Menorca, the quiet Balearic Island

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Our next stop in the Balearic Islands was Menorca.  Twenty-five miles northeast of Mallorca, Menorca is the 2nd largest of the Balearics and has a reputation for being a bit quieter and less frenetic than the other Spanish islands. Still ultra-popular with tourists, but with a more laid-back vibe. We fell in love with its beautiful beaches, isolated coves, and sweeping views from massive stone cliffs.

We raised anchor around 8:30 am from Pollensa, Mallorca, and motor-sailed (once again) until we reached Menorca in Cala Degollador – just outside of the town of Ciutadella – well before sunset.

Cala Degollador was partially protected from the 15-20 knots of SE winds we were experiencing, but the massive ferries that rolled in from Barcelona and Mallorca kicked up huge waves making this anchorage a bit rolly – even for our catamaran! The monohulls around us were really rocking!

Our first sunset in Menorca.

Ciutadella is a beautiful historic town known for its old quarter and medieval cobblestoned streets. Its buildings are an eclectic mix of Italian architecture – both baroque and gothic style.

The view of the harbour in Ciutadella from the town perched above.

Menorca’s coastline is peppered with dozens of calas (coves) to explore. Some calas are narrow with soaring cliffs while others are wide and open with sandy beaches and bottoms. We started our tour by heading east along the southern coast.

Towering rocky cliffs with sparkling blue-green water.

A strong NE wind was forecast for the next days so we searched for a cala with lots of room to anchor and preferably a sandy bottom! Cala Son Saura seemed to fit the bill and fortunately, when we arrived there was plenty of room in the wide open cala. We had a delightful evening on Mira entertaining a German couple and a Spanish couple we met while swimming around the cala. The next day – hordes of sailboats descended upon Son Saura – all looking for safe refuge from the forecasted winds.

Sunset in Cala Son Saura on our first quiet night.
Sunset in the same cala on the next night – packed with dozens of boats seeking safe harbor.

Once the weather cleared, we continued along the south coast and discovered Cala En Porter. Rounding a towering cliff from the sea, we literally gasped. Vertical, imposing white limestone lined a cove filled with crystal clear turquoise water. At the end of the cala was a big, white sandy beach with the town balanced up on one side.

As we nosed our way into Cala En Porter that first morning, there was not a lot of room to anchor. Lots of sailboats packed into this beautiful cala on this sunny August day.  We were forced to drop our anchor in 45 ft of water near the back of the pack. But, our trusty Rocna held easily and firmly, and we settled in to enjoy.  The next 3 days were spent paddle boarding, snorkeling, swimming, and sunning – loving life in the Balearics!

Cala En Porter
The town and beach of Cala En Porter

Cova D’en Xoroi is a natural cave carved into the cliffside around the corner from our cala. Legend tells the store of  a turkish pirate who hid in the cave for years, but upon being discovered, jumped to the sea and was never seen again. Today, there are a series of outdoor bars and terraces connected by caverns and corridors. The view of the Mediterranean Sea is spectacular!

Cova D’en Xoroi

Our Menorcan sailing journey continued up the east coast – stopping at Isla Colom, a small natural island just off the coast of the popular resort village of Es Grau. Again, we were able to spend several quiet days swimming, exploring the small, rocky beaches and hills of Isla Colom.

Sunset over Isla Colom

On the north coast, we arrived at Fornells, a beautiful fishing village located in a deep protected bay and was our next night’s anchorage.

Seafood dinner out in Fornells at Sa Xerxa

Once again Mediterranean weather intervened, nasty summer thunderstorms with high winds, heavy rain and lightning were predicted so we weighed anchor and headed quickly down the west coast back to Cala Degollador with a plan to try to med-moor to the cliffs for more protection. Our first experience of this type began with Glenn in the dinghy to attach two mooring lines through the holes in the rocks while Pam manned the helm onboard Mira.  Once back aboard Mira, Glenn dropped the anchor and backed up to the cliff. Pam jumped off the stern to swim the mooring lines back to the boat and tying them off – all in all, about an hour of time – but, Success!! Mira was anchored firmly and had 2 stern lines attached to the cliff. We were very proud of our team work and new skill.

Once the storms passed through and the weather cleared, we said good-bye to Menorca and were off to our next destination!

NEXT BLOG POST – THE WILD ISLAND OF IBIZA!

Mallorca in the Balearic Islands, Spain

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The Balearic Islands lie in a cluster 50 miles east of the Spanish mainland in the Mediterranean. At the end of July, we sailed from Cartagena on the southern coast of Spain to the largest of the Balearics, Mallorca. We skipped over the westernmost islands of Ibiza and Formentera, knowing that we would visit later in the summer. The quiet motor-sail was 196 miles and took us about 30 hours.

