Saturday 03 July 10
The flight was delayed on its way from Portugal, and further delayed due to air traffic control problems in France, so the pilot had to produce an alternative flight plan that avoided French air space. To his credit, he did this very quickly and we departed for Ponta Delgada, arriving in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Sunday 04 July 10
Due to the time difference, we put our clocks back one hour, promptly collected our luggage and boarded a coach that would take us to the far end of Sao Miguel Island.
Within 20 minutes we reached Ponta Delgada, and as we drove past the old fort we were surprised to see a very prominent European Union sign welcoming us to the Azores, Portugal. Another surprise was that the centre of Ponta Delgada was absolutely buzzing with people (especially in the vicinity of the funfair).
The coach then nosed its way across country passing through sleepy villages, with the headlights illuminating the thousands of hydrangea bushes.
At a very unearthly hour we arrived at Terra Nostra Garden Hotel, in the village of Furnas. The hotel checked us in very quickly and efficiently and before we knew it our heads hit the pillows and we were in the Land of Nod.
Most of us managed a few hours sleep before enjoying a very nice breakfast in a delightful dining room, There was then, plenty of time to go for a morning stroll in the botanical garden that is adjacent to the hotel. The garden is laid out very nicely and in one hour it is possible to do a leisurely circular walk in the midst of hydrangeas and agapanthus. One of the residents of the park is a small dog who is very entertaining.
The Group met in reception just after 10:00 for a brief meeting before collecting our packed lunches. We then set off on a walk, and after negotiating a hill, we arrived at Furnas lake. There is a lot of thermal activity in the area, and cooking pots containing food are buried into the ground . The result is a cozido (meat and vegetable stew) which some of us were lucky to try thanks to some of the locals who were having lunch with their friends and families.
After lunch we followed the path around the lake negotiating a stream and numerous fallen trees. Shortly after passing an ancient church, we headed to the road and climbed a very steep hill to the view point of Lombo Molinho, from where we could look down on the village of Furnas. After a steep descent into Furnas there was plenty of time to relax before our evening meal at the hotel.
Monday 05 July 10
After a leisurely breakfast it was off to a local shop to buy a picnic before assembling at the nearby bus stop. The bus soon arrived, and three quarters of an hour later we were dropped off at a high elevation called Redondo, which was the starting point for our walk along an old fisherman’s trail. After walking along a shaded forest path we emerged into an open area with fine views of the surrounding countryside, before starting our decent and passing a bottle tree that is unique to this area . Thereafter, the trail became very challenging with many awkward twists and turns to negotiate, including the occasional stream. Eventually we completed the descent and followed a river with a view of the sea in the distance to the small coastal town of Ribeira Quente, where we stopped to have a drink and our picnics.
After the lunch stop there was the opportunity to participate in another walk or have a leisurely afternoon. Some of us decided to take a taxi back to Furnas and explore the town followed by a dip in the thermal lake. The evening meal was taken at the hotel and the highlight was a cozido that had been cooked using thermal heat.
Tuesday 06 July 10 – Transfer day
We did not have to leave the hotel until 10:45, so there was plenty of time to pack, have breakfast and take a stroll in the botanical garden. Our departure was slightly delayed as a funeral cortege was passing through town. Interestingly all the men walked together, followed by the women folk.
Our original journey across Sao Miguel was done in darkness, but now we were rewarded with a very scenic trip – stunning countryside, blue hydrangeas, small inland villages, coastal villages and blue sea. Despite a few traffic jams, due to large vehicles not being able to pass each other on narrow roads, we made good progress and were first in the check-in queue at the airport.
After departing from Ponta Delgada the plane landed on the Island of Terceira before continuing to the Island of Sao Jorge. After disembarking we had an excellent view of Pico volcano banded by clouds as we traveled across beautiful countryside to Velas. After arriving at Hotel Sao Jorge we had two hours at leisure prior to our evening meeting. We then walked into town for our evening meal at a local restaurant. After dinner, there was time for a leisurely stroll to see the dragon (as in George and the dragon) before returning to the hotel.
Wednesday 07 July 10
We left the hotel at 09:30 and traveled by coach to a point close to Piquinho da Urze. We then followed a hydrangea lined path to a view point overlooking the hillside down to the sea. After admiring the view, we started our descent along a hydrangea and tree heather lined path
Half way down the hillside, we stopped by a stream for a break and close by was a secluded house that appeared deserted. Upon investigation, it transpired that a couple from Hawaii were renovating the property and we were invited in to have a look. The only method to transport materials to the house was by quad bike or horse, and as we continued downhill along the narrow path we soon came across the couples horse.
