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Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Azores - The unexplored Europe holiday destination

Still a sleeping beauty, the nine islands of this fascinating archipelago, which marks the westernmost end of Europe, have everything to please the discerning traveller! If you are in search of spectacular landscapes with never-ending panoramic views; savagely beautiful untouched nature; wide open spaces where the colour green in a myriad of shades prevails; exuberant flora exhibiting all colours of the rainbow, with hydrangeas, agapanthuses and azaleas in abundance; solitary hiking routes; small, peaceful villages; picturesque and deserted roads, idyllic coves and unspoilt beaches then the Azores are the ideal holiday destination for you!

Yet, the Azores are not only virgin nature galore, the archipelago also boasts a fascinating history - due to its strategic position in the North-Atlantic, in the triangle with the three continents Europe, America and Africa - a fact, which left the Azores with a rich cultural heritage and unique traditions for everybody interested to explore!

You choose the Azores for your next holiday destination and you will be guaranteed tranquillity and serenity, soothing colours, stimulating aromas, crystal-clear waters, a moderate climate, security and a genuine hospitality… in short, everything for a unique and incredibly revitalising holiday you will probably want to experience over and over again.

It consists (mainly) of 9 islands:

São Jorge (Azores)
São Miguel
Santa Maria

Get in
By plane
The main hub is in Ponta Delgada(PDL)Airport.
Major carriers serving include

* Azores Express (US tel.: 800-762-9995, Portugal: 351 296 209 748) connects New England with the Azores, mainly on the Boston-Funchal route. The carrier is part of the SATA Group, which connects the Azores with mainland Europe

* SATA Azores Is both an Airline and a tour operator locally based on the Azores. Connects Azores with major European hubs like London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris, it also has a usefull connection to Gran Canaria and serveral other European destinations.

* TAP Portugal's flag carrier, also flies on the major connections between Lisbon and Funchal

Get around

On most islands there you can rent a car. On most islands there are also bus services that run around the islands, crossing the main villages. On the smaller islands however, these may have only a few runs per day, or none at all on certain days (Sundays, holidays).

These being volcanic islands, in many places the terrain is steep and rugged. The roads wind around very steep hillsides. Cycling around the islands is possible if you are in great shape, and don't mind a lot of hill climbing.

This is a great place for going around island to island and even town to town by boat. Almost every town is on the shore and most have ports. One of the best known sailing ports in the world is Horta, on Faial Island. There is a large and fully equipped marina that has catered for many famous boats and regattas. The marina is ideally placed in downtown Horta. Some other islands have marinas, like Terceira and São Miguel. Even when a marina is not present many of the larger villages have a harbour suitable for mooring a sailboat or yacht.
São Miguel - the green island

By many considered the most beautiful – and doubtlessly the most diversified – island of the Azores, it is not surprising that many tourists start their exploration of this amazing archipelago in São Miguel, the principal island of the Azores. There is no visitor who is not impressed with the incredible myriad of all the different shades of greens exhibited by its extensive prairies, forests, tobacco fields and tea plantations as well as the abundance of hues this island has to offer… ever so soothing to the eye of the beholder.
São Miguel has a moderate coastal climate, with fog, rain and not very hot summer temperatures. It is very humid and green.

Covering an area of approx. 747 sq. km (65 km long and 16 km wide), São Miguel is the largest and, with around 135,000 inhabitants – representing more than half of the archipelago’s total population – also the most populated island of the Azores. Its epithet being ‘the green island’ because of its extraordinary fertility, São Miguel is indisputably the economical, political and intellectual centre of the archipelago, with its capital Ponta Delgada representing the seat of the presidency of the Autonomous Region of the Azores and boasting the archipelago’s most important trading and fishing port as well as its only university and one of the three international airports.

Of volcanic origin as the whole archipelago, this mountainous island is characterized by two volcanic massifs separated by a chain of basalt cones reaching heights between 200 and 500 m in the western centre. With 1,105 m the highest peak of the island, the Pico da Vara forms the end of the eastern massif, while the Pico da Cruz with its 850 m above sea level is the highest peak of the western massif. In the centre of the island rises the Serra da Àgua de Pau, a mountain range reaching an altitude of 940 m above sea level. São Miguel has several calderas, and hot springs can be found scattered over the island; mostly in the middle highlands.
In the west there is a caldera and volcano crater that is almost filled by the beautiful Sete Cidades twin seas and the town of Sete Cidades. Steep mountain walls surrounds the lakes, one is azure blue, the other is greyish, and this is explained in a local myth. – representing today some of the main tourist attractions.

