The Azores contain two of Portugal’s 15 Unesco World Heritage sites – the vineyards of Pico and the old town of Angra do Heroismo on Terceira – and three biospheres (Graciosa, Flores, and Corvo). The regional government has bolstered this with an award-winning network of natural parks and marine reserves to safeguard the unspoiled environment.
The culture of the Azores is unique in many ways. Its strongest influence came from the original settlers brought in sailing ships from southern continental Portugal to populate the islands beginning with Santa Maria in 1439. By 1493, the major city Vila do Porto received a visit from Christopher Columbus on his way back from his first transatlantic voyage where he was mistaken for a pirate, arrested, and interrogated.
By 1444, settlements on a second island, Sao Miguel were populated by colonists from continental Portugal, as well as from France. These colonists were farmers and settled in the fertile agricultural areas of the islands. Export of wheat, oranges, sugar cane, and dyes provided the main economic force in the islands. So, the culture today is an interesting mix of agricultural, whaling, military, and wine growing peoples, mostly of Roman Catholic faith. The festivals are mainly religious, with parades of saints images and the Christ. Museums display exhibits based on the seafaring days and the whale hunting days.
Music and dance of the Azoreans culture are enjoyed by both men and women. Many of the men play the most common musical instrument, the viola, singing verses created on the spot. These verses sometimes are treated as a form of musical contest. The lyrical character of the people is reflected in the works of several well-known Azorean poets. Azorean writers are widely read in Portugal and by way of translation to the English speaking world as well.
Azorean cuisine, native to the Azores Islands, is a rich, hearty, peasant-based style of cooking. Its flavors sing of seafood, spicy stews, sweet desserts, and rich dairy products. Fish such as tuna, blue jack mackerel, chub mackerel, forkbear, red porgy, and swordfish are commonly served. Freshness reigns on grills, stews, roasts, or in fish broths. There are lobsters, mediterranean slipper lobsters, crabs, spider crabs, and barnacles. Limpets are served grilled, with Molho Afonso sauce or are cooked in rice or mashed bread. The island of São Jorge is the only island that offers clams.
The Azorean beef benefits from a protected geographical indication, with some dishes being prepared from it, such as the Alcatra (rump) from Terceira island, boiled beef, and regionally-flavored steaks. Liver sauce cracklings and sausages are must haves, whilst linguiça can be the main course if served with taro root, and blood pudding an appetizer if complemented by pineapple.
Cozido das Furnas, made with various meats and vegetables, is cooked by the geothermal heat in a pot that is placed under the ground. Some delicacies are common during the Holy Ghost Festivals, such as the Sopa do Espírito Santo (Soup of the Holy Ghost) and the Massa Sovada (Portuguese sweet bread). The bread known as bolos lêvedos, typical from Furnas, is served at any time throughout the whole year. The cheese Queijo de São Jorge is at the top of the list of tasty dairy products, with skilled hands and ripening time being the secret for a myriad of tastes and textures.
The pretty towns and villages in the Azores will make visitors feel like they’ve traveled back through time, so embrace that feeling and explore a city by carriage. Many of the most popular locations, including Angra do Heroísmo in Terceira, and Ponta Delgada in São Miguel, offer these experiences, which can be booked on the day.
Azoreans are known as hospitable and traditional people, with a simple, rewarding way of life. During the Summer, there are many celebrations and festivities on all the islands, in which you can get to know the habits, traditions, the costumes and the gastronomy of the region.
From religious to musical and even maritime themes, those warmest months are when the islands come alive with festivals, with each island having its event calendar. Festa do Divino Espirito Santo (the Holy Ghost Festival), is the most popular festa, celebrating the third person of the Godhead – a day where somebody is named empress or emperor for a day.
In a destination like the Azores, finding a local beach to spend a day in the waves or on the sand goes without saying. A few great beaches include Praia Grande near Ponta Delgada, Praia Formosa in Santa Maria, and Ribeira Quente in São Miguel.
Before eating the cozido in Furnas (pots lowered into the volcanic ground), head to Terra Nostra Park or Poça da Dona Beija and soak in the hot geothermal pools. These two spots are just a couple of many hot springs on the islands, which promote health benefits including improved circulation, reduced stress, and healing skin conditions. The only caution is against wearing light colors in the geothermal pool at Terra Nostra as the naturally yellow-brown water can discolor bathing suits.
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