Flores, Faial, Sao Jorge, Terceira
25th May to 6th June
The Azores islands are lovely: people civilised, warm, friendly and welcoming; countryside fresh green and bursting with early summer zest; interests abound in walks, history, buildings and people. I’ve visited four of the islands; there are five others for another time.
Flores, my first landfall, was charming and I loved walking on sunlit rural roads with hydrangea, wild rose, sweet pea, canna lilies and more adding colour to the hedgerows, listening to tuneful birdsong, and feeling solid ground beneath my feet. With a gaggle of well-kitted German walkers I enjoyed a delightful cliff walk a mile or two from the marina – but blow me, marinised leg muscles feel mighty stiff afterwards.
Then a bus ride to the capital, Santa Cruz, which has a modern and fascinating whale museum (making use of the defunct whale factory) – and not a lot else (you mustn’t get too excited by the term ‘capital’). It’s not a good port for yachts and we’re told not to go there (see photo below).
Alas! Even Flores’s little marina suffers from wave surge with NNEasterly swell and Henrietta’s strain and discomfort shortened my visit; four of us yachts leaving earlier than hoped for for the sail 130 miles east to Horta. (The islands are well spaced.)
Horta, on the island of Faial, is one of the world’s busiest yacht transit centres. Apparently around 1,300 boats call in each year. I reckon a large part of the 1,300 were there at the same time as me. The place seems to have become the key Atlantic sailors’ cross-roads with all manner of yacht from almost everywhere. Constant movements, bustle and excited shouts as friends recognise one another. There were no free berths for Henrietta and the anchorage was crowded, so after a troubled spell rafted alongside others next to a quay, I didn’t stay long. But it was a shame to move on so soon as Horta, the town, was beautiful: lots of charm and colour, good shops, marvellous cafes and bars and more. And I met up with several others whom I’d met earlier in the year.
The day I left Horta was very windy and very wet, but much more comfortable for me on Henrietta than running the Azores Trail Run, one of those super-arduous mountain marathons from a cloud-swept caldeira, which was taking place on Faial that same day. (I later met a sinewy Swedish/German couple who’d taken part.)
Next stop after Horta was Vila das Velas on Sao Jorge (Sao has an accent I can’t do on laptop) where Jose manages a little marina. Jose, like all the staff I meet, is helpful, charming and knowledgeable – even coming out in cold torrential horizontal rain as I arrived, to help me tie up. Spent several days here as it’s friendly, has good walks etc. Hired a car to see more of the place than buses allow.
I left the island of Sao Jorge after a week and sailed next to Terceira, the third biggest Azorean island, just glimpsing the Azores’s highest mountain (and Portugal’s too), Pico, as I headed for Angra do Heroismo (its inhabitants had bravely resisted the Spanish invaders a few hundred years ago and were later given the title ‘Heroes’ – indeed the island was the only bit of Portugal that was not conquered) .
Most of the town (city really) of Angra is now well-deserved UNESCO heritage stuff —-full of really fabulous buildings, decorous stone cobbled streets and exquisite public gardens….one of the most marvellous places I’ve ever seen…and I don’t use the word ‘fabulous’ lightly….though I acknowledge perhaps its beauty is magnified by way of contrast with the architectural deserts of Eastern Caribbean.
Two particular things hereabouts remind me of my age. One is whaling; amazing to think it was big business in many places, including Azores, till 1980s, when nowadays it seems so barbaric and so unthinkable to kill magnificent whales (unless you’re primitive or Japanese, I suppose). The other is being reminded of the recent colonial wars that Portugal fought in 1960/70s; with many little Azorean settlements having a memorial for the young who died fighting in Angola, Mozambique or Timor (and I can remember hitching a lift myself with a lorry full of Portuguese troups in Mozambique as recently as 1974 – maybe it’s not recent anymore!) Had we been Portuguese, we’d probably have been conscripted.
……at this point I realise I’m just wittering on…not of much interest to anyone except me…(The photos scattered in this post try to show more)
Without the detail, next stop, all being well, will be Scilly Isles or Cornwall (1,200 miles). Just waiting now for a patch of better weather….Meanwhile it’s been good to have the company of Alex and John on a handsome yacht, Free Spirit, and others heading for Europe too. They told me of this tourada (a sort of sociable bullfight in the streets of Angra), picture below.
But before I go, I’ll just say that the sharp contrast of Europe’s western islands with the islands further south and west across the Atlantic (Bermuda, Caribbean) makes me truly grateful for my good fortune in belonging on the European side. And whilst the British Isles are my home, and I like them well enough, I know they are merely a part of many European islands, each with their own distinctive histories, cultures, interests, problems and delights, but each insignificant in the wider world. I’ll aim to be back in Britain in time to vote. (It would make me very cross and sad were the ‘other side’ to win, had I not had my one teeny weeny say in trying to stop it.)
And on a less important note, I’ve now owned Henrietta for exactly one year. Nearly 11,000 miles sailed since then, and I cannot think how many different anchorages and islands and countries. Perhaps I’ll add them up one day.