We fell in love with Mallorca almost immediately! It is a beautiful island of stunning contrasts and deserved to be explored by our sailboat as well as by land. In the north, the towering Tramuntana mountains rise straight from the sea, and in the south, rolling hills, sandy beaches and white limestone cliffs dominate. In addition to the amazing natural beauty, Mallorca also features the cosmopolitan city of Palma, and quaint port towns with cobblestoned streets, casual restaurants, bars, and jaw-dropping views. The port towns of Andraitx, Soller and Pollensa were just some of our favorites!

We spent almost a month sailing and exploring Mallorca, but can’t wait to return!

Sant Elm, a picturesque fishing village with turquoise water and a white sand beach, was our first anchorage in Mallorca.

Very happy for his first dip in the blue-green water of the Balearic Islands.

Our first week on Mallorca we sailed completely around the island, poking our “nose” in the stunning calas (coves) that dot the entire breathtaking coastline.

Cala Llombards
Cala Santanyí
Just a few of the dramatic mansions on the cliffs of the east coast of Mallorca.
Nestled in the pine trees of the Pollensa coastline, the Hotel Formentor peeked into our anchorage for the night. Famous for entertaining European royalty since the 1920’s, the Hotel was quite unassuming, but so fortunate to have a spectacular natural surrounding – as were we!!

Sailing out of the Bay of Pollensa around the barren bluffs of the northwest coast of Mallorca
Absolutely no wind afforded us the chance to fly the drone off the boat – a risky proposition when the winds are strong!

Cala Sa Calobra – the most spectacular and famous cove in Mallorca. Surrounded by vertical cliffs with a tiny rocky beach at one end, it is one of our favorites. Packed with visitors and boats during the day, the picturesque cala becomes calm and peaceful at night.
The narrow pebbly beach at Sa Calobra is squeezed between the soaring cliffs.

Reddish-orange ribbons of sunset at anchor in Sa Calobra.

Our land exploration of Mallorca began with a walking tour of Palma, the largest city and capital of the Balearic Islands. At first glance Palma seems quite modern and cosmopolitan, but as we wandered into the heart of Palma, the town became much more interesting. From the awe-inspiring Gothic Cathedral to narrow, winding streets to markets filled with produce and local products to delicious local restaurants – there was something to see at every turn.

The view of the city of Palma from the Mirador Parc De La Mar.
The Royal Palace of La Almudaina
The fountains in the gardens of the Hort del Rei near The Almudaina
The Santa Iglesia Catedral de Mallorca
The streets of Palma


Every imaginable kind & color of fruit, vegetable & meat at Palma’s Mercado Olivar.

Mira was nestled in Puerto Soller, one of our favorite anchorages in Mallorca. It is a cozy beach town encircling a perfect turquoise bay. Protected from the sometimes vicious winds of the Mediterranean, Soller is a sailor’s heaven and haven.

Determined to continue exploring Mallorca by land as well as by sea, we rented a Vespa for two days to tour the renowned west coast of Mallorca.

On the first day, we started in Soller and headed north through amazing towns and the craziest, most stressful, twisting road we’ve ever seen!

 

This was our view of Puerto Soller from one of the mountain roads high in the hills.
Another amazing shot of one of our favorite places in Mallorca.
Reservoir Cuber and de Gorg Blau

The best paella we’ve had in Spain at the Restaurant Es  Vergeret, perched on a cliff high above Cala Tuent.
The view of Cala Tuent from Es Vergeret.

Our second day of Vespa touring we headed south from Soller. Narrow, cliff-side roads wound us through some amazing coastal Mallorcan towns.

The town of Deia
The town of Valdemossa
Produce markets are sprinkled through the towns.
The town of Soller.

Magnificent sunset at anchor in Puerto Soller ended our beautiful day of Vespa touring.
One of our last sunset cocktails in our favorite town, Puerto Andraitx.
Our last anchorage in Mallorca near the port town of Pollensa.

NEXT BLOG POST – OUR NEXT ISLAND IN THE BALEARICS, MENORCA!

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Sailing Mallorca and Touring Barcelona with the Family

All four of our loved ones swept in late one afternoon in early August to spend a week with us. The sun was just setting over Andraitx – a lovely cala just north of Palma where Mira was docked.

Kicked off their first night with a delicious seafood meal and a stunning sunset at Rocamar, perched on the edge of the waterfront in the town of Port Andraitx.

To get into that relaxing vacation mood, we spent our first day relaxing and swimming at the scenic Gran Folies Beach Club in Cala Llamp.