Get Around
Renting a car at the airport is one of the best ways to explore and get around the island. Sao Miguel is small enough to drive around in a day, and there is much to see that is only accessed by car.
You can also travel between the larger towns by bus.

Santa Maria – the yellow island
Santa Maria, the southernmost and third-smallest island (18 km long and almost 10 km wide; surface approx. 97 sq. km) of the Azores archipelago, belongs to the ‘eastern group’ and is located about 85 km south of São Miguel.

Embellished by a myriad of hues, the island of Santa Maria, evokes a living aquarelle, painted by wide green pastures, yellow crops, the dark ochre of the soils, flowers in multiple colours, pretty white-washed houses and the azure of the ocean in the backdrop. Santa Maria boasts many deep bays, lined with paradisiacal, deserted white sand beaches - considered the most beautiful of the archipelago - and charming, softly undulating landscapes where a serene tranquillity is reigning.
Also of volcanic origin, Santa Maria is the only island in the Azores that has areas of sedimentary origin, explaining the presence of calcareous outcrops (of which a good example can be seen in the bay of São Lourenço) where marine fossils can be found, proofs of successive phases of submersion and emersion since the Miocene. It is also a hilly island, its highest point being the twin peak of Pico Alto (590 m), which flattens out towards the west coast. There are no calderas on the island, whose coastline is predominantly steep, dotted with many cliffs and cut by deep bays and breaches.

The exact date of Santa Maria’s discovery is uncertain, but it is widely believed that it was the first island of the archipelago to be discovered by the Portuguese between 1427 and 1432. A known fact is also that it was the first island to be populated, with Portuguese settlers arriving from the Algarve, Alentejo and Beiras in 1439. Due to the richness of its soils, the island prospered rapidly, which led to the settlement of Vila do Porto on the southwest coast being granted the first market town charter in the Azores in 1472.

Terceira – the lilac island!

Part of the central group, Terceira was discovered as third island of the Azores (hence the name, as ‘Terceira’ means the third in Portuguese) but it is also the third largest and, next to São Miguel, the second most important island of the archipelago. With an elliptical shape, Terceira covers an area of approx. 385 sq. km; it is about 29 km long and up to 18 km wide. The distance to São Miguel in the west is about 150 km and to its neighbour island São Jorge in the east about 55 km. Terceira’s capital is Angra do Heroismo (Angra of Heroism), a name, which it was granted by King Pedro IV in 1834 for the spirit of sacrifice and patriotism demonstrated against all exterior threats and its resistance to the then absolutistic Portuguese King Miguel during the Civil War between the Liberals and the Absolutists from 1820 to 1831.

Dominating the eastern part of the island, where also the international Airport of Lajes is located, a large volcanic plateau, which is surrounded by the high mountains of the Serra do Cume, descends softly towards the coast. The archipelago’s largest crater, the Caldeira de Guilherme Moniz (15 km in diameter) and numerous small craters, often filled with small lakes, mark the island’s centre. Its highest peak, the Serra de Santa Bárbara, a 1,023 high volcanic cone in a large crater, is dominating the scenery of the western part. Protected by a fort here and there, the island’s coasts are in general steep and dotted with numerous cliffs.

Due to its fertile soils, Terceira’s about 58,000 inhabitants make their living today mainly out of agriculture – the island has become the archipelago’s main cereal producer - and cattle raising as well as algae harvesting.

Terceira’s colonization started around 1450, with the predominantly Flemish settlers dedicating themselves to agriculture, the main crops being cereals and pastel at the time. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Terceira also played an important role as port of call for Spanish galleons charged with the riches from the New World. With all the gold, diamonds, porcelain, spices and silk being stocked in the port town of Angra, the island of Terceira had been a favourite target for raids during centuries, with the corsairs coming predominantly from Spain’s enemies France, Flanders and England. In 1597, even Sir Francis Drake, leading a fleet of about one hundred ships, tried in vain to conquer the Spanish galleons anchoring in Angra’s port.

