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Monday, January 7, 2019

INCREDIBLE PORTUGUESE Hospitality ON THIS TINY ISLAND of Sao Miguel in the Azores.

When it comes to under-rated destinations, the Azores are somewhere right near the top of the list. LTD knew little about this group of nine volcanic islands midway between North America and Europe, until it became a stop on a transatlantic cruise.

The archipelago is officially part of Portugal, and has incredible food, lush landscapes, great beaches and hiking, and spectacular viewpoints over lagoons, valleys, and endless ocean. 

Ponta Delgada is the largest City of Sao Miguel

We docked at the largest island of São Miguel which happens to be the perfect spot for touring, meeting the friendly locals and tasing the local food and wine.  We headed for the hills to enjoy beautiful scenery and to get a feel for the island from above, enabling us to see changing landscape as we climbed!  This was a very special day for us, not only because of this beautiful and unique area of the world, but because we were able to enjoy the day with very dear family members!  Look at the bottom of this post to see the best website for special prices to this amazing island!

Caldeira das Sete Cidades 

About 17 km northwest of Ponta Delgada lies one of the major nature attractions of the island of São Miguel, the paradisiacal landscape of Caldeira das Sete Cidades (Caldera of the seven towns), where – according to the legend – seven towns, founded by expelled Spanish bishops, sank. With a perimeter of 12 km and a diameter of 7 km, this caldera formed from a crater that collapsed during a gigantic prehistoric eruption, its present shape having been created during a tremendous eruption in 1445.


One of the 7 Natural Wonders of Portugal

One of the 7 Natural Wonders of Portugal, it showcases the Green and Blue Lakes, which according to legend, were formed from the tears of a shepherd and a princess who shared a forbidden love. These lakes can be seen from the Vista do Rei (King’s View) Lookout, named after King D. Carlos and Queen D. Amélia to celebrate their visit to the island in 1901.

There are lakes everywhere, but these two lakes are separated only by a narrow land bridge. The steep, up to 300 m high crater walls, overgrown with lush vegetation, make a fascinating contrast to the tranquil waters and the soft colors, a picturesque and truly unforgettable sight!

Also within the crater, you will find the charming little hamlet of Sete Cidades with its curious houses, a small neo-Gothic church at the end of a cedar-lined road, a picturesque park with magnificent old trees and, besides pretty azaleas in abundance (especially in season), attractive specimens of endemic flora.  After understanding the location, formation and history of the Islands, maybe they are the lost civilization of Atlantis???  Watch our video to understand this further...

Starting at the viewpoint ‘Vista do Rei’, which provides superb views over the lakes, the hamlet of Sete Cidades and tranquil green expanses, one of the most scenic walks of the island leads around the lakes along the crater crest, which is bordered by beautiful hydrangeas galore.

Tranquil Green Landscapes are everywhere!

Warmed by the Gulf Stream, the Azores rarely get particularly hot or cold, typically staying in a very comfortable 61-77 °F range year-round. Despite all that, it’s one of those places you hardly hear talked about. It rarely appears on travel shows or in glossy magazine but it is becoming on the radar of Europeans seeking warm weather without flying too far.  Look at it on a map!  It isn't very far from the Eastern US Seaboard either!

The genesis of the Azores is from volcanoes, nine of which are still active. Underground, almost three hundred volcanic cavities, including caves, ravines and cracks, have been surveyed. The landscape is filled with dry calderas, craters lakes, fumaroles and thermal water springs. In the sea, there are submarine geothermal springs.  Pico is a relatively recent volcano. last erupting in 1963 and is located on the island of Pico, home to the best wines of the Azores.  The volcanic soil leads to prolific agriculture which has changed over the centuries depending on the world economy.

The first settlement in Sao Miguel was created in 1444 after Prince Henry the Navigator ordered that cattle be placed ashore on seven islands of the archipelago.  The first inhabitants from Portugal were later joined by North Afrikaners, Madeirans, Jews, Moors, and possibly Frenchmen.

The fertility of the soil and the island’s geographic position on the cross-roads of Europe, Africa, and America contributed to rapid economic expansion based on the production of wheat, sugar cane, the dye-yielding plants called “woad” and “archil” (sold to Flanders), wine, and dairy products. One century later, sweet potatoes, maize, yams, flax, and oranges came to broaden the range of the island’s agricultural output. It's no surprise that the islands were victims of attacks by pirates due to their location and prosperity.

The export of oranges to England brought Sao Miguel great prosperity from the end of the 18th century. The orange groves were destroyed by a blight starting in 1860 but the local capacity for enterprise soon led to the introduction of new crops – tobacco, tea, flag, chicory, sugar beet, and pineapples – which guaranteed economic survival. With the passing of the years, these crops were joined by several industries and a growth in fisheries and livestock raising.

Overlooking one of the Crater Lakes near Mosteiros, we met Afonso Duarte from "Mosteiros Azores Market Place," who was selling local delicacies.  The most unique were jams and cheeses, which we cold taste.  We purchased some "Psidium" or Yellow Guava Marmalade!  We almost purchased Siam Pumpkin Jam, but we can only carry so much.

Afonso Duarte is one of the Locals we Spent Time with!

Getting to the Azores

For a little group of islands in the middle of an enormous ocean, the Azores are surprisingly easy to reach. Azores Airlines flies direct to Ponta Delgada from airports in the eastern United States (such as Providence or Boston where many Portuguese immigrants settled!) and Canada, Germany, and mainland Portugal year-round, with seasonal flights from London and the western US as well.

Even better, if you’re flying from North America to mainland Portugal, it’ll cost you nothing extra to add a multi-day stopover in the Azores. Deals can be found  from Boston to Lisbon, including five days on the main island of São Miguel, and it may even be less expensive and quicker than going to Europe or Hawaii!  Ryanair, TAP Portugal, and Tui also fly to the Azores from various European destinations.

If you want to head to a different island in the Azores, SATA Air Azores (the domestic part of Air Azores) flies to them all from John Paul II International Airport in São Miguel.

We headed for the Hills on arrival to enjoy the lush landscape, beautiful views and crater lakes.  For the active traveler, there is an abundance of hiking, cycling, waterfalls and hot springs.  At 290 square miles total area, Sao Miguel is easy to navigate, and when considering the friendly locals, exploring via car, bike or scooter is recommended.

Ponta Delgada is the most populated city and might be your first place to visit before exploring to get your bearings and some good food!  Overall, you won't regret visiting the Azores and here are the best reasons why:

  • Waterfalls. The number of waterfalls on the Azorian islands is countless
  • Hotsprings. If you don't like cold water you can try the hotsprings
  • Geysers. Yes, you can find geysers at the Azores!
  • Lakes
  • Hiking
  • No mass tourism
  • The people
  • Small towns
  • Very Little Crime
  • Great food and wine!
From the Eastern USA you may be able to get to the Azores with a Carry On only!  Our choice is the Hynes Eagle 44L for its compression features!  Click the photo below for more information!

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