There was swimming, relaxing, and cliff jumping.

Early the next morning we sailed up to the northwest corner of Mallorca to spend the day and night in Cala Sa Calobra. One of the most stunning anchorages in the Balearics – Sa Calobra is enclosed by steep rocky cliffs and two small pebbly beaches. A footpath and tunnel connect the beaches and allow a gorgeous view of the turquoise, crystal clear water.

A view of Mira through the tunnel’s window.

Perfect sunset with flat calm water in our anchorage for the night.

We first heard about coasteering in the Azores and were eager to give it a try! Coasteering is exploring the rocky coastline via swimming, cliff jumping, snorkeling and cave exploration. We spent the day with a local guide, José, near Cala Monjo on the southern coast of Mallorca.

No comment about why Pam is conspicuously absent ……..

Adrian Quetglas, an outstanding restaurant with a Michelin star, was the spot for our last night on Mallorca. His 7 course tasting menu was locally sourced and delicious!

The next day we jumped on a shuttle flight to Barcelona for the last 3 nights of vacation. Filled our days with sightseeing, wandering, shopping, eating, drinking and being silly – it was a perfect vacation!

Amazing panorama of Barcelona and its port from Montjuic.
At Rocambolesc – who knew they gave Michelin stars for ice cream?
Late night drinks at Boadas – cocktails since 1933.
Early morning excursion to one of Gaudi’s prizes – Park Güell.
Breath-taking exterior of La Sagrada Familia
Kaleidoscope of colors in the now finally complete interior of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia.
Dinner at La Peninsular on the fringes of Barcelonetta.
Gaudi’s Casa Batlló
Sharing an ice-cold sangria at La Boqueria on Las Ramblas after a long day of sightseeing.
World famous Paella from Barcelona in a waterside restaurant.
Clearly a very fun late night at Eclipse on the rooftop overlooking Barcelona harbor.

NEXT POST: Our summer sailing Mira in the Balearic Islands. 

Portugal Road Trip July 2019

So …. here we are in Europe, sailing Mira in the Mediterranean! Our loose plan is to sail Mira to the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Explore their waters and coastlines, but, also leave Mira and discover Europe by car, train or bus.

Our first land adventure was a two week car trip through Portugal. We LOVED Portugal! Driving is definitely the way to go. There are so many little towns and villages just begging for you to drive through and stumble upon – it was magical! The people were super friendly – even to those of us that massacre the Portuguese language.  The food and wine were fresh, delicious and inexpensive (!) – what more do you need?

A map of our driving itinerary is below. We left Mira in a marina in Gibraltar and made our way in a big circle – heading north first, briefly through Spain and then followed the coastline all the way around Portugal. Our stops were in Ronda, Seville, Douro Valley (Pinhão), Amarante, Porto, Viana do Castelo, Aveiro, Nazaré, Lisbon, Belém, Sintra, Cascais, Boca do Inferno, Lisbon, Sagres, and Tavira on the Algarve Coast and back to Gibraltar.


Ronda, Spain
is an ancient town that is one of the most visited in southern Spain. Ronda perches dramatically on two sides of a 100 meter deep canyon through which the River Tejo flows.

The jaw-dropping Puente Nuevo, “new bridge” ironically built in 1751, connects the two sides of the city.
I was so happy to be in Spain on my birthday!

Seville, Spain
is the southern Spain that everyone imagines. Perpetually sunny, blue skies, beautiful architecture, with an old bull-fighting arena and ancient ruins. Seville is bustling with activity – busy tapas bars, dramatic flamenco dancing, and live music everywhere. The historic center, where we stayed, is laced with winding alleyways that are magic to explore and get lost in.

Rooftop bar drinks with a view of Seville was a perfect way to start off my birthday celebration.
The Cathedral of Seville was elegantly lit up at night.

Narrow streets and alleyways with something to discover around every corner.
Ornate, colorful buildings of Seville, heavily influenced by the Moors.

Seville is a city bursting with parks, green space and palatial buildings.
A portion of the original Arabic wall and tower in the Santa Cruz area, the historic Jewish district.
Promenade along the River Guadaquivir.

El Rinconcillo, Seville’s most ancient tapas bar, preserves the magical taste of old Seville. Tapas orders are still tallied up with chalk on the bar top!
Fun evening that began with tapas and ended with a dramatic Flamenco dancing performance at La Carboneria.

The Douro Valley, Portugal
is one of the most ancient wine regions in the world, but actually, the lush green mountains, valleys and the winding river are what I remember most. We stayed in a lovely Quinta (picture a b&b vineyard) perched on the side of the mountain close to the lovely riverside town of Pinhão. A stunning view from our balcony.

