In the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Europe, 900 miles west of Portugal, are nine garden-like islands that make up the Azores archipelago. These majestic islands span over 350 miles, and are on the same latitude as Lisbon. They were discovered around 1427, when Portuguese sailors reached the secluded archipelago. Just as vessels ventured the islands years ago, an expedition cruise is an excellent way to explore the Azores. The strategic geographical location of the islands has made it in important stop for people venturing across the Atlantic.
Natural splendor is found everywhere in the remote Azores archipelago. Each island is a remnant of volcanic activity, and is distinguished with cones and craters. Blue and green lagoons are dispersed among the islands, as well as old craters, bright flowers and strikingly green vegetation. Land is capricious, with valleys, hills, fields, and a constant view of blue seas.
Cultural festivals are a way of life in the Azores. Bullfighting by rope is a colorful activity that takes place in the plazas of various towns on the island of Terceira. Locals and visitors on an Azores cruise will enjoy the recreational culture that the islands provide. The Azores are ideal for sailing, windsurfing, rowing and surfing. Fishing, especially for large-game fish, is popular. A visitor to the Azores may look forward to getting large meals, mainly consisting of various meats, fish, and shell-fish-lobster. Many restaurants serve international cuisine and fish of all kinds.
The Cultural Appeal of an Azores Cruise
Social life on the Azores Islands tends to center on the family. People from Flanders, Belgium settled in the Azores beginning in 1450. These Flemish settlers played an important role in the creation of the Azorean culture. And many other inhabitants settled the islands after leaving their home province in Portugal, bringing with them local culture, including their language. Today, visitors on a cruise of the Azores will hear Portuguese being spoke, which is the official language of the islands.
Gothic elements from the initial settlement period appear in a few churches and buildings. Renaissance and Baroque architecture is present even today. Ties with Flanders in the 16th and 17th centuries provide the Azores with Flemish sculptures. Each island has both art and ethnographic museums.
Cultural festivals are a way of life in the Azores. Religious feelings are expressed in celebrations, such as the festival of the Holy Spirit that helps to preserve the past. Inhabitants also celebrate Fat Tuesday as well as Semana dos Baleeriros (whaler’s week) in Lajes do Pico. During an Azores cruise, you can enjoy the local wine festivals and religious processions, plus celebrations of folk dancing and cattle play. Bullfighting by rope is a colorful activity that takes place in the plazas of various towns on the island of Terceira.
Locals and visitors enjoy the recreational culture that the islands provide. The Azores are ideal for sailing, windsurfing, rowing and surfing. Fishing, especially for large-game fish, is also popular. Many of the islands also offer challenging golf courses as well as enjoyable tennis opportunities.
The Inviting Azores Environment
Natural splendor is found everywhere in the secluded Azores archipelago. Blue and green lagoons are dispersed among the islands, as well as old craters, bright flowers and strikingly green vegetation. During your Azores cruise, experience the incredible landscape variation, with valleys, hills, fields, and a constant view of blue seas.
A unique biome encompasses the islands; the Azores are one of the world’s temperate broadleaf and mixed forests. Many endemic species of plants are located in the region. There are eleven species of trees found on these islands, eight of which are not found anywhere else in the world. Evergreen forests exist in lowland areas and you can tour cloudforests found at higher elevations. At the highest elevations there are even moorlands and grasslands.
The Azores are known for their dense areas of larissilva, which are remnants of the forest that covered the archipelago before human habitation. The Japanese cedar, araucaria, azaleas, and hydrangeas are among many of the exotic species that were introduced to the island. Travelers will enjoy the abundant hydrangeas that tend to line roads and hills throughout the islands.
An Appetizing Look at the Azores
Azorean cuisine is diverse, hearty and simply prepared. Some might say the food is a little old fashioned. A visitor to the Azores may look forward to getting large meals while on their trip, mainly consisting of various meats, fish, and shell-fish/lobster. Many restaurants serve international cuisine and fish of all kinds.
Azoreans like stew, fish, cornbread, cabbage, and potatoes. Cornbread and cheese with water can serve as a meal. Good cheese comes from the island of Sao Jorge. Pork sausages are popular and tend to be a bit on the spicy side. Sweet and juicy pineapples can be found throughout the islands but are mainly grown on the island of Sao Miguel. During your Azores cruise, sample the traditional sweets and cookies, which range in shape and taste.