For the protection of the island against the persistent pirate attacks and to ensure the Spanish authority, the Castle of São Felipe (called São João Baptista after the Spaniards’ departure) and ten more castles were built. After the pillaging of the West Indies had come to an end, Terceira’s wealth declined, but it continued to play an important role in Portugal’s history as economic, administrative and religious centre of the Azores. Consequently, in 1766, it became the seat of the General Captaincy and later the regency over the Azores was installed in Angra.

In 1943, the Americans built an air force basis at Lajes, near Praia da Vitória, Terceira’s second most important town. It has three runways, the longest being 3,600 m, and serves both civil and military purposes. Due to military budget cuts on an international level, the American government is constantly reducing its military presence, with the objective of transforming the former air base into a simple service station.

There is one beach on Praia de Vitoria. It is man made and small, about 1 mile at best, but is the usual summer hangout for the locals

In the summer time, street bullfights take place in towns. A bull is tethered and held by a group of men to keep it from running off, while bystanders are given the opportunity to participate as rodeo clowns. It is safer to watch from a distance and behind a barrier of at least 6 ft. Arenas are also on the island for bullfighting

Get around
Numerous Taxi services on the island. their unmistakable eggshell white/cream color with two broad blue hashlines behind the passenger door. Very well maintained vehicles. Most Drivers do speak english, or one can be requested. Local Drivers on the Island are careless. Be very careful Driving around. Livestock has right of way, only seen on the interior rural areas of the island. There is one highway, the Via Rapida, which connects Praia de Vitoria to Angra De Heroismo. A 15-20 minute drive. 60mph/100km is the main speed limit for the Via Rapida There are many car rental services around the airport and hotels. the airport is very small, located in Praia De Vitoria. There are also ferrys to the other islands. Atlanticoline [1] is the site for the island ferrys. SATA and TAP are the two airlines that utilize Terceira Airport. TAP is mainly for for Lisbon flights, while SATA visits the closer and smaller islands.

Graciosa – the white island

The island of Graciosa, the most northerly of the central group, is located about 80 km northwest of its big sister Terceira. With a surface of 61 sq. km (about 12,5 km length and 8 km width), Graciosa is the second smallest island of the archipelago and it is also the flattest and the driest, with only around 5 % of the island’s surface lying above 300 m and natural water sources being scarce. The island’s maximum altitude of 402 metres is reached at a peak on the eastern edge of the Caldeira, a huge crater dominating the south-eastern part of the island.

The ‘graceful’ island – which probably took its name from its charming, softly undulating landscapes, marked by a few ranges of low mountains, or rather hills, and small volcanic cones, most of them not even reaching the 100-metre mark – has a populated interior in contrast to the other islands of the archipelago. Its epithet ‘the white island’, it probably received due to the light-coloured rocks on its south coast where the foothills of the Serra Branca precipitate into the sea.

Graciosa’s landmarks are doubtlessly the Dutch-style windmills with their peculiar onion-shaped red caps, considered the prettiest of the whole archipelago, especially when their wings are draped with cloths – which unfortunately today is not much seen anymore. There were about 30 of them some time ago; a lot have been renovated in the last years and today there are around four, which are still functioning.

Historically seen, Graciosa’s fate has always been closely linked with those of its neighbours Terceira, Faial, Pico and São Jorge, from where it was also discovered in the mid-15th century. Settling started in the years following its discovery, with the first settlers coming from Portugal mainland and due to its rich soil and the soft relief of its landscapes as well as the fact that Graciosa was to a large degree spared by big nature catastrophes, agriculture was soon thriving, with the main crops being cereals and vines.

As usual in those times, the fame of the island’s prosperity attracted many corsairs and required the protection of its coasts, resulting in the construction of a defence belt, comprising not less than 13 forts. The island’s economic wealth reached its climax during the 18th century when the pirate raids lessened and it became the biggest cereal and wine producer of the archipelago. Yet, in the second half of the 19th century, the island’s good luck changed, as the vineyards were devastated to a large extend by the phylloxera decease and many winegrowing families were deprived of their basis of existence. This caused a big emigration wave to the United States and Canada during the 20th century, cutting the island’s population almost in half.