A cruise down the Douro River in a traditional river boat – topped off with a port wine tasting.
D’Origem olive oil factory tour in the mountains above Pinhão.
Perfect way to end our last night in the Douro Valley.

Amarante, Portugal
is a romantic town whose reflection on the water of the beautiful San Gonzalo bridge drew us in. A walk through the church, squares and terraces of the town preceded a delicious Portuguese lunch of freshly caught, grilled fish.

Reflection of the Ponte de São Gonçalo on the Rio Tâmega.

One of the freshest and most delicious lunches of our trip at Restaurante Estoril in Amarante.

Porto, Portugal
is a charming city that straddles the River Douro with colorful traditional fishing boats constantly on the move. Its cobblestoned streets are lined with squares of orange-roofed buildings, beautiful monuments and landmarks.

Vila Nova de Gaia across the river from Porto is the port wine capital of the world.
Many of the multi-colored houses of the Ribeira district in Porto were constructed during the 15th century.
Our first glimpse of the traditional Portuguese azulejos – ceramic tiles found in churches, palaces and public spaces. The São Bento Train Station, one of the most beautifully decorated stations in Europe, has 20,000 blue and white tiles.
Ingreja de Santa Clara do Porto in the Se district.

Port wine tasting and tour included visits to three of the major wine producers’ cellars.
The golden color of the beautifully aged tawny port.
Hilltop view of Porto from the Miradouro Serra do Pilar.

Porto and the River Douro captured at sunset from the Jardim du Morro viewpoint.

Viana do Castelo, Portugal
is a city situated in a picturesque setting, nestled in between the Rio Lima and the steep Santa Luzia hills and the rugged Atlantic Ocean coastline.

A panoramic view of Viana do Castelo and the Atlantic Ocean.
An historic tram led us up into the hills from town.
The magnificent Santuário de Santa Luzia towers above Viana do Castelo.

Aveiro, Portugal
is a city on the west coast built along a natural lagoon called the Ria de Aveiro. Colorful moliceiro canal boats navigate through the middle of the Venice-like historic town.

Couldn’t miss a boat ride!
Look what we found on the drive down the coast between Porto and Lisbon!

Nazaré, Portugal
is one of the most popular seaside resorts on the central western coast of Portugal, known as the Silver Coast. Nazaré is best known for its high breaking waves that form due to a nearby massive underwater canyon. Numerous surfing records have been set here. The most recent unvalidated world record was set in 2018  when a Portuguese surfed an 115 foot wave, trough to crest!

Sadly, no massive waves breaking on the hot, cloudless, windless day we visited. But, the beach was impressive.
The rocky coastline leading to the town of Nazaré.
Glenn was thrilled with his Portuguese hanging kebab.

Lisbon, Portugal
is the perfect combination of fascinating history, trendy culinary scene, vibrant night life, stunning vistas and charming neighborhoods, begging to be explored. We walked our way through Lisbon and enjoyed all of this and more!

Special dinner at the Palacio Chiado – an 18th century mansion turned restaurant.
The view from our apartment down the pedestrian street of Rua da Vitoria  in the busy Baxia-Chaido district.
The famed Arco da Rua Augusta in the city center which was built to commemorate the city’s reconstruction after the great earthquake of 1755.
View of the city and the Tagus River from the top of one of Lisbon’s many hills. Miradouros (viewpoints) are one of the best features of Lisbon.
View of Lisbon from the São Pedro de Alcãntara Miradouro.
São Jorge Castle which towers on a hill overlooking Lisbon.
Courtyard of Ingreja de Santo Antonio de Lisboa in Alfama, one of Lisbon’s oldest neighborhoods.
Praça do Rossio with its famed statue and wavy mosaic tiles.
Wandering through the beautiful grounds of Sao Jorge Castle.
Miradouro Das Portas do Sol
Originally a 17th century church that was turned into a monument, the National Pantheon of Lisbon.
The hilly, wandering streets of Alfama.
I was fascinated by the tiles on the homes in Lisbon. They are called Azulejo tiles, dating back to the Moors who brought them in the 13th century.
The word, azulejo, means “small, polished stone” in Arabic. The tiles were used to cover up large blank walls that were common during the Gothic period.
Originally the tiles were blue and white, but, soon expanded into many different colors and ornate designs.
The Ascensor da Glória is a funicular railway line that also colorfully displays local street art.
The famous pastéis de nata is an iconic Portuguese custard tart, usually served warm w a dusting of cinnamon or sugar. They really do taste as delicious as they look and are available literally EVERYWHERE in Lisbon for about 1 euro each. There is a big debate about which shop serves the best pastry.
After sampling many, many, many pastéis de nata all over Lisbon, our FAVS are the warm and creamy ones from Manteigaria!
Our final view of the city from the rooftop deck near the Elevador de Santa Justa.

