagoas (seven lakes surrounded by flowers).

Corvo Island: The smallest of all and a peaceful sanctuary. In Vila Nova do Corvo, narrow cobblestoned streets and the Church of Nossa Senhora dos Milagres. In Caldeirão (enormous volcanic crater),there are two lakes with nine small islands, just like the archipelago.

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Azores Islands

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