Today, the remaining less than 5,000 inhabitants still make their living mainly out of agriculture, viticulture and cattle raising, with dairy farming taking up the top position of the island’s income sources. The seat of Graciosa’s administration is located in the charming little town of Santa Cruz da Graciosa, where about 1,800 of the island’s actual population live; it received its town charter already in 1486 as a result of its growing economic value due to exceptional agricultural produce.

São Jorge – the island of the Fajãs
São Jorge, another island of the central group, has a strange oblong shape (58 km long and only 8 km wide), evoking the shield of an enormous, motionless sea monster. With a surface of 248 sq. km – of which more than half lies above 300 m – is São Jorge the fourth largest island of the archipelago, located about 19 km from Pico, 39 km from Faial, 60 km from Graciosa, 93 km from Terceira and 245 km from São Miguel. The island is characterized by a central backbone, stretching in form of a wide high plateau over 45 km across the island, averaging heights of about 800 m and culminating in the island’s highest peak, the Pico da Esperança (1053 m), which can more or less be considered the geological centre of the island. Featuring a row of volcanic peaks lined up one after another, this striking green plateau is a paradise for keen walkers who are rewarded with magnificent panoramic views across countless pastures, neatly separated by hedges of hydrangeas and tree-heather, down to idyllic fajãs (flat forelands at sea level) and coastal villages, as far as the surrounding islands of Pico, Faial and Graciosa. On clear days, even the outlines of Terceira can be seen. The highest part of this plateau, extending westwards from Pico do Areeiro to Pico das Caldeirinhas, passing the peaks of Esperança and Carvão, is covered with endemic vegetation of great botanical value, therefore several natural forest reserves have been created in this area.

The island’s indented coastline features mostly steep tree-topped cliffs, precipitating several hundred meters down into the ocean, the most impressive of which can be found along the north coast, where they can reach heights of up to 480 m.

Even if almost all Azores Islands have fajãs (flat forelands that formed by lava flowing into the ocean and landslides and collapsing cliffs), São Jorge is undoubtedly the island that has the most. There are in total 46, the majority of which – about two thirds – are located on the north coast and the rest on the south coast. It was also the fajãs, which made the island’s steep coasts at all accessible and when settling started on a larger scale in the second half of the 15th century, it was here where farming set off due to the fertile land, initially with the cultivation of wheat, pastel and archil, all mainstays of the island’s economy during the first centuries after its discovery.

With the time most of the fajãs have been converted into fertile orchards and fields, where yams, maize, vegetables and vines are cultivated. Due to a very advantageous microclimate, in some of the fajãs coffee, bananas and other tropical fruits are grown and even some surprising specimens of the rare dragon tree can be seen here and there. After the devastating earthquake of 1980, most of the fajãs were abandoned and only the safest and best accessible ones are still inhabited. Deserving a visit because of their rare natural beauty, today, the most interesting are Fajã da Caldeira do Santo Cristo, a protected nature reserve with an underground cave and a lake and famous for its delicious clams, which can be found in the area, the tropical Fajã das Almas, where also bathing is possible, the Fajã dos Cubres with its crystalline lake, Fajã do Ouvidor and the Fajã do Alem, Fajã do João Dias, just to name a few of the most spectacular.
Also characteristic for São Jorge’s coastline are the many tiny settlements dug at the foot of the steep, green-covered cliffs, often enhanced by waterfalls occurring on all levels. Some of these mostly remote settlements are still inhabited and can only be reached on difficult zigzagging paths, which are also used by keen walkers who love a bit of challenge on their hikes.

São Jorge’s history has always been closely linked with that of the other islands of the central group, Terceira, Pico and Faial – but the island has never played an important role politically. Before settlement at Topo on the eastern tip had set off on a larger scale, with the Flemish nobleman Wilhelm van der Haegen’s – who went down in the island’s history as Guilherme da Silveira – arrival, some fajãs were already inhabited and Velas was already founded. While Topo became the centre of the eastern part of the island, Velas developed into its western counterpart, due to its protected natural harbour, and still counts for the island’s main town today.

Faial – the Blue Island

The ‘Ilha Azul’ (‘Blue island’), as Faial is often called because of its countless hydrangea hedges encountered everywhere on the island, is without doubt one of the most charming islands of the Azores. With a shape that resembles an irregular pentagon, Faial covers a surface of approx. 173 sq. km (21 km long and 14 km wide at its most extreme points), which makes it the archipelago’s fifth largest island. The distances to its neighbours are around 7 km to Pico, 19 km to São Jorge, 85 km to Graciosa and 124 km to Terceira.

