Azores – Pico and the Finishing Notes

Pico, Azores, Sunshine

The earlier parts to our Azores adventure are here: The Take Off and Flores’ Wonders

We flew again, and saw the green paradise swallowed by clouds. I was genuinely sad I had to leave, but luckily there was still a short treat to look forward to. We landed again to Horta before heading onward to Ponta Delgada and from there to Pico. As we took off towards Ponta Delgada the pilot offered us a good look to the mountain we were hoping to climb, we flew ridiculously close to the tip of Mt Pico, the whole plane let out a sigh and all the windows were manned by phones.

When we eventually landed on Pico the sun was already setting and the dusk was quickly wrapping around the landscape. We did steal a few glimpses of it, and immediately agreed, that the amazement the holiday was offering was far from being over. We navigated accross the western end of the island towards our next Airbnb in the village of São Mateus. (When booking your accommodation on from Airbnb on Pico, do check that the place you are looking at actually is on Pico! Some of them actually are on Faial…)

We had a beautiful stone house in the middle of the special stone squares the people of Pico use to cultivate wine in. And a pretty view to the ocean. Then the hope of climbing the mountain was still very much alive. The schedule would be tight. Our flight was leaving at 5 pm, and by then we would have to manage to get up and down the tallest peak in the whole of Portugal. So we shoveled down a sturdy dinner and hopped to bed.

In the morning the plan of getting up the mountain was crumbling. I was barely standing on my own feet and Waffle was not in his heydays either. So instead of crawling out of our beds before sunrise, we resorted into snoozing the alarm a few times before deciding to use the hours we had for exploring the island by car.

The peak was there, teasing us as we started to make our way further to the east. The mountain is really an astonishing land mark, towering straight out of the sea to the height of 2531 meters as a very smooth, extremely steep cone.

I am not sure what I had been expecting from the island, but as the road trip advanced, I got to notice that I had been largely wrong. The biggest volcano had last erupted in the early 18th century, which meant that large amounts of greenery had had time to occupy every bit of fertile land. The island is far from a barren volcanic landscape.

Also, if you were expecting to find just one big volcanic mountain standing alone on the island, you have mistaken. The island is littered with smaller domes, dozens and dozens of them standing right next to one another, the whole island through. Crater lakes are also a common sight.

Again we saw a big difference between the shoreline and the higher grounds on the island. The center is rugged, still semi-wild, windy and sitting inside a cloud for the better part of winter. But still magnificently beautiful! The black earth is sprouting endless green stuff, even the roads are partially covered in moss.  The misty volcanic cones create an eerie atmosphere.

The cost however is a different story. Whenever there is no cliff plummeting down to the sea, there is a village. Cute one, most often. People have managed to tame the island’s coast rather thoroughly and the viticulture has the specialty of  utilizing the heat from the black volcanic rocks to grown the vines. One of the prettier things on the island are the views you get to the neighboring Faial and São Jorge.

The time to return home came far too soon. We had only gotten a small taste of Pico. Needless to say, we plan on returning. The tourist office at the airport gave us nice ideas; there is a very affordable boat service sailing between the three islands, Faial, Pico and São Jorge. Doing that triangle will most probably be on the agenda for the next trip to these green  places of wonder!

The holiday’s bottom line: 

Flights / person: 140 euros 

Rental cars on Flores and Pico + fuel: ~250 euros

Accommodation, Airbnb once on São Miguel, once on Flores and once on Pico ~80 euros

Food, beverages, etc: ~150 euros

Amazement, fun time and hurting laughing muscles: Priceless. 

 

 

 

 

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Azores – The Wonder That Is Flores

You were abruptly left here the last time: Azores – The take Off 

We had made our way through the center of the island inside a thick cloud, being able to see only the first few meters of road ahead of us. So the dropping cliffs down to the coast came as a huge surprise as we finally reached them. Not to mention the almost ridiculous amount on waterfalls.

With our mouths open we drove down to the shore and found the town of Fajã Grande, which had a camping ground, free to use. The town also happened to be the westernmost village in Europe. It was a small, sleepy looking town, locked between the green slopes and waterfalls and the raging Atlantic, home to around 300 people and quite some cows.

We pitched our camp into a corner of a stone fence, to be safe from the sea winds and rain. Right on our doorstep there was the Atlantic, the coast displaying the frozen lava flows as rugged black rocks. The waves hitting the rocks were causing a constant mist of salty water flying around the whole town, we got slowly soaked as we stood there staring at the vastness of the ocean. We finished off the evening at the bar of the camping, enjoying some port wine and and local enthusiasm. It is not a common thing to have foreign tourists camping out there in the mid winter, so we did pull some attention.

The next morning we woke up with drizzle. That green blob of and island seemed to gather all the moist from the sea and mold it into clouds over the highlands, from where it drizzled down on everything. The day we spent by strolling around, looking at the views that were not covered by clouds. We found some waterfalls and a beautiful lake in the hillside, in the middle of a jungle in total peace and quiet. It was a bit of a lazy day of sightseeing, which was good, since both of us had a flu looming just around the corner.

