Saturday, November 4, 2017

Terceira is a fine finish to our Azores trip

Monte Brasil can be seen across Fanal Bay on the island of Terceira.

Our recent trip to the Azores ends in Terceira, an island that may be my favorite of those we visited. Like other islands (São Miguel, Faial, Pico and São Jorge) Terceira has incredible views, blue oceans, green pastures, delicious food and friendly residents. What sets this island apart for me is its largest city Angra do Heroísmo (or Angra for short). With a population of around 35,000, Angra is an ideal size in my book. Here we find a good array of restaurants, a swim-able beach, and plenty of opportunities to explore the history, culture and natural beauty of the city.

Fortress of São João Baptista is located at the base of Monte Brasil in
Angro do Heroísmo on the island of Terceira.

On our ride from the airport, our host tells us that one thing we absolutely must do during our week here is to hike up Monte Brasil. This volcanic peninsula, flanked by the Bay of Angra and the Bay of Fanal, has a couple of peaks that can be reached by a series of trails, but we opt to mostly stick to the paved road. (Two in our party take a taxi to the top and then leisurely walk down the mountain.) We're uncertain what to expect, but it turns out to be a nice 45-minute walk. As we begin, we pass Fortress of São João Baptista, also known as the Fort of São Filipe or Fort of Monte Brasil. We veer off the main road and check out a small chapel. As we near the top of Pico das Cruzinhas, we meet our party and pause for a few minutes to watch some military target practice on the slopes below us.

Angra is seen through the flora on Monte Brasil.
The monument atop Monte Brasil's Pico das Cruzinas
honors the Age of Discoveries.

We've brought along some sandwiches and have no trouble finding picnic tables on Pico das Cruzinhas. There's also a zoo here, along with a soccer field, playground and a monument honoring Portuguese occupation of the Azores during the Age of Discoveries.

Buildings along Angra's main street are adorned with iron balconies and
borders of color.

Visitors are welcome to check out Angra's city hall (Paços do Concelho).

Jardim Duque de Terceira is located in the center of Angra.

The windows of Casa do Sal cultural center in Angra are delightful. 

I'm amused by this unusual mural in Angra.

Sé Catedral de Angra do Heroísmo was built in the 16th century.

Chapel of the Misericórdia of São Sebastião in Angra do
Heroísmo has a beautiful ocean view.

Angra is a walkable city, filled with buildings accented with ornate iron balconies and several colorful churches — a refreshing change from most other churches we have seen in the Azores. The pale yellow Cathedral and sky blue Misericordia are two standouts, but my favorite is Church of Our Lady of Guia, part of the monastery São Francisco in which the Museu de Angro do Heroísmo is located. The explorer Vasco da Gama's brother Paulo is buried here.

Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Guia is part of the Museu de Angro do Heroísmo.

We are delighted by the museum. We had expected our visit to be short, but we end up staying nearly three hours. The museum is filled with a large variety of pieces, from ancient stonework to a re-creation of a cinema. There are signs in English and several spots to sit down and watch short films.

Museu de Angro do Heroísmo is located in the monastery São Francisco.

A replica of the ship Santa Catarina do Monte Sinai can be found at Museu
de Angro do Heroísmo.

A stone warrior stands inside Museu de Angro do Heroísmo.

Old photographs are part of the ecclectic collection at
Museu de Angro do Heroísmo.

Our visit to the Algar do Carvão on Terceira provides us with the
singular chance to visit the inside of a volcano.

As our time on Terceira is nearly over, we hire a taxi to take us to the Algar do Carvão, an attraction that is on my can't-miss-on-Terceira list. Located in the center of the island, Algar do Carvão is a large volcanic cone accessible to the public. We pay a small admission and walk downstairs about 80 meters nearly to the bottom of the crater. Being inside a volcano is incredible. Milky white stalactites and stalagmites cover the walls and roof of the volcano, and lush vegetation lines the upper portions of the opening at the top. The lava tube (algar) is home to beetles, centipedes and spiders, although we don't run into any of the natives during our visit here.

The cavernous Algar do Carvão was formed around 3,200 years ago.

Flora inside Algar do Carvão includes dozens of species of
liverwort, moss and ferns.

Our last day here, we are driven to the airport by the brother of our host, who stops at a miradouro for one last group photo and one more spectacular view.

We pose for one last photo on Terceira before heading home across
the Atlantic — two head east and two head west.