Topographically dominated by the Caldeira, a huge crater with a diameter of about 2 km and a depth of 400 m, featuring gentle slopes intercepted by secondary volcanic formations and the island’s highest peak, reached at Cabeço Gordo, a since 1672 dormant volcano with an altitude of 1,043 m. However, Faial’s biggest attraction is surely its capital, the delightful town of Horta with its famous yacht harbour and a rich architectonic patrimony – probably the archipelago’s liveliest town with a very distinct cosmopolitan flair.

With regard to Faial’s history it can be said that to a certain extent it mirrors the history of the whole archipelago and shows clearly that all historic developments were initiated from the outside. The discovery of the island is closely linked with that of São Jorge in 1450 and settling kicked off on a large scale in 1466 when the Flemish nobleman Josse van Hurtere – after whom the town of Horta was named – arrived on the island together with around thousand fellowmen in search of silver and tin deposits. When the search for these precious metals proved unsuccessful, the settlers started cultivating the fertile land instead, concentrating on wheat as well as pastel and archil. Especially the flourishing export of the dye plants to Flanders and England brought some wealth to the island, which – as well as the fact that Spanish ships laden with riches also used Horta as port of call on their return trip from the colonies – attracted many corsairs and Faial was pillaged severely several times during the 16th and the 17th centuries. Other setbacks in those times were a monstrous eruption of the Cabeço do Fogo in 1672 and a series of devastating earthquakes. Yet, the inhabitants recovered from these blows always quite rapidly, not least because of their continuous exploitation of the neighbouring Pico Island, whose administration was always conducted by Faial.

In the middle of the 18th century, the first American whalers introduced their business to the island and whaling became an important source of income for the islanders. Another mainstay of the island’s economy was the cultivation and exportation of oranges until 1860 when a mycosis destroyed the orange plantations. When the first telegraphic cable was laid from Lisbon to Horta and then, in 1900, the connection with Nova Scotia in Canada was made, Faial – or better Horta – developed into the centre of telegraphic communication between the Old and the New World and many international communication companies settled in Horta, making Faial the most progressive island of the Azores.

Another milestone in Faial’s history was the landing of the first hydroplane in the port of Horta in 1919 and until the 2nd World War all transatlantic flights per hydroplane used Horta’s harbour for a stopover. Faial also became an important military base for the Allies during the 2nd World War. Then, under Salazar’s regime, Faial sank into oblivion like all the other islands of the archipelago. Only when Faial got its airport in 1971 and the Azores Islands were declared ‘autonomous region’ – where Horta was granted the seat of the parliament in 1976, as it became one of the three regional administration centres, Faial’s political and economic importance grew again. Yet, this period of prosperity only lasted until the island experienced another major setback with the terrible earthquake in 1998, which left the island with considerable damages, especially in the northwest, where several villages were almost entirely destroyed.

Pico – the Mountain Island
Its majestic Pico Alto, with 2,352 m the highest peak in all of Portugal, makes Pico Island stand out from all the other islands of the archipelago. Also famous for its whaling tradition, Pico is the second largest island of the archipelago, covering a surface of about 448 sq. km (about 46 km long and 15 km wide). The distances to the other islands of the central group, of which Pico is the most southern, are about 8 km to Faial, 15 km to São Jorge, 80 km to Graciosa and 100 km to Terceira.
While the colossal Pico Alto with its surrounding high plateau takes in most of the western part of the island, another high plateau, the Planalto da Achada, featuring several dozens of volcanic cones, several crater lakes, pastures and forests, stretches along most of the eastern part, also reaching heights of over 1000 m. The slopes of the highlands roll gently down to the island’s low, but mostly steep and rugged black coastline, often featuring bizarre rock formations, with especially impressive ones on the north coast where many arches, caves, rifts and tunnels can be found. One outstanding example is the Arcos do Cachorro, a peculiarly shaped rock formation, perforated by numerous tunnels and grottoes, located in the bay of the same name on the northwest coast.