Belém, Portugal
was the original location of Lisbon’s shipyards and docks – so, of course, we had to spend the day there. Today it displays the rich seafaring heritage with museums, monuments, and extravagant buildings.

The Mosteiro dos Jeronimos is a great example of the Manueline style of architecture.
The interior of the Igreja Santa Maria de Belém is magnificent.
The sheer scale of the extravagant buildings is amazing.
The Torre de Belém is Lisbon’s most famous and photographed monument.
We are always happier by the sea.
We had to try one more pastéis de nata – at the Fábrica Pastéis de Belém, the original home of the tart since 1837.

Sintra, Portugal
is a delightful town just a day trip from Lisbon. The highlight of Sintra is the Palácio Nacional da Pena – one of Europe’s finest palaces with a brightly-colored exterior and an interior restored to its 1910 appearance.

Game of Thrones’ fans theorize that the Iron Gate and many other features of the Pena Palace were an inspiration for the show.

Lunch in the historic centre of Sintra.

Cabo da Roca, Portugal
is the westernmost point of mainland Europe, whose coordinates are well-known by those sailing along the coast of Portugal.

Chilly, grey and windy when we visited, the cape at 150 meters above the sea felt like the end of the earth.

Cascais, Portugal
is a delightful Portuguese fishing town and is located next to the some of the finest beaches in Portugal. Historically, Cascais was the summer retreat of Portuguese nobility, and today Europeans and Portuguese alike flock to this charming town for their holiday.

Portuguese fishing boats moored next to the beautiful Cascais beach.

Sagres, Portugal
is the extreme western tip of the Algarve coast of Portugal. The Algarve Coast contains more than 150 beaches and stretches 200 km along the entire southern coast of Portugal. The beaches in the Algarve range from small rocky beaches surrounded by towering cliffs in the west to long, wide sandy beaches in the east. With its temperate climate and wide range of nature, beaches and partying, the Algarve is a premier summer destination for many Europeans.

Sagres with its dramatic landscape of seas and immense carved cliffs.

Tavira, Portugal
is one of the most charming towns in the Algarve. Located on the far eastern end, Tavira reminded us of a quaint, white-washed Greek village.

Pousada Convento de Tavira, a former convent, was our home for a few days.
Enchanting views of Tavira from our room.

A quick ferry trip from the center of town took us to the beautiful, wide sandy beaches of the Ilha de Tavira. Though the water in the middle of July was still too cold for us!

Dinner by the Gilão River that slowly flows through Tavira.

Tavira in the Algarve was our last stop before heading back to Gibraltar to return to Mira and head off for our next sailing destination – the Balearic Islands – Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera!

Sao Miguel, Jewel of the Azores, June 2019

Again, we say – the Azores are our favorite place we’ve sailed to – EVER!!

Sao Miguel is the largest island in the Azores, and if you could only visit one of these magnificent 9 islands, we would be hard-pressed, but Sao Miguel is the one to choose. Sao Miguel is the ultimate nature lover’s paradise brimming with velvety green fields, sparkling volcanic lakes and craggy volcanoes. Nature beckons from all sides – begging to be explored, swam and hiked, and it has an international airport. Ponta Delgada, the largest and capital city of the Azores, was the perfect spot to keep Mira and launch more than 7 days of island exploration.

Mira’s home in the Marina Ponta Delgada.
Ponta Delgada, historic capitol city, that is a study in black and white.
View of the city from the top of the bell tower.
Church of San Sebastian in downtown Ponta Delgada.

Lagoa das Sete Cidades is the iconic picture everyone sees when they google the Azores. The scene is even more beautiful in person, if you can possibly imagine. Two amazing panoramas capture the entire vista of the 12 km crater of Sete Cidade. Vista do Rei (the King’s view) is the historic view from one end of the twin lake. But, our favorite sight is the Miradouro da Boca do Inferno with a 360 degree view encompassing the twin lake, much of the crater and two other lakes, Rasa and Santiago.

The twin lake with one blue and one green side was born from rainwater that filled its almost perfectly round crater, left behind from a collapsed volcano. But, I prefer the romantic version of the origin of the lake. The tragic love story goes like this. Long ago, a Princess and a shepherd fell madly in love. The Princess had been betrothed to another, and her father, the King, refused to allow them to see each other. At their last heartbreaking meeting, their flood of tears filled the lake at Sete Cidades – a blue side from the tears of the blue-eyed Princess and a green side from the tears of the green-eyed Shepherd. So Sweet!!

