Thursday, August 17, 2006
The Azores...a unique volcanic experience!
The people of the Azores are friendly and resilient, with a fascinating history. Everytime hardship hits the islands, they find a way to adapt. This trait is evident today. For years travellers had to stop in the Azores — first, exploring ships had to stop to stock up on food and to catch winds to make it back to Europe, then with air travel, planes had to stop to refuel. Now that people don’t have to stop in the Azores, the Portuguese are making sure travellers will want to. Here are a few highlights from just two of the islands, Sao Miguel and Terceira.
• The landscape: At first look, these islands are beautifully quaint. There are green rolling hills, fields dotted with black and white cows, windmills and beautiful flowers. But below the surface it is explosive. Towns have been built on the top of volcanos and at Parque Terra Nostra, Sao Miguel, diners can have their meals cooked by the steam of the volcano. On Terceira, one can sunbath and swim among old lava flows at Ponta dos Biscoitos.
• The architecture: A marvelous mixture of styles that become distinctly Azores. In the countryside, think whitewashed, hillside buildings of Greece meet the green, stonewall-lined fields of Ireland. In the cities, the white-washed buildings are trimmed with black lava rock and the sidewalks use the same stone to create wonderful mosaics. In the Unesco World Heritage city of Angra Do Heroismo, Terceira, the streets are splashed with colour. The real gems of the Azores are the imperios, miniature churches mostly built in the 19th and early 20th century.
• Activities: There is a great variety of things to do here. Simply enjoy the beauty on a hike. Or in Ponta Delgada, try a whale watching tour. Or visit the only tea plantation and factory in Europe, Cha Gorreana, Sao Miguel. Or stop at a cheese factory and taste some fantastic local cheese. But my favourite activity was renting a car and exploring the island at a leisurely pace.