Read about our earlier stops in the Azores by clicking on these links for São Miguel and the central islands.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The islands of the Azorean triangulo

A stop at a miradouro provides this view of the Baia da Ribeira
das Cabras on the northern shore of Faial.

After five days on the island of São Miguel, we travel by plane to the second stage of our visit to the Azores. During our week here, we stay on two of the islands that make up the triangulo: Faial and São Jorge. We also spend the day on the second largest island in the Azores, Pico.


Caldeira do Faial is a volcanic crater located in the middle of the island.

Our first stop is Faial, where we hunker down in Horta, the island's largest city. Faial is known as the "blue island," in tribute to the abundance of hydrangeas that grow here. Once an important whale-hunting port, Horta remains a stopover point for yachts en route across the Atlantic.

Peter's Cafe and Scrimshaw Museum is popular with tourists.
Peter's various enterprises take up most of this block in Horta.

Our guide shares with us his favorite view of the Faial coast.

A church on the Faial coast comes with a magnificent ocean view.

A huge volcano erupted here in 1957 and the result was a change in the local geography. Our guided tour of the island includes a stop at the Volcão des Capelinhos on Faial's western coast. We also have a chance to peer inside the Caldiera at the center of the island.

Ponta das Capelinhos on Faial is the site of a large volcanic eruption. 

Lava from a large volcanic blast in 1957 added some real estate to Faial.

The city of Horta hugs the waterfront, and steep streets continue up the hillside. Our calf muscles get a workout here. The pleasant weather on the island contrasts with choppy seas, which thwart my plan to go whale-watching while we're here. My disappointment is short, however, as we discover some simple delights during our walks around the city.

I didn't know bananas grew upside down until I came
upon this bananeira in our Horta neighborhood.

As one of our travel companions is a retired firefighter, a visit to Horta's
Corpo de Bombeiros is required.

Horta's harbor-side road is Avenida 25 de Abril — commemorating the
overthrow of Portugal's authoritarian regime in 1974. 

This statue is inside the Igreja de Nossa Senhora das
Angústias, one of Horta's many churches.


Pico is the highest mountain in Portugal (7,713 feet).
You won't find white sandy beaches on Pico, the second largest island in the Azores, but its offbeat black lava beauty is breathtaking. Dominating the island is Pico mountain, the centerpiece that brings hikers, bikers and other trekkers here. Our primary reason for visiting is because this is the island where many of my husband's ancestors came from.

On a warmer afternoon, this would be a sunny spot to relax on Pico.

After we disembark the ferry in Madalena, we stop for coffee and sweets and hire a cab to take us to the village of Santo Amaro, where Ken's great great grandfather is buried. Although we're unable to find his grave, just being here is moving for my husband and his mom.

Grapes are grown on the hills above the village of Santo Amaro on Pico,
an island known for its wine. 

Our taxi driver takes us along the northern coast of the island, past vineyards where Pico's renown wine grapes are grown. He points out the changing landscape, some parts are green and fertile, others are black and rocky.  Pico's lava beds were turned into orchards and vineyards in the centuries since the island's most recent volcanic eruptions in the 1700s.

Paved paths allow us to get an up-close look at Núcleo Cachorro on Pico.

São Jorge

This bright red gazebo in the Velas's main square, Jardim da República,
is a refreshing splash of color against the gray sky. 

São Jorge's history is a bit of a mystery, although there already were settlers here when its main city, Velas, was established in the 15th century by Wilhelm van der Haegen, a Flemish nobleman. Although Velas contains some charming touches, it is not my favorite stop in the Azores. The best part of our stay here is a scary dip in the ocean at a lagoon very close to our apartment.

We're a bit wary of the waves in this swimming lagoon in Velas.

This swimming lagoon on São Jorge is calmer than the one near where we stayed.

Like nearly all the churches we see in the Azores, Igreja Matriz in Velas is constructed of lava rock and thus is the requisite black and white. The city's auditorium/library, however, is a modern, bright orange structure at the edge of the water.
It seems that nearly all the churches in the Azores are black and white.

The modern Auditorio/Biblioteca in Velas stands out for its shape and color.

A rare touch of humor emerges from this fountain in Velas.

I am enamored of the burst of red in the center of Velas's main plaza.

Our taxi tour of the island takes us along steep coasts that dip down to small flat areas called fajãs at the water's edge. At one stop, we can see a crowd gathering on the edge of a village for a bullfight. At least a quarter of our party is uninterested in waiting around for the main event; I prefer my cows to be peacefully grazing on a mountainside. The main industry here is dairy, and these cows certainly earn their sweeping ocean views.