There is a local production of red and white wine. Apertifi wine is made in Pico and can be purchased all over the islands. Local beer is made on the islands and is known as Especial. There is also a production of local gin or Aquadente, some of which are homemade, and some industrially produced.
Experience the Azores Geography
Nine hundred miles west of Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean are nine garden-like islands that make up the Azores archipelago. These majestic islands span over 350 miles and are on the same latitude as Lisbon. They are composed of three groupings of islands on three separate tectonic plates. The islands of Corvo and Flores make up one grouping, followed to the east with the grouping of Horta, Pico, Graciosa, Terceira and Sao Jorge Island, and then further east with the islands of Sao Miguel and Santa Maria. An Azores tour includes a visit to Santa Maria Island, which is the oldest island; limestone and clay extensions subsist around the landscape.
The island chain totals an area of 910 square miles. Each island is a remnant of volcanic activity, and is distinguished with cones and craters. The Pico Volcano is the highest point on the islands with an elevation of 7,725 feet (2,351 meters). In 1957, the most recent volcanic eruption occurred when the Capelinhos Volcano exploded in the western part of Faial Island.
A Historical Look at Azores Travel
Around 1427, Portuguese sailors reached the secluded Azores archipelago. The first of the islands to be discovered were Santa Maria and São Miguel. By the middle of the fifteenth century, Portuguese immigrants had settled throughout the islands and established a prosperous peasant agriculture. Initially, these farmers produced sugar and wine, but eventually they focused more on wheat and other food products. These products were vital supplies for ships traveling from Africa, Asia, and the Americas.
The geographical position of the islands beckons visitors to come and explore Azores travel, but the strategic location also made it in important stop for people venturing across the Atlantic. In the 16th and 17th centuries the Azores became a trade center for travelers passing between Europe, the Americas and India. Naval battles started to take place in and around the Azores because of venturing pirates in the vicinity.
During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the islands became quite overpopulated, many people left the Azores and immigrated to the United States. In this time period, new crops were introduced and new industries developed throughout the islands. Stockbreeding facilities and fisheries were established.
In the last decade, the social and economic well being of Azorean citizens has strengthened, mostly because of capital donations from emigrants, especially those from North America. More income for the archipelago has also been generated from the leasing of Lajes Air Field to the United States.
Island Politics of the Azores
Since 1976, the Azores archipelago has been an autonomous region of the Portuguese Republic. A Regional Legislative Assembly and the Regional Government are the heads of this administration. They have a President of the Regional Government; if you plan your Azores trip soon, currently Carlos César serves as this president. The region has five elected representatives that serve in the Portuguese Republic’s National Assembly. The executive section of the government is located in Ponta Delgado, the legislative in Horta and the judicial in Angra do Heroísmo. There are 19 municipalities that make up the archipelago. Each of these is further divided into parishes, which come to a grand total of 156. The nation has adopted the currency of the European Union, the Euro.
What to Expect from Azores’ Weather
Those on an Azores tour will generally experience a pleasant temperate maritime climate with minimal temperature variations. Climate from island to island can vary. The average annual rainfall increases from east to west and ranges from 700 to 1600 mm. Temperatures range between a minimum yearly average of 14°C (55.2°F) in winter and 24.8°C (76.4°F) in summer. Average seawater temperature varies between 16.0°C (60.8°F) and 22.0°C (71.6°F), under the influence of the Gulf Stream.
Wildlife Wonders of the Azores
The isolated Atlantic location of the awe-inspiring Azores archipelago serves as a terrific home for wildlife. Visitors will marvel at the various eye-catching birds that inhibit the islands. One may spot the gray bullfinch or “priolo” that is endemic to the area. The islands are also home to the Azores noctule, an endemic bat.
Hundreds of fish species, shellfish, and large mammals live near the islands’ shores. The waters surrounding the islands are very deep, thus allowing for whales to come very close to land. It is not uncommon to observe a whale or dolphin while standing on shore. A white Sperm Whale lives around the island of São Miguel. The Sperm Whale is the largest of the toothed whales and can reach over 60 feet in length (that is over six stories tall)! Groups of Pilot Whales are spotted almost daily. On an Azores trip it is also possible to observe the Bottlenose, Common, Stripped and Spotted Dolphin, all in the same day. Big game fish like shark, swordfish, oceanic bonito and tuna also make this region their home. Turtles are commonly sighted along the shores as well.