Just a bit less than half way to North America when leaving Lisbon you will find one of the most beautiful archipelagoes in the Atlantic. The Azores or Os Açores in Portuguese consist of 9 volcanic islands and is one of two autonomous regions of Portugal. The other being Madeira. Most people choose to visit the islands between April and November when the weather is at its best and you can enjoy the numerous beaches and hiking on the islands. Our favorite time to travel is the off season when the crowds are less and you can easily distinguish the locals from travelers so we went to the Azores for New Years and the first week of January a couple of years ago.
It tends to rain in January but the sun came out quite a bit and allowed us to hike and have some beautiful views as we discovered the island of São Miguel. This is one of the first three islands that were initially sighted and discovered in the 14th and 15th centuries. The first inhabitants to the islands were actually sheep who were placed there to eventually feed the first settlers who included the Portuguese mostly from the Algarve and the Minho, the Flemish, the French, and Sephardic Jews amongst others. When the Spaniards temporarily took over Portugal in 1580 they also wanted the Azores. It is said that cattle were released by the Azoreans to confuse and scatter the invaders. Still today we found more cows than humans on the Ilha Sao Miguel which for me is just perfect! They filled our photos at every scenic outlook and blocked the roads.
One of my favorite places on the island was Sete Cidades , which is the name of a town and also a spectacular nature area. It is probably one of the most beautiful panoramas I have ever seen. There is a viewpoint where you can look down on the two lakes that fill in the center of a volcanic crater. Lagoa Azul reflects the blue color of the sky and Lagoa Verde reflects the rich green color of the earth. Hiking in this area is greatly rewarded by a local lunch in the town.
Everything we ate during our stay was excellent. All diary products were superb from the milk to every cheese that we tasted, especially the fresh cheese served at the hotel breakfast and the Queijo São MIguel which is easily found throughout the mainland as well. Beef was aplenty and we had a few amazing dishes from simple to fancy. They also produce great wines to accompany the local food. Wine production has nearly doubled here in the past years, most of it being produced on the Island of Pico.
I had never tasted a “limpet” before the Azores. It is like an aquatic snail with a cone shape. We tried the limpets at a restaurant right on the beach. They were grilled and served with lemon. Simple and plentiful. Maybe not my favorite dish but it was fun to taste them. I definitely need a second try on our next visit.
After lunch we walked through the small and obviously poor town of Rabo de Peixe. We stumbled upon a solemn funeral procession of a young man from the town. The air was heavy with humidity and grief. Everyone was dressed in what must have been their best clothes, paying their regrets to the loss of a young life. I remember the feeling in this town more than I remember the taste of the limpets. The obvious poverty and solemness was very different from what we had experienced up until this moment on the island. Real life and death. To be continued……