The dairy cows here are responsible for the famed São Jorge cheese.

The views are never dull in the Azores.

Next up on Away to Live is Terceira. In case you missed part 1 of the Azores posts, click here.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Lush greens and hot springs on São Miguel

Lagoa das Furnas is located on São Miguel, the largest island in the Azores.

I wouldn't call myself a geography whiz, but I am surprised at how many people I've talked to recently who are unaware of the Azores. This island group in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is the part of Europe that is closest to the United States. The Azores (os Açores) are part of Portugal and have a long history connected to exploration, shipping, whaling and the military. Nowadays, the islands' economy is based on food production (beef, cheese, fish, tea and pineapples) along with tourism.

The Azores archipelago is composed of nine islands spread out over 370 miles. There are three groups: São Miguel and Santa Maria in the east; Terceira, São Jorge, Pico, Faial and Graciosa in the center; and Flores and Corvo in the west. Our trip includes visits to five islands, which we get to by plane and ferry.

While my mother-in-law and her companion encounter delays on their trip from California through Boston, Ken and I have a uneventful flights from Bordeaux through Lisbon to Ponta Delgada on the island of São Miguel. This is the largest Azorean island and some say the most beautiful.

A brief stop at Miradouro de Santa Iria gives us this pretty view of São Miguel.

A waterfall in a garden in Ribeira Grande on the north side of São Miguel
offers me a chance to play with my camera settings.

I find a refreshing burst of color in Ribeira Grande. 

Our apartment is located at the edge of Ponta Delgada's center, an easy walk to restaurants and what is to become our favorite ice cream parlor, Abracadabra. (Don't pass up the pistachio!)

One of my favorite things to do in a city is to visit gardens like this,
Jardim Antonio Borges in Ponta Delgada. 

Jardim Antonio Borges is not your typical garden.

On a visit to Ponta Delgada's Jardim Botânico José do Canto
I spy this massive Australian banyan tree.

Folk dancers stop by for a performance at a Ponta Delgada restaurant.

Fancy carvings adorn the doorway of Ponta Delgada's Igreja Matriz.

The Town Gates (Portas de Cidade), built in the 18th century,
are featured on official Ponta Delgada postcards.

On Day 3 we hire a cab that takes us around the island. We stop at a number of miradouros (vistas) providing amazing views of this lush green island. Our trip also includes a visit to Plantações de Chá Gorreana, the oldest tea plantation in Europe. We have lunch in Furnas where our meat-heavy stew has been cooked underground in a volcanic lava pit. Afterward we enjoy a soak in a volcanic hot spring.

Sacks of tea whet our appetite for a tasting at Plantações de Chá Gorreana,
Europe's oldest tea plantation. 

Sulfur-infused steam rises from a lava pit along the shores of Lagoa das Furnas.

Pots of stew are are buried in the caldeiras (hot springs) at Lagoa das Furnas. 

A marker signifies that a pot of cozido is buried here.

Six hours of cooking in a volcanic caldeira yields Cozido das Furnas,
a rich Portuguese stew.

After lunch, we stop at Poça da D. Beíja for a dip in a natural thermal pool. 

On another day we opt for a Yellow Bus tour to see the western part of São Miguel. Here we see what turns out to be an Azorean highlight: Sete Cidades (Lagoon of the Seven Cities). These two lakes are connected, but are ecologically different  one is blue and the other is green. Besides being an important fresh water resource for the Azores, Sete Cidades comes with its own legend of a princess and the shepherd she loved but was forbidden to marry.

Despite stiff competition, Sete Cidades on the island of São Miguel may be
the most beautiful place I visit during my trip to the Azores.

We take an impromptu hike after I misread a sign at Lagoa do Canário.

Fast forward two weeks to the end of our trip: Ken and I return to Ponta Delgada where we enjoy a sunny afternoon  and dinner in a Mexican restaurant. Those who know me know that this is the cuisine I miss the most in rural France, and I will take any opportunity to eat Mexican wherever I go. This dinner, however, includes fresh pineapple margaritas. Did I mention that pineapples are a São Miguel specialty?

Museu Carlos Machado in Ponta Delgada was founded in 1888.

A fountain and war memorial are located at Forte de São Brás in Ponta Delgada. 

A cross is seen through a window of a ruined building in Ponta Delgada.

From São Miguel we fly to the central islands of the Azores — the subject of my next post on Away to Live.