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The Azores: the best kept secret in Europe (S. Jorge Island)

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Together with Pico, Faial, Terceira and Graciosa, São Jorge belongs to the central group of the archipelago of Azores, the best kept secret in Europe. Along with its neighbours, Pico and Faial, it forms what locals call a triangle. Visiting a few of these islands could be a good idea if going to the Archipelago for the first time. For those seeking an adventure and a profound contact with nature, I suggest a combo of: climbing Pico, the highest mountain of Portugal, go diving in Faial and finish surfing on S. Jorge. These 3 Islands are close to each other, it's not complicated nor expensive to visit all of them in a week. Although geographically very close, they offer completely different experiences. All of the islands are as rich in history as they are in nature, but, the 9.500 inhabitants of S. Jorge claim that their island, with its fajãs, and a picturesque village of Velas, is even more beautiful than the others.

Velas village
Velas village
9800 Velas, Portugal

The island is 54 kms long and 6,9 kms wide (locals compare it with a sleeping dragon), being the 4th biggest of the Archipelago. You can get there flying (from Terceira or São Miguel) or by boat (from Terceira or other islands of the triangle.

From the first moment in São Jorge, you will be hearing about fajãs all the time. There are more than 70 of them in this island. Fajã is a landslide or lava flows in the bottom of the cliffs. It's a flat surface composed of fertile soils where the microclimates allow the cultivation of a variety of staple and exotic plants, such as coffee (on Fajã dos Vimes there is the only coffee plantation in Europe, and you can taste in Café Nunes). Because of these characteristics, many families in S. Jorge used to move to a fajã during winter, in order to escape bad weather. Nowadays, many have a weekend house on a fajã. Whatever your S. Jorge itinerary will be, try including as many fajãs as possible in it.

Café Nunes, S. Jorge
Café Nunes, S. Jorge
9850 Sao Jorge, Portugal
Fajã dos Vimes
Fajã dos Vimes
9850 Fajã dos Vimes, Portugal

On Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo there is a big swamp where you can find clams. It's the only place in the Archipelago where it happens. You can reach it only in a jeep or on foot, going down on Serra do Topo. If you go for this adventure, stop in Caldeira de cima, for a refreshing dip in a waterfall. This fajã is an ideal place for surf, joga or meditation. To go back, you can take a road that goes to fajã dos Cubres, that was, in 2017, considered one of the Seven wonder villages of Portugal.

The Fajã dos Cubres
The Fajã dos Cubres
9850 Calheta, Portugal
Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo
Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo
Lagoa da Fajã de Santo Cristo, Portugal

Besides visiting fajãs, there are countless hiking trails on the island. The one not to be missed starts in serra do Topo and ends on Fajã dos Vimes. While doing it, you get to know lush interior of the island, its "back" full of different vegetation and get to know the paths that the locals used when there was no roads in S. Jorge.

The other very important characteristic of the island is that there are around 30.000 cows around here (approx. 3 per inhabitant)! You will see them all the time, and, if you are lucky, you may even see them swimming their way to and from Ponta do Topo, a small island where they graze, usually in the summer. Do not be surprised to pass by a herd of cows on the road, apparently without the owners to accompany. Cows know their way around here!

Naturally, they are important when it comes to the gastronomy of the island. Cow stake is a local speciality, along with tuna steak. The most famous cheese of the Azores comes from S. Jorge and you can visit some of the factories to try it (Lourais in Ribeira Seca is the best one!). If you still have some space for sweets, there are different kinds of rosquilhas, pastry with various spices or even with alcoholic drinks added. For the most authentic souvenirs, go get some tuna cans in Santa Catarina factory in Calheta. It's not easy to choose, as nowadays there are many gourmet options.

Santa Catarina Factory
Santa Catarina Factory
Rua do Roque 9, 9850-079 Calheta, Ilha de São Jorge, Portugal

The locals here (still) love tourists, and love receiving them well. There are young farmers who are receptive to tourists spending some of their time with them to better understand how a farmer's day-to-day lives are. These are people who live closely to the nature, and respect it, especially because they have already been through some natural desastres, like earthquakes and eruptions. For the same reason, they are quite religious, especially dedicated to the Holy Spirit. In summer, they spread floral "carpets" on the roads during the religious procession, accompanied by a philharmonic orchestra. The main festivities happen on 7th and 8th Sunday after Easter and they symbolise sharing, especially of food, but also of stories and time spent together. Everyone is invited -- it's a great time to visit S. Jorge!


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Natacha Costa

Natacha Costa

Hello, I will tell you about the south of France, the Azores, Iceland, among other places, here on itinari. Traveling has taught me more than any school, and I am excited to be sharing this passion of mine with you!

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