Sunday, December 28, 2008

Portugal Vacations: Graciosa Azores

Graciosa Azores

On the last post of Portugal Vacations I told you about Sao Jorge Azores, a gorgeous island in the central Azores archipelago. Today I'll tell you a little about Graciosa, another of the Central Azores islands and a pristine Portuguese Gem.

Discovered 1n 1450 by Portuguese explorers, Graciosa was first settled by Vasco Gil Sodré and his family. Vasco left his home in Coimbra (Northern Portugal) searching for a for his riches in the Azores.

Today, most of the 4700 residents on this island are descendants of settlers from northern Portugal and France. This absolutely stunning oval shaped island is the northernmost island of the central group. The island has a total area of approximately 61 km² with a length of 10 km and width of only 7 km making it one of the smaller islands. The majority of the island's population reside in the Santa Cruz municipality.

Graciosa means (Graceful in English) and it lives up to its name. Like all the other islands, it is a green paradise, with soft rolling hills and tranquil gardens. Graciosa is the flattest of all Azorean islands, but also one of the most intriguing. Hidden in the islands Caldeira is the "Furna do Enxofre" (Sulphur Cavern), a breathtaking cavern rising up to 80 meters high and concealing a magnificent underground lake. Since Graciosa is one large dormant volcano, hot springs and thermal baths are a specialty on the island and a great way to rejuvenate. See image to the left of the thermal spa.

Graciosa is a must see on your Azores Travel and a perfect way to enjoy your Portugal Vacation.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Portugal Vacations: Sao Jorge Azores

Sao Jorge Azores

Last week I told you about the island of terceira. Sao
Jorge (St. George in English) is a knife shaped island in the center of the Azores, approximately 17 km northeast of the island of Pico. Sao Jorge is approximately 56 kilometers in length and only 8 kilometers wide with a total area of about 248 sq, making it the fourth largest of the Azores islands. It is a sparsely populated island with approximately 10 thousand inhabitants. In the 15th Century, many Flemish families migrated to the island of Sao Jorge and integrated with the existing Portuguese population at the time.

Most of the island is above 300m and is noted for it's sheer cliff walls to the North. The average height of the central ridges is approximately 700m and many of the coastal cliffs are as high as 400m. The vast majority of the Sao Jorge population reside on the south part of the island. Sao Jorge is a great place for those who are looking to escape from it all, it is indeed a a place where tourism has yet to form. Many of the residents here still live a very rural existence with agriculture being the main economic engine. Possibly the most famous of all things coming from the island of Sao Jorge is it's famous cheese. St. Jorge cheese is famous for its full bodied spicy flavor and should not be missed on your next travels through the Azores.

I hope you enjoyed this brief overview of the Island of Sao Jorge Azores. Please come back again as we explore the other islands of the Azores on Portugal Vacations.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Azores: Island Of Terceira

Terceira Azores

Last week on Portugal Vacations I told you about the awe inspiring Island of Pico, the second largest island in the Azores, and possibly the most stunning. Today I will tell you a little about the Island of Terceira, Azores.

The Island of Terceira was thus named due to it being the third island to be discovered in the Azores by Portuguese explorers (The name ‘Terceira’ means 'Third' in English). As mentioned before, Sao Miguel and Pico are the largest and second largest of the Azores Islands. Terceira is also the third largest island so it is fitting that it would get the name Terceira. Terceira is approximately 29 km long and up to 18 km wide with a total area of approximately 385 km2. The closest island to Terceira is São Jorge (St. George in English) 55 km to the west.

Like the other islands of the Azores, Terceira is a beautiful green paradise in the middle of the Atlantic, but it can also be one of the noisiest depending on which part of the island you reside due to the incoming European and North American Military aircraft at the Portuguese Airbase, Lajes. The Lajes airbase was initially constructed in 1934 by Portuguese Fascist Dictator Salazar's Regime and has served as a refueling, Reconnaissance, patrolling, and support base for almost a century. Over the years, many upgrades have been made to the base, along with American Military who have used a portion of the base under lease by the Portuguese State since the WWII.

Terceira is also home to the oldest established city in the Azores, called Angra do Heroismo (Meaning 'Cove Of Heroism' or 'Heroism Cove' in English), first established in 1478. Angra do Heroismo got its name due to the bravery of the people of the island who battled invading armies and pirates from Europe and the New World. It is today on the UNESCO Heritage List. You can see the city on the image at the top of the page.

Terceira is also the bullfighting capital of the Azores, where each year centuries old traditions of running with the bulls is still practiced. Unlike the running with the bulls held in Spain, the ones in Terceira are held in an open square, making it less dramatic than the Spanish one, and the bulls are tethered to a rope to prevent them from roaming free through the city.

Hope you liked this short overview of the Island of Terceira. In the next few posts of Portugal Vacations, I will tell you more about the other islands of the Azores.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Portugal Vacations: Pico Azores

Pico Island Azores

In the last post of Portugal Vacations I told you about Sao Miguel, the administrative capital of the Azores. On this post I will tell you a little about Pico, possibly the most fascinating of all the Islands of the Azores.

The island of Pico is 42 km long and 15 km at its widest point, with a combined area of 447 km², it is in fact the second largest island in the Azorean Archipelago. The name Pico is a Portuguese word for peak, which is obvious when you look at the island and it's remarkable volcanic cone rising to 2351 m. The volcanic cone is officially inactive, with the last major eruption occurring back in the 1700's.

The largest town in Pico is Madelena which is located on the western side of the island. There are just over 15,000 inhabitants residing on the island of Pico.

Up until the early 1980's, Pico had a very active commercial whaling industry, that at the time was the major economic engine on the island. Today, ironically, Pico is the place to go for whale watching, with many sightseeing expeditions taking tourists on breathtaking expeditions.

Another interesting part of the Pico economy is its viticulture. Built over many centuries, Pico's lattice work of protective stone encapsulations help protect the native 'Verdelho' grape from the harsh weather and conditions of Pico winters. Recently added to the UNESCO World Heritage, this wine region of Pico is a marvel to behold, as it is a green landscape amidst jagged volcanic rock in a virtually treeless environment offer spectacular vistas.

I hope you enjoyed this brief overview of the Island of Pico, Acores. Come back for more information on the other islands of the Azores on Portugal Vacations.

Source of First Image:
Source: File produced by Christer Johansson

Source of Second Image: