The Azores Archipelago, with its nine islands, is halfway between the American Continent and Europe. More than a strategic position, the Azores are a place of feelings and inspiration, where the real can easily meet the mystic. Come and find us.
The magical number is the 9, but we are going to leave numerology to the ones who believe in it.
The facts are: there are nine Azorean islands, each having its own character and history, but all being part of a common destination and territory. For the ones visiting this part of the world for the first time, it should be explained that the archipelago is divided in three groups: central, eastern and western. In the central group there are five islands – Faial, Graciosa, Pico, São Jorge and Terceira. Then, in the western group, the furthest from Europe, we have Corvo and Flores. Finally, the eastern group is formed by Santa Maria and São Miguel.
Regardless of the island visited, being it the smallest of all, Corvo island, with only 17 square kilometres for 430 inhabitants – a number obtained from Censos 2011 – or the biggest one, São Miguel, with 744 square kilometres and 137 thousand inhabitants, it is certain that the visitor will make unforgettable memories. And pleasant memories.
The Azores are not only nature, so present and raw, but also the people, their traditions and gastronomy. And also art, culture and history. And their tales, many tales, which hide behind the Azorean rocks. One of those mystical and lost in time tales dates back to Atlantis, the lost civilization in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, although never found.
The Greek philosopher, Plato, talked about Atlantis and even he said that it was something that someone had told him about. Atlantis would have been a rich land, with gold covered temples, and where the land was so fertile that two yearly harvests were possible. Society was well organized and people lived in harmony on a “heaven on earth” where knowledge and art were promoted. This ideal world, having even technological breakthroughs, would have vanished tragically due to a natural disaster. Many of its people escaped to other countries where they were involved by the local culture, forever erasing the physical memory of that culture.
However, as the tale says, the nine Azorean islands are the peaks of the former Atlantis, submerged by the ocean. This tale inspires the people who visit them because, after all, the human feeling is that of a perfect world populated by the harmony between nature and the human being. And, in the Azores, we almost feel tempted to believe that something like that could be possible.
For example, in the 50s, the Belgian comics author, Edgar Pierre Jacobs, creator of Black and Mortimer Adventures – at the time published in the “Tintin” magazine, the character created by Hergé – created the adventure “The Atlantis Enigma”. The characters arrive at the airport, like anyone of us, to live an adventure in São Miguel Island, where they end up finding the entry to an underground world taking them to a world inhabited by the Atlanteans.
Who knows what can happen when arriving to the Azores? Don’t worry. You might not find the door to an underground world – in fact, it is better not to take chances on uncharted territory, when there is much to discover on the surface, right in front of our eyes.
Enjoy the walks through the green landscapes and have a taste of the wonderful gastronomy. Suggestion of places where to eat? Nothing easier. Learn how to say these names in Portuguese: “Lapas e Cracas”, more than fish – which is great, mainly tuna – these typical snacks are grilled and seasoned with lemon juice.
Beer is their best buddy. Then, admire the landscape and there is one animal that you can’t miss. The cows. They are living happily on the islands. If you are not a vegetarian, the Azorean steak is a natural food part of the cycle of life.
Travelling to the Azores and not tasting a steak will make your trip incomplete. Don’t forget to also taste the cheese, particularly from São Jorge, another local speciality.
The history of the archipelago states that the Portuguese presence on these islands dates back to the year of 1444, more accurately on September 29, year of the establishment of the Capitania, lead by Gonçalo Velho Cabral. That was the day dedicated to the archangel St. Michael, giving the name to the main island.
The other island of the eastern group, Santa Maria, would have been the first to be discovered by the Portuguese seamen and it was there that Cristovão Colombo anchored, in February 1493, when returning from Spain after discovering the land which we know today as “America”. This feeling of Atlantean, stone raft anchored to the sea, had also a special historic significance during the Second World War, when Europe found in its American allies an alternative to the values of democracy and to the construction of paths to Peace. And it was in the Azores that these efforts were developed and that, today, translate into the presence of a North-American military base, in the central group, in Terceira island.
The trips between the islands can be made by air or sea, but there is a last suggestion – and so many were left out – that is to discover Pico island, the highest point of Portugal. In addition to being the second biggest island of the Azores, with 447 square metres, it is on this island that we can find Pico Mountain, 2.352 metres above sea level. In Continental Portugal, Serra da Estrela, is the highest mountain range, with “only” 1.993 metres. Those extra 358 metres make the difference. Believe it.
Enjoy the Azores. They have always been there to welcome you.