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Friday, June 12, 2015

Sao Miguel Overview - Churches, Landscapes, Food and Culture

So you want to visit the Azores?

You are probably wondering why I even know about these islands. Let's state from the beginning.

The Azores are an autonomous region of Portugal (designated in 1976). The island of Madeira is also an autonomous region of Portugal. The Azores were settled by immigrants of mainland Portugal but were also populated by the Flemish, French, Spaniards, Moorish prisoners and African slaves. Between 1921 and 1977, 250,000 Azoreans immigrated to the US cities in Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts. My parents were two families who did just that. I'm first-generation Portuguese and had the chance to visit back in 2015, seeing where my parents lived and the culture surrounding my family. 

Today is kind of a mash-up of some of the beautiful churches, the landscape, and the food. It's a general overview of culture, information on the island, and not much is needed in the way of words - these pictures are beautiful and I feel they speak for themselves. When I think back of the geography of the island, I think of the most beautiful rollings hills dotted with cattle and hydrangea, set along the cliffy oceanside. I picture beautiful churches, sandy beaches, winding roads, craters, and mountains. It's insanely unique and at times feels so untouched by the masses that tourism brings. It's not a popular destination in the U.S. but when I tell the tales of these islands or show a few photos, everyone is mesmerized. See for yourself in this post today. 

For specifics, you can read about Ilheu Vila Franco Campo, craters, Scuba Diving, Swimming with wild dolphins) - swimming with wild dolphins may still be one of the coolest things I've done abroad. This post is a general overview, an introduction to the culture of the island if you will.

Sao Miguel is the largest island that makes up the archipelago of volcanic islands (9 total spread out over 370 miles). Sao Miguel is the largest - the island is 62.1 km by 15.8 km at its widest point. The islands are 1500 km west of Lisbon (Lisbon is 7,280 km east of the United States). It is known as "The Green Island" and is the most populated island. Expect to see lakes, sandy beaches, rolling hills, high mountains, fields, and blue oceans. The other islands are Faial, Flores, Graciosa, Pico, Sao Jorge, Santa Maria and Terceira. 

There is a lot of beautiful street art on the island - mosaic tiles and signs of tile are also a part of the culture and the landscape. Road signs are far more beautiful in Portugal, that's a fact. 

You will find a lot of churches and cathedrals on the island. While not religious, I appreciate the beauty and the architecture behind these places of worship. They are sometimes delicate, built on hillsides and beaches. They are often massive, large detailed structures that offer peace to many.  


The islands are a celebration of color, from painted trim to stunning bright doors. You will also find a lot of the pretty "Bahamas Pink". 

My father standing where his childhood house once was 

Military folk tend to know of the Azores as the United States maintained a NATO airbase on the island of Terceira (one of the Azorean islands).

There are points of the island that feel so untouched by modern life. Horses and buggy share the roads with cars. A few horses contained by a pallet fence behind a restaurant -  the story was that a gentleman had a long tab billed over time and decided to pay his bill with these two horses.

Webcams dotted around the island to check the weather "Spot Azores" app -as many say, you can experience several seasons in a day. The island is heavily influenced by ocean currents and winds which moderate the island temperature between 14C and 26C (57F in January and 79F in August) throughout the year (rainfall throughout the year but is more abundant in the cool season (1" in July to nearly 5" in November). The best times to visit (temperature-wise) are June to October.

A November 2020 article by Almeida et al states that the Azores archipelago is the most suitable region for dairy production in Portugal and these islands produce 30% of the Portuguese dairy. The Azores have a cattle inventory of 125,000 adult cows (73% are dairy cows) 

Seafood is a staple on every menu. Yellowfin tuna is featured above. Do note, the culture cooks everything well, well well well done. They don't really understand rare, so expect everything to come WELL done.

Like typical European cultures, coffee comes in the form of espresso or small coffee. Azorean cuisine is different than mainland cuisine and has been described as "rich heart peasant-based styles". Popular dishes include stewed octopus, pineapples grown n the island, "cozido das furnas" (one-pot stews cooked underground), and a lot of various seafood. Azorean wine is grown from grapes contained in pens of volcanic rock which helps to protect the grapes. The bread and cheeses are amazing.  Do not leave without bread, cheese and pastries. 

Ordering alcohol on the island is a little odd. A martini is not what you think it is.  Azorean wine wasn't my favorite.  But you could never go wrong with a beer, or cerveja. 

This wraps up all of my Azores posts.  This island was such a unique and amazing spot. Sustainable tourism and everything was insanely (really, insanely) cheap.  From meals to houses, this is an amazing unique getaway even for the tightest of budgets.  You can get a direct flight from Boston, out of SATA airlines.  Check out the "List of Azores activities" and I promise there is something for everyone on the list. 

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