Azores: nine remote islands, located between 36° and 43° north and 25° and 31° west, between North America and Europe.
Ignored by both continents for many years, with the exception of a small military base of the United States, the islands were simply seen as a place where cows grazed happily on green grass fields, producing dairy of an unusual quality.
However Azores have been through something almost unprecedented in its history – the attention of foreign and tour agents, as a privileged destination for those who wish to be in touch with nature without giving up the self-indulgence and security of the westernmost corner of Europe.
With four locations named as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO, best destination 2016 by the Dutch magazine “Traveler” from National Geographic, and other numerous awards, visiting Azores became fashionable.
But how do Azorean people and their happy cows feel about all of this? Ambivalent as always, because we’re talking about people who are very familiar with things like volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, people who find their saviors in Holy Spirit and Holy Christ, even if it takes form as a pale Scandinavian who is happy to spend some money on a local economy that has seen better days.
Islanders are proud to say, in their varied local accents, that talking about Azores doesn’t shorten to talking about São Miguel, the largest and most populated island of the whole archipelago, but its nine destinations, people, experiences, tastes and unique experiences.
If you’re a tourist who wants to explore the islands, you can visit the highest point in Portugal by climbing the Pico’s mountain in the island with the same name, enjoy the beauty (and the clams!) of Fajã de Santo Cristo in São Jorge Island, participate in street bullfights or visit Angra do Heroísmo, a world heritage city on Terceira island, walk the trails and ponds of the island of São Miguel or the westernmost point of Europe on the island of Flores, among a number of natural and cultural wonders spread through the archipelago, all at the range of a trip by plane or boat.
A land of agriculture and fishing, where the tourist can enjoy the best fresh fish and seafood that the Atlantic can provide; where cheese, traditional sausages and stews that can come whether from a kitchen with a wood oven or from a hole in the ground, cooked with a sip from local volcanos; where it’s possible to taste the only tea plantation in Europe, the pineapple from São Miguel or the wines coming from the volcanic soil of Pico.
Discovering Azores means going back to a less complicated time of our lives, is enjoying not only the scenery and gastronomy, but also the delicious short distance between people and the environment around them. This simplicity becomes contagious: the unexpected change of plans or the impersonal touch of the city by the hospitality of people, who see a strange face as an opportunity to tell a story of how we can walk from one island to the other at low tide.
With low-cost airlines such as EasyJet and RyanAir, providing pleasing fairs for the wallets of a Europe in crisis, and with the Azores Regional Government setting airline and boat tickets affordable between islands, the excuses for not making a quick getaway were never so few.
This post was originally written in Portuguese. Click here for the original text.