Miradouro means viewpoint in Portuguese. All over the island, there are signs that point to the “Miradouro”.  Like Pavlov’s dogs, we learned quickly. Upon spying a “Miradouro” sign, we would careen wildly off the winding roads and were continually rewarded with astounding sights.

Why are there so many miradouros? Thousands of years ago, the towering volcanic peaks of Sao Miguel became dormant, collapsed and created yawning craters all over the island. Abundant rainfall filled the craters or “caldeiros” with water, forming magnificent lakes. The ridge lines surrounding the caldeiros, yielded breath-taking viewpoints. Santa Iria, Pico do Barossa, Escalvado, and Lagoa do Fogo, just to name a few of the captivating vistas.

Sao Miguel is like Jurassic Park! The stunning backdrop of Sao Miguel literally dripped bands of color. Lush, green, oversized ferns and trees. Pools and cascading waterfalls in the Caldeira Velha were striped with bright orange minerals. Flowers in the Terra Nostra Garden were brilliant in every color of the rainbow, fed by the volcanic soil. Smooth green glass shimmered in the Lagoa Congro. Hydrangeas as big as my head and dense shrubs taller than Mira. Left us speechless!

Lagoa das Furnas 

Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeiroes is a park that stretches along the Ribeira dos Caldeiroes on the slopes of the beautiful mountain range, Serra da Tronqueira. The forestry flourishes with large-sized tree ferns, cedars and hydrangeas in abundance. Abandoned stone water mills dating from the 16th century perch on the edge of the river. Rambunctious waterfalls tumble and cascade over the rocks and boulders. A picturesque spot to launch the drone!

There is 1 Cow for every person on Sao Miguel. Cows and bulls are a big deal in the Azores. There are statues and monuments everywhere. Beef and milk products are used locally and for export. Seafood, unique fruits and vegetables, wine, and tea are some of the other natural resources that the Azores are blessed to have.

 I am fascinated by the black and white tile mosaic streets and sidewalks all over the Azores. Turns out that the delicately designed walks are called “Calcada Portuguesa” and can be found throughout Portugal. Talented, and very patient, craftsmen chisel black volcanic basalt and white limestone into tiny flat squares and painstakingly place them on a gravel bedding to form beautiful designs. The Azores have no shortage of volcanic rock – so their patterns seem to be mostly black. And, I loved that every street in Sao Miguel seemed to have its own unique pattern!

NEXT BLOG – OUR DRIVING TOUR OF PORTUGAL

Terceira, Azores, June 2019

Finally, we have an answer!! What is the ONE favorite place we’ve sailed to?? The Azores. Hands down – no contest. If you ever have a chance to visit this spectacular group of islands, GO!!

The Azores is an archipelago composed of nine volcanic islands that sits 2/3rds of the way across the north Atlantic Ocean between Atlanta, GA, and Europe.  The islands are 850 miles west of Portugal and have been part of Portugal since the 14th century.

The Azores were born quite dramatically hundreds of thousands of years ago when three tectonic plates crossed paths deep within the Atlantic Ocean and jerked and twisted at their junction. The earth’s core thrust mountainous, rocky volcanoes up through the surface, eventually exploding, spewing ash and lava, forming the spectacularly rocky and fertile Azores.

Within days of our arrival in the Azores, we learned about their unusual climate. Due to their location in the middle of a volatile Atlantic Ocean environment, the weather is difficult to predict and changes dramatically – sometimes hour to hour.  Locals are fond of saying that they often experience all 4 seasons in one day in the Azores. It can be cloudy and chilly in the morning and sunny, breezy and warm by lunch and raining by dinner time!

After returning to Sao Miguel from our visit back to the States, we sailed overnight to Terceira and arrived at the port town of Angra do Heroismo, an UNESCO World Heritage site. The marina at the base of this fascinating, preserved old city would be our home for the next days.

Quaint, cobblestoned streets lined with mosaic sidewalks.

A million shades of green! – that’s what our guide, Tanja, explained to us – and, she was SO right. Everywhere we turned – on top of the highest volcanoes and at the bottom of  the lowest craters – all carpeted in lush, vibrant shades of green.