Back at the campsite, there was a surprise waiting for us. Apparently all the attention of last evening wasn’t just because we were tourists camping out in winter. It was also because I was Finnish. As we arrived to the bar, some familiar sounding babbling from among all the Portuguese floated to my ears. There were other Finns there, at the furthest edge of Europe! Apparently there are a couple of Finns living there in Fajã Grande and they had gotten the notice of us camping almost instantly, and came to take a look if the rumor had any base in reality.

After some chitting and chatting we were invited for a dinner the home of one of these Finns. We learned that one of them had been living voluntarily outside of the safety net of the society in Fajã Grande in a hobbit hole for 12 years already and his friend had moved just a couple of years back. Inspiring stories we heard from them and enjoyed a very delicious meal too!

The camping at Fajã Grande became our home for the holiday. From there on out we did small excursion and hiked some distances when the weather allowed and nobody was dying out of fever. The island’s shores are littered with beautiful villages, connected by picturesque fishermen’s trails. Along those trails you can easily walk the complete length of the western coast. The eastern side is a little less hikable, but there are loops there too.

I loved the contrast between the paradise-like coastal areas and the rough and rugged highlands with the volcanic cones and lakes, often wrapped in clouds. You could almost think you are on another island altogether. On the coast the weather is relatively gentle, and sunny days are plentiful, as on the middle of the island the clouds hang low, leaving the visibility down to few meters and the air cool. No surprise that all the villages are right at the shore and the highlands are inhabited mainly by cows.

We bumped into the Finns still a few times, visited the hobbit hole and shared some wine, food and stories with them, learning loads about the island and how life there was. Turns out, quite some people have left their ordinary lives and settled on the island, to slow down in life. We had quite some inspiring conversations. (Also found out that it actually is real, French people like Aki Kaurismäki movies!)

When it finally was time to leave, we both were reluctant to see the island disappear behind us. We were rolling the idea in our mind of beginning a new life on one of these islands, like so many had done before us. Maybe still, one day?

We still had a day on Pico ahead of us. I’ll let you into that on the next post, hold on to your seats, the pretty things are not over!

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Azores – The Take Off

Oh was I happy to see once more the grey landscape of Belgium disappearing beneath us, as we took off and headed for the islands of Azores. Waffle, the sweet fool that he is, had again gotten tickets to there for my birthday. This year I was looking especially forward to this trip, since we would be visiting allegedly the most beautiful island of them all- Ilha das Flores!

The flight plan to get there and back was a little bit maddening. Even more maddening at the point where we started receiving announcements of re-bookings and timetable changes. In total we would be hanging in the air 9 times, hopping from Brussels to Lisbon to Ponta Delgada to Horta and finally reaching Flores. Once Flores would be fully enjoyed we would go back to Horta to Ponta Delgada to Pico and from there back to the continent. Quite a list of flying.

We were dragging along our newest toy too. Before we used to shoot our photos with an oldish Nikon D90, but it was time for that to retire, because enough clicks is enough. Now we have a Fujifilm X-T2 to capture the wonders we see. Exciting! (I do apologize for sometimes oddly lighted pictures, the camera took some learning!)

We had an over night stop in Ponta Delgada. I just could not hold my smile as we stepped out of the plane and the insanely moist ocean wind met our skin. Felt like returning home! So there I was smiling like a half witted idiot the whole way down to our Airbnb accommodation. Waffle must have been ashamed.

We had the afternoon of time to explore the city of Ponta Delgada. We strolled out to the streets to get to the mood of the Portuguese island life. I do admit it is a pretty town, but our memories from the Angra do Heroismo in Terceira still stay our favorites.

The visit in Ponta Delgada was fairly absent minded, since we were looking forward to getting onto Flores. The next morning couldn’t have come soon enough, as we climbed to a small plane that would hop on to the island of Faial before reaching the westernmost island of the Azores.

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The moment we emerged from the cloud cover and saw the green blob of land in the ocean, I knew it would be a beautiful holiday ahead of us. The plane swooshed by the side of the cliffs on the eastern coast and already then we saw the first white waterfall plummeting down to the Atlantic. There was a warm buzz waking up inside me.

The tiny airport didn’t hold us back for long, as we hit the road accompanied by the friendly advice from the rental car clerk. She showed us her favorite spots for camping and sea staring and loads of other useful tips. The helpfulness of these people is amazing!

We knew the west coast of the small island to be the most beautiful, so on our initial island drive-around we left it for the last, and went to admire the magnificence of the east and north. The island is very small, no more than 20 km from north to south, so getting across it does not require much time. Surprisingly, that small space packs a lot of beautiful sights, from coastal cliffs to the green and rugged hillsides and several view spots to the neighboring Corvo -island.

The weather wasn’t great and we spent quite some time searching for places where the gusty western wind would not find us. That search eventually brought us to the beauty of the western side, where we found the perfect base camp for our exploration to the island. But more on that in the next post!

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