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!!

Mira takes a break in the Azores

In case you missed the previous post, my crew and I arrived into Horta, Faial, Azores, on May 15th after 14 days at sea on our sail eastward across the North Atlantic from Bermuda.

After a one day stop in Horta to celebrate the crossing, we departed at 11:00 for the 150 mile sail to the largest island in the Azores, Sao Miguel, home to the only international airport at Ponta Delgada. Winds were 20kn on the beam as we left Faial on the horizon.

The sail to Ponta Delgada was 24 hours overnight with gradually lightening winds. I had agreed to take one of the crew from sv Salana with us to Ponta Delgada as he and my crew all had flights to catch. Saul rewarded our generosity with some great drone footage of Mira as we sailed past the coast of Sao Miguel.

Arriving at noon the next day (May 17th) under light winds, we tied up at Marina Ponta Delgada and worked on cleaning and closing up Mira before the crew’s flights and my two week trip home.

Diego checking the rig.
Mira happy in her new temporary home at the Marina Ponta Delgada.

After a final dinner out at a traditional Azorean restaurant, I said farewell to Diego, Javier and Saul.  Mira had sailed 2,149 miles since departing Tortola in the BVIs on April 21st, and she (and I) needed a rest. Two days later (May 19th), I left Mira securely moored in the marina and caught my flight back to Atlanta.

I would be soon returning with Pam to sail and explore the Azores before we completed Leg 3 of our Atlantic crossing to mainland Europe. Look for our posts on our favorite Azores islands.

Glenn