Bulls and cows are a big deal here in the Azores, and on Terceira you must see the running of the bulls – we were told. So, one evening, we dutifully headed off to the tiny fishing village of Sao Mateus. What we discovered was a very festive event where men, women and children line the streets behind protective barriers and pile onto the steps of the town cathedral. Food trucks, jam-packed with local food and drink, crowd the streets. We eagerly joined the throngs – eating and drinking and waiting.  Glenn even tried percebes which is a local delicacy – goose barnacles.
Eventually, a huge black bull, followed by five festively dressed men clinging to his very long leash, galloped down the street in front of us. What ensued was actually not a “running” of the bull — but a “teasing” of the bull. The Tournedos a Corda would alternately pull on the tether to direct the bull and run very fast when the bull advanced. Other “brave” spectators would venture down to street level to tease the bull and usually ended up frantically climbing to the top of the fence. It was quite an event – one we will never forget. But, Terceira has nothing on Pamplona!

A few of the “brave” men teasing the poor bull.
The bull literally at the end of his rope.
Yes, we were enjoying the party more than the bull teasing.

Hiking along the rocky cliffs with views of the sparkly blue waters of the north central part of the island was one of our favorite days on Terceira. The Baias de Agualva trail follows along the jagged coast and alternately curves out onto peninsulas like the picturesque Ponta do Misterio and runs back down the rough hillsides.

Algar do Carvão is one of the few volcanoes in the world where people can visit, and the only volcano in the world where you can go inside the chimney and chambers. A rare phenomenon occurred thousands of years ago that left the volcano extinct and empty and allows visitors inside without getting burned alive. We literally gasped upon descending into the volcano. Drippy, stone steps circle down into the volcano ending in a clear rainwater pool and stalactites and stalagmites protruding from cavern walls.

Furnas do Enxofre are a collection of fumaroles which are geothermal cracks in the earth where plumes of smelly gas escape. For us, it was just another beautiful example of Mother Nature’s handiwork on Terceira.

Travel for us would not be complete without local food tasting. Terceira was no exception. We received recommendations for several “don’t miss” dishes. Some we enjoyed – others we were just happy for the experience!

Caldeirada de Peixe – fish and potato stew. Delicious except for the conger eel head.
Alcatra – beef stewed all day in a clay pot accented with wine, onions, bacon, garlic and bay leaves. Delicious – like pot roast.
Lapas, an Azorean ocean delicacy, are grilled in the shell with butter, garlic and wine, and were high on our list to try in Terceira. They were indeed delicious – especially with bread dipped in the delectable sauce. Looking similar to clams, we were definitely not happy to learn that they are actually sea snails.
Much easier to enjoy were the Bolos D’Amelia, a delicious dense molasses pastry spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg.

The Azores are engulfed by the hammering, frothy surf of the Atlantic Ocean. But, because of their volcanic origin, long, sandy beaches cannot be found. In fact, locals and visitors alike have learned to adapt. We were quite surprised to see sunbathers lounging lazily on their towels spread on concrete. Different, but it works – especially when their view is focused on the natural ocean pools carved out by the pounding of the Atlantic on their rocky coastline.

NEXT BLOG — THE ISLAND OF SAO MIGUEL – THE HIGHLIGHT OF THE AZORES!!

Atlantic Crossing – Leg 3 Azores to Portugal and Gibraltar

Rested and excited after spending some weeks exploring the Azores, we began focusing our energy on completing the final leg of our Atlantic crossing to Europe.

Below is the passage summary and Pam’s diary of Leg 3 – Azores to Portugal to Gibraltar

  • Depart Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, Azores June 18, 2019
  • Arrive Lagos, Portugal June 24, 2019 
  • Depart Lagos, Portugal June 25, 2029
  • Arrive Gibraltar June 27, 2019
  • Total distance  1041 nm (861 nm to Lagos plus 180 nm to Gibraltar)
  • Average speed 6.4 kn
  • Max speed 10.1 kn
  • Max wind speed 22 kn

18 June Tues – Glenn and I had spent 15 wonderful days exploring these amazing islands (Azores posts coming) and it was time to prepare for the completion of our crossing to Europe. Several days earlier, Glenn awoke early to meet our friend Jim at the Ponta Delgada Airport.  He had flown in from Atlanta to join us for the passage to Lagos.  Waiting for a good weather window, had given me a few day to provision and prepare meals for the trip.  We also wanted to treat Jim to some of the highlights of Sao Miguel including a final dinner at A Tasca.

We cast off the dock lines at 4:45pm on the 18th and said good bye (for now) to the Azores. The skies were overcast and light rain fell and the forecast called for light winds for most of the passage.  Mira was loaded with fuel and could motor the entire way if necessary. Motored at 2200 rpm along southeast coast of Sao Miguel.

19 June Wed – Beautiful clear blue skies under high pressure ridge. Sunny. Cool. Dolphins visited us while we cruised in flat calm water over 16,500 feet deep.

And again… still averaging less than 6 knots one engine at a time. Current from the west helping boost our speed a bit. Pretty sunset. Beautiful orange Moon rising every night around 10:30pm. Made chicken a la king for dinner.

20 June Thur – Quiet day. No wind. Motoring. Sunny but not too hot. I sat on front of boat for awhile. Worked on blog posts from Azores and Portugal travel plans. Beef stroganoff for dinner. Wind picked up some in night. Only to 10 knots but bumpy.

21 June Fri – This morning wind continued to build and came close to 15kn by afternoon. Halfway day…Made brownies! Ran generator. Made water. Showers for all!. Changed from due east course to northeast towards Lagos. Making 7-8 knots headway. Should arrive Monday sometime. Wind averaged 18ish through the night. I started to feel queasy but heated up my boat lasagna for the guys.

22 June Sat – Winds averaging closer to 19kn. Seas calmer. Mix of sun and lots of clouds. I took a dose of stugeron to stave off seasickness for the first time in my life!  Nice sailing but seas are choppy. Still on target for Monday morning arrival. Made a sausage broccoli rice parmigiana cheese dish for dinner and afterwards we continued our Rummikub tournament. Got very cloudy and hazy around dinner. Winds died during night. Motor on at midnight. Quiet night. We spent most night watches watching shows or movies on the iPad.

23 June Sun – Still cloudy and a little rain. Winds only 5-6 knots. Seas still choppy. Boats beginning to appear. 1/2 mile miss of 900 ft tanker on my watch…. Busy busy. Ran generator.  Made banana bread and washed hair! Spa day for Pam. Winds still light. Sun peeking through. Both engines on – trying to make Lagos tomorrow morning. Glenn and I continued our dominoes tournament while Jim was heads down reading his textbook for a finance class he’s teaching. Glenn worked on watermaker projects.

Pizza & salad for dinner. More Rummikub variations. Little wind tonight. Cloudy and cool. Both engines still on. Main sail set tonight. Quiet night. Lots of dodging of huge ships in the traffic separation zones as we approached Sagres, Portugal.

24 June Mon – Mira’s first glimpse of mainland Europe – sighted Portugal around 8:15 am! And, also exciting, cell coverage by 730 am!! Beautiful cliff and beach view of Ponta da Piedade on our sail into Lagos. Arrived Marina Lagos and tied up to our berth at noon.

Had lunch in the marina at Quay Bar & Bistro. Jim took 3 pm train to Lisbon for flight home tomorrow. Naps then explored the town. Lagos is a great vacation beach town. Sunset drinks on rooftop of Lagos Avenida Hotel. Then more exploration. Dinner at Don Sebastiao in Old Town. Great recommendation by our son and his wife. Best swordfish ever!!

25 June Tues – Up early. Beautiful morning.  Wandered the streets of Lagos. Igresa de San Antonio, Pasteleria Gomba, Central Padareria, and Mercado Municipal. Bought awesome swordfish steaks.

Welcomed our returning crew, Diego, back on Mira at 11am. He would join us for the final passage to Gibraltar. Went to grocery. Dinner at Pizzaria in town. Left fuel dock by 815 pm. Light winds. Motoring on my watch. Lots of fishing boats milling around. No wind all night.

26 June Wed – My 6 am watch same. Still no wind. Fog rolled in for few hours in middle of day. Quiet night through the Straits. Tons of cargo and tanker ships but they stayed in their traffic lanes.

27 June Thurs – We stayed close to shore and rode the current and tide into Europe!  Arrived in dark and zigzagged through the cargo ships at anchor in the Bay of Algeciras and into the Queensway Quay Marina reception dock at 415 am in the fog!  Harbormaster knocked on hull at 8 am. Need to move to our berth soon. Moved to our convenient berth – close to restaurants!

Cleaned boat and galley. I walked through city to tourist office and supermarket. Dinner at The Landings on water.

28 June Fri – Walked to Main Street. Taxi tour to the Pillars of Hercules view of Morocco and Algeciras then St Michaels Cave, monkeys and then to Great Siege Tunnels for view over Spain and airport. Then walk through Main Street and Gibraltar museum then lunch at The Jury cafe and wine bar. Commonwealth Park.

Back to boat. Packing etc. After a final steak dinner aboard Mira, we said goodbye (for now) to Diego early the next morning as he began his long trip home to Argentina.  Diego was a great crew and had become a good friend. Glenn and I were finally in Europe and excited to hit the road exploring Portugal by car for a few weeks.

Pam 🙂