Pico offers a good network of roads, on which it is possible to drive all around the coasts and visit the interior of the island, offering magnificent views across landscapes of an outstanding, savage beauty, with the all-dominating Pico to be seen from everywhere, as well as the deep-blue Atlantic and the neighbouring islands.
With its birth from volcanic explosions only happening estimated 300,000 years ago, Pico is the youngest island of the archipelago, which explains the relatively thin layer of humus on the volcanic rock that the first settlers in the beginning of the second half of the 15th century found when they started cultivating the island. These conditions made the growing of fruit and vines very hard work… and it is still today! Other witnesses of the island’s volcanic past – only during the last 500 years, the Pico Volcano erupted four times, the last time in 1718 – are many lava fields (called ‘mistérios’ by the islanders as it was ‘mysterious’ to them why this bad luck struck them) and black lava rocks lying about everywhere. To recover precious agricultural land, these lava rocks were piled up to small pyramids, the so-called ‘maroiças’, which add an interesting aspect to Pico’s landscape.

Yet, there is also a positive side to the island’s volcanic heritage because the black lava stone has – from the very beginning up to date – been used in the construction of the typical black stone houses, and walls, the latter protecting the vineyards from the strong sea winds.

Living mostly all around the edges of the island where the interior volcanic massifs left them some space, the today’s round about 15,000 inhabitants exploit restricted areas on terraced fields nearby the coasts, mainly concentrating on the cultivation of fruits, vegetables and vines. The slopes towards the volcanic massifs are mostly covered with dense vegetation, with tree-heather, laurel and juniper prevailing. The highlands, where still the ancient laurissilva forest that used to cover wide parts of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic islands has survived, can hardly be exploited agriculturally. The northern coast is densely forested and less populated, while the south coast is populated up to higher levels and cultivated to a maximum.
Pico’s history is closely linked with that of Faial because it has been dependant from its neighbour for a long time and still today its administration is conducted by Faial – this explains also why the town of Madalena is only considered the island’s main town but not its capital. Pico was discovered round about the same time as Faial and shortly after the settlement of the island had set off – initially mainly in the area around the village of São Roque on the north coast – the Verdelho vine was brought to the island from Madeira by the clergyman Frei Pedro Gigante. This was the base for the island’s long wine-growing tradition, which, however, only set off on a larger scale after the volcanic eruptions in 1718 and 1720, because the remaining lava fields only allowed the cultivation of vines in arduous work and ingenuity. During the heydays of the island’s viticulture, its excellent wine was appreciated all over the world and exported to many royal courts, even as far as Russia, and European noble houses. Up to the second half of the 19th century, Pico’s wine and fishing industries constituted the main income sources for its inhabitants, even if it was Horta – Faial’s capital – that made the big money with the wine, as it was exported from here in barrels labelled ‘Vinho do Faial’ (Faial Wine). In the last quarter of the 19th century, after the phylloxera had devastated the vines to a large extent, the viticulture industry declined and the whaling industry became an important mainstay of the island’s economy. When whaling stopped on the island in 1983 – before it was even completely forbidden in 1989 – as it had become unprofitable, it was replaced by the tuna fishing and processing industry, which up to date provides a main income source to the islanders.

Flores – the Flower Island

The fourth smallest and most western island of the Azores carries its name Flores (flowers) fully justified due to the myriad of flowers and plants – with many seeds having been carried over from Florida by migrating birds – that grow on this island and make it one of the most beautiful and colourful. Geographically lying on the American continental shelf, the distance to its neighbour island Corvo in the north is about 24 km, to the islands of the central group between 250 and 350 km, depending on their location, and to Santa Maria, the most eastern island of the archipelago, about 600 km. This location so far west in the Atlantic also causes climatic differences to the other islands of the archipelago and although its temperatures remain moderate all year round, Flores has almost twice as much rain and a lot of wind. But there is something good about the rain too, first, it makes Flores the greenest of all the Azores Islands and second, it often leaves behind an enormous rainbow over the island.

Covering an area of around 143 sq. km (approx. 17 km long and 12 km wide), the island reaches its maximum height of 914 m at the peak of Morro Alto in the north. A genuine paradise for walkers and nature lovers, Flores’ wild, mostly virgin and deserted interior features wonderful serene landscapes marked by high mountains – in some places descending steeply, in others gently, towards the coast – and murmuring streams that often end in spectacular water falls. Picturesque crater lakes, the only reminders of its distant volcanic origin – as well as a few hot sulphur springs – and deep valleys also characterize its landscapes.