After reaching Caldeira do Cima we had an outstanding view of the sea and a distant lagoon next to the village of Faja da Caldeira de Santo Cristo. After arriving in the village we had a drink and our picnic in the local bar, and then had an opportunity to explore. There were some delightful gardens in the village, and it was possible to climb the church tower and admire the views across the lagoon.
Our afternoon walk took us past the lagoon which contained mollusk beds and colourful fish. As we followed the undulating path along the coast there were fine views of the lagoon and village behind us. As we continued along the path we passed a deserted settlement and in the distance we could see the village of Faja dos Cubres.
From time to time, quad bikes passed us giving people lifts between the coastal villages.
We soon reached Faja dos Cubres, and there was time to have a drink in a bar before taking the coach back to Velas.
After our evening meeting we headed to a restaurant in town for our evening meal, and while we were enjoying our dinner, Spain beat Germany 1-0 in the World Cup which was not celebrated by the Portuguese.
Thursday 08 July 10
We left the hotel at 09:30 and traveled by coach to Parque Florestal das Sete Fontes, where we had time to stroll in the gardens and view deer in their enclosure. One of the main features of the park is a small garden with a boat that was used by emigrant’s in the distant past.
We then started our walk and followed a very straight and long earth road, passing many small fields where cattle were grazing, and one of the cows was adorned with an unusual item. In the distance we could see Rosais lighthouse , and when we reached it there were signs saying ‘keep out’ as it was no longer in use due to an earthquake that occurred several years previously.
We then visited a view point overlooking a rock arch in the sea, before retracing our steps back along the track until we reached a junction where we turned right, and headed inland enjoying the very picturesque countryside.
For our lunch stop, we sat in a field that had fine views over the sea. After enjoying our picnics, we followed a track to the long village of Rosais. It takes a good 30 minutes to walk from one end to the other, and you pass very attractive scenery and pretty gardens along the way before reaching the bar/shop for refreshments.
Suitably refreshed, we caught a bus back to Velas for some leisure time before heading to a local restaurant for our evening meal where the specialty of the day was an Azores fish pie.
Friday 09 July 10
We left the hotel at 09:30 and traveled by coach to Caldeirinhas for a ridge walk. Visibility was poor due to mist, and as we walked along it was very atmospheric, and at one point a frog chorus could be heard. Occasionally the mist cleared and we were treated to views of both sides of the Island and the pastures below. We passed several peaks as we walked along the track – the highest being Pica Esperanca at 1053 metres. Eventually, we descended below the mist and visibility improved immensely.
For lunch we found a pleasant place with rocks to sit on, and were joined by one of the locals. After lunch we started the second part of the walk and soon came to an area where the earth had split open, and shortly after we passed a solidified lava flow with a stream running over it. As we headed along the track there were views of the sea and the village of Norte Grande to the right of us.
We then followed a path down to the village where refreshments were taken at a bar. Before being picked-up by the coach, there was time to have a quick look around the village, and the main feature was the ancient church, which has net curtains and aspidistra plants in the windows either side of the entrance. Inside the church, there was several tile murals and richly coloured stained glass windows. After arriving back in Velas, there were several hours of leisure before we headed into town for our evening meal at a local restaurant.
Saturday 10 July 2010
We left the hotel at 10:00 for the short drive down to the port to catch the ferry to Sao Roque, on the Island of Pico. When the ferry arrived there was much activity as passengers disembarked and items were unloaded. We then put our baggage onto a conveyor and watched as everything was safely stashed in an area on the front deck. We then boarded and enjoyed a reasonably smooth crossing with clear views of Pico volcano. After disembarking, we boarded a coach that would take us to the town of Madelana. As we travelled through several parishes, the local agent told us about Pico and its history. When we reached Madelana, our hotel was in very close proximity to the harbour and all local amenities. As our rooms were not ready, we had time to explore the town and take in the sights. Our rooms were ready shortly after 13:00 hours and just over an hour later, we took the hotel minibus to Calhau for an afternoon walk that took in part of the coast and the historical vineyards that are a UNESCO World Heritage Area. In the evening, we had dinner in a restaurant just outside the centre of the town. Towards the end of our meal, we were treated to a most spectacular sunset.
Sunday 11 July 2010
Today, there was an option to climb Pico volcano or go on a walk. For the walk, we took taxis to Cabeco Gordo where we admired the fine views of the sea, Faial Island in the distance, and Pico, we then walked a short distance to Furna de Frei Matias which is a lave cave, and walked through it. We then walked back to the road and followed it for a little while before turning on to a track that ran gently down a hill, which was lined with red, pink and white wild roses. We found a nice wooded area to have an early lunch stop, then continued our walk downhill, stopping from time to time to look back at Pico or admire some of the stunning hydrangeas and flowers. On the outskirts of Madelana we passed the Wine Museum and there were three dragon trees (an endangered species) in the garden. