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Azores

Azores

The Azores is a Portuguese archipelago comprised of nine islands (Santa Maria, São Miguel, Terceira, Graciosa, São Jorge, Pico, Faial, Flores and Corvo), located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean just between Europe and North America. It represents Europe’s western-most point and lies on the 39º43'/36º55'N latitudes. The 240,000 inhabitants live on a total land surface of 2,333km2. Today, the Azores has the status of an Autonomous Region with its own Legislature and Government.

The Azorean climate is temperate all year, without major variations in temperature. The mean day temperature ranges between 14°C and 25 °C. The mean temperature of the sea, which is tempered by the Gulf Stream, ranges between 16°C and 22°C all year.

The Azores evolved from volcanic eruptions over many millennia and all round the islands there are examples of curious volcanic phenomena. There are rounded craters, often filled with lakes, plus caves and deep tunnels formed by eruptions. Ancient black lava covers many surfaces on the islands, ranging from shiny obsidian to soft and porous lava, sometimes bubbling with steam from hot springs.

The islands are full of natural reserves, protected landscape areas, parks and protected forests. Due to a Regional Government’s programme to preserve the archipelago’s ecosystems, the Azores has recently won a special commendation in the European Tourism and Environment awards. Each of the nine islands of the Azores has its own charm and its own distinctive landscapes.

There are almost 60 endemic plant species in the Azores, many a throwback to the laurel-juniper species of the Tertiary period. Azorean birds are one of the main attractions in the region, particularly the “priolo” bullfinch (an endemic species). The seas surrounding the Azores are rich in hundreds of species of fish and molluscs, as well as large whales and dolphins.

The magic of the Azores is not only found in its stunning landscapes, but also in its history and culture. Its palaces, churches and fortresses are all reminders of when the island provided a stopover port for ships loaded with treasures from the Americas and the Orient.

The art and ethnography museums, together with the popular architecture of each island, are also valuable elements within the region’s cultural heritage. The colours and sounds of contemporary folk festivals, and the varied flavours of local cuisine, also draw on long-established traditions.

The Eastern Group of the Azores is formed by São Miguel and Santa Maria islands. On Santa Maria you’ll discover vine-covered escarpments surrounding the Anjos Chapel in Baia de São Lourenço, where Columbus prayed on his return from America.

The Portuguese first reached the Azores in 1427. During the 16th and 17th centuries, the islands’ geographical position was pivotal for Atlantic navigation between Europe, the Orient and the Americas.The sea around the Azores was the scene of important sea-battles. During the following centuries, the archipelago developed with the introduction of new crops, animal husbandry techniques and larger fisheries.

The sea is crucial to life and sprot in the Azores. Yachts from all over the world stop over the marinas of Faial, São Miguel and Terceira, in order to visit the islands or during an Atlantic crossing. Specially Faial is famed for its marina, painted in the colours of visiting yachts from all over the world and for its blue hydrangeas.

Opposite to Faial is Pico, a mountain island rising straight out of the sea. The Pico volcanic cone is 2,351m high, the highest of Portugal. Its slopes are covered with black lava fields, transformed over the centuries to wine producing soil protected by a vast network of stone walls. This landscape is recognized by UNESCO as mundial cultural heritage. The wine of Pico was in 19th century served on the English and Russian courts. The age-old whale traditions on Pico are remembered by a local museum.

Near Pico we can find the island of São Jorge with wide green pastures and the so called "fajãs" (a base of steep escarpments) nestled by the sea. All over the Azores is produced cheese of excellent quality, but the most famous comes from São Jorge island.

Besides Faial, Pico and São Jorge, the islands of Graciosa and Terceira complete the Central Group of the Archipelago. The most famous products of Graciosa island is its firewater (“aguardente”) and its cookies ("queijadas"). On Terceira you should taste the local red wine from Biscoitos village. Terceira is steeped in history, as the home ofs Angra do Heroismo, the first European city in the Atlantic and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The island of Flores resembles a garden surrounded by the sea. Its charming scenery is made up of scenic lakes carved into the volcanic rock. The center of the miniature island, Corvo, has its own volcanic crater, which takes up much of its center. These two islands constitute the Western Group of the Azores, and are the western-most point of Europe.