With the village of Fajã Grande on its west coast, Flores also boasts one of the remote points delimiting Europe in the west. The island’s almost 4,000 inhabitants all live in the villages stretching on or above the island’s indented coasts, which are often steep, with jagged cliffs diving into the ocean, where countless tiny rocky islets enhance the coastline almost all around the island. The villages are divided into only two municipalities, Santa Cruz das Flores, the capital located in the centre of the east coast, and Lajes das Flores on the south coast, with the majority of the population living in these two main towns… or rather villages!

Allegedly discovered in 1452 by the seafarer Diogo de Teive on his return from Newfoundland, Flores’ settlement only kicked off on a larger scale towards the end of the 15th century, initiated by a Flemish nobleman, who brought with him cultivated plants and cattle. Yet, like on the other islands, the settlers were initially not interested in traditional farming, but rather in the cultivation of pastel, which was more profitable. The only problem was Flores’ isolated location, with ships only passing on a very irregular schedule, which proved the exportation of the pastel crops very complicated and costly so that cultivation was given up again in the early 16th century. Round about the same time new settlers came – this time from Portugal – who started to work the island’s extremely fertile land with the cultivation of cereals, maize and vegetables. Yet, the difficulties with the exportation of their rich crops remained the same and living conditions did not improve so that many settlers decided to look for better luck in America.

The lack of economic development and progress continued up to the 20th century until whaling, which was brought to the island by American whalers already in 1860, reached its heights in the 1930s. Even if the island’s income improved for a short while, it was not to the benefit of the majority of the population who still lived in great poverty, and emigration continued steadily.

It was only around the middle of the 20th century when modern times started to show on Flores. First it was the Portuguese Navy that erected a base in the southern municipality of Lajes and then the French came and built up a military radio communications station to control the international radio traffic. Subsequently, due to these developments, an electricity and road network was established and in 1986 Faial got finally its airport. But even after that, further development progressed only at a very slow pace and – unimaginable for many of us – it was only in 1986 that TV could be watched for the first time in Fajã Grande! In the meantime, the island has even a cinema, yet emigration continues and has cut down the island’s population by more than half over the centuries.

Corvo – Europe’s most isolated island

Smallest Island in the Acores, it is surrounded by water and is the most isolated island in the Acores. It has around 1000 inhabitants, 400 of them still depend on cattle raising and winery as a source on income. In 1973 the island recieved electricity and was given their first telephone. Previous to this date, the islanders used radio signals or smoke signals to get help from their neiboring island Flores.

Get in
The only way to reach this island is by boat, coming in from Flores, it is such a small isolated island that they have very little resources other than those given to them through the neighboring island.

Get around
There is a taxi service on the island. The drivers do speak some english so they will be able to help you find anywhere you need to go and have dealt with tourists so can help you find good restaurants and other attractions.
If you plan on renting your own car be careful, livestock have the right of way so be cautious when driving.

Visit the vineyards. There are many throughout the small island but each one is slightly different. If it is the right time of the year see if there is a running of the Bulls, a traditional activity done every year in which people line the streets and watch locals who are brave enough take on a bull to see if they can outrun or get close enough to touch its horns. Be Careful though, if you want to watch make sure you are sitting on a high wall or standing behind something the bull will not beable to knock down if they charge at it. People have been known to be severly injured at these events.

Azores Island Hopping
What we can say right from the start is that it is not possible to discover all the natural – often remote and not easily accessible – beauties and cultural highlights of this amazing archipelago in one holiday of an average time frame of two weeks! This is due to the fact that this archipelago consists of nine islands, everyone different from the other and endowed with its own character, colours, ambiance and remarkable places to visit, and also that a lot of time is spent on transport – by boat or plane – linking the islands. As well to be taken into account is the Azores weather with often changing weather conditions, not facilitating the journey either! Yet, having said this, it is surely very rewarding to return to the Azores for several holidays – unless you can afford a holiday of at least four or five weeks at a time – to really experience this extremely diverse archipelago with all its amazing natural beauties, its rich history and cultural heritage and – last but not least – its genuine hospitality!

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