The islands were first settled by the Portuguese in the 15th century. Home to pineapple greenhouses. Its highest point is Mount Pico, at 7,713 feet above sea level. It translates as, ‘Mount Peak.’ I’m sure the naming department had had a long day. Home to Europe’s only tea plantations. And it has three capital cities: Ponta Delgada, Horta and Angra do Heroísmo, with South Africa the only other place on Earth with three capital cities. Today, we’re visiting the Hidden Paradise of the Atlantic, Azores.
Azores is an autonomous region of Portugal, composed of nine volcanic islands, located in the North Atlantic Ocean, 850 miles west of Portugal and 550 miles northwest of Madeira. It covers an area of 901 square miles with a population of just over 245,700 people. The motto of this region is a bit of a mouthful, ‘Antes morrer livres que em paz sujeitos,’ which is Portuguese for, ‘Rather die as free men than be enslaved in peace.’ It’s not entirely clear what the women are up to…
The flag contains blue and white, the traditional colours of the Portuguese nation. It contains the Portuguese lesser arms in the left corner and nine stars, representing the nine islands. The name of the region comes from the Portuguese word açor, meaning goshawk, a large bird, commonplace on the islands. Or so the first explorers thought. You see, the bird never even existed on the islands. Those explorers mistook buzzards for goshawks, and, well… next thing you know, they’re naming the islands after goshawks, now too desperately embarrassed to change the name. They also put the bird on the flag, so they were sorta stuck with the name. Still, could be worse. The name of the nearby Canary Islands translates as ‘Islands of Dogs.’ Perhaps the hot weather got to those early intrepid explorers. That would be my excuse. “Oh, I’m too hot to care…”
This is a volcanic and humid land, with the landscape of each of the islands radically different. Corvo is a speck in the ocean, a crater, whilst Flores is tough and rugged, with many valleys hewn through the land, but also has a gentler side, home to graceful wildflowers and mesmeric waterfalls. Faial is dominated by Cabeço Gordo, a shield volcano and caldera, whilst Graciosa and Pico are also volcanic. São Jorge is dramatic, long and slender. Santa Maria is a place of contrasts, with waterfalls flowing down lava cliffs and red desert sands combining to titillate the senses. Terceira is unusual due to its almost circular shape with a crater at its heart, whilst São Miguel, the green island, is also pitted with many a crater, many filled with sublime calm azure waters. Many places here are steep and rugged, with magisterial pyramid shaped mountains and idyllic green hillsides oozing luscious vegetation, speckled with white villages. Here, you’ll find many a pristine sandy beach, kissed by crystal blue ocean waters, full of gorgeous sea life. This beautiful place is littered with natural wonders. A green oasis and, considering it has very few tourists each year, a paradise hidden.
This is a colourful and musical land, one with carnavals forming the threads of the rich tapestry of this place. Variety here in the spice of life, with these once uninhabited lands populated with people from around the world, creating the invigorating and unique Azorean culture. It might have been crafted from the hand of Portugal, but it has evolved into a place proud of its own sumptuous identity. Such is hardly surprising, considering how isolated the islands really are. Festivals dominate the calendar, with religious festivals playing a particular prominence. The festivals of the Espírito Santo or Holy Spirit are extremely important to the Azorean people, which focus on charity, egalitarianism and sharing, celebrations often centred around treatros or impérios, small buildings where meals are hosted. Processions along with the celebrations are also common here, and in the many other religious festivals. Carnaval reigns. Parades and pageants are the heart of such festivities, feasts of colourful costumes, floats, hand-made costumes and lively music.
Azoreans also celebrate their agriculture, the main source of income for many. They love to celebrate their individual style of cuisine, too, plus their music and even politics. Indeed, there is very little they don’t celebrate. For them, music is very important. Very few men do not play an instrument, with the viola the most common choice. It’s not uncommon to see a song played with verses made up on the spot, a random burst of creativity that, by this point, shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. In fact, creativity here also permeates the worlds of poetry and literature, too, with many locals picking up the pen and writing now and then. They’re also partial to a spot of handicrafts, with blue and white ceramics and flowers made of fish scales some of the many handmade products that can be found here.
They are a happy people, strongly connected to their natural environment and its preservation, a belief ingrained in the very fabric of their nature. They care very passionately about preserving their treasures, with settlements covering only five percent of the land, the rest protected areas. Loyalty is a strong part of their culture, loyalty to the family and its well-being, loyalty to the village, and loyalty to the island where one resides. This small place beats like a heart, the Azoreans like rhythms, a constant stream flowing throughout the heart eternal. The ground shakes with joy and the footsteps of a people who never stop dancing, a warm and friendly folk whose smiles never wander and whose generosity never fades.
Each of the islands drips in uniqueness, from the landscape, to the celebrations, to the dialects and even the industries, integrated most beautifully. The Azores really is a melting pot of everything and everyone, and, as such, is a truly a wonderful and unforgettable place.
There are sights to indulge in such as the canny and grand jewel that is the Farol do Arnel lighthouse on the island of São Miguel and the kidney shaped curiosity that is the green awe of Lagoa de Santiago, also on São Miguel. This oddly shaped lagoon wrapped in a blanket of green is quite something, something rather bonére and astonishing. Quite lovely indeed. And then there’s Conger Lagoon, on São Miguel, a tall ribbon of luscious green wrapped effortlessly around a circular lagoon, cocooning one inside like a child nestled in its mother’s arms, lost for breath surrounded by such exquisite and ravishing wonder.
Then there’s Angra do Heroísm, a city as ancient as the land it graces, on the island of Terceira. It oozes a rustic character, one of sumptuous joy and gorgeous beauty. It’s captivating and enthralling. Majestic and meritorious, a beating heart incicurable.
But my favourite sight of the Azores is the quite frankly stunning and majestic Lagoa das Sete Cidades or the Lagoon of the Seven Cities, an angelic and magnolious twin lake situated in the crater of a dormant volcano. Located on São Miguel, this quiescent masterpiece whispers a canorous and soulful tune, its gainly and resplendent forms indulging one’s sensorium with a smorgasbord of pleasures almost heavenly in origin. Such a place really is calming yet enchanting, enriching yet soothing, arresting and ageless.
The Azores. A region of dancing, joy and goshawks. Sorry, I mean buzzards…
Images (Click on Them to Enlarge)
1) The flag of the Azores
2) Lagoa das Sete Cidades
3) Angra do Heroísm
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post. You can leave a comment and/or like this post below, or by clicking the title on the top of this post if you are on the ‘Archives’ page. Likes and follows greatly appreciated. Thanks.
Please feel free check out the latest posts from my other blog:
The Indelible Life of Me
New Post Every Saturday
Click Here to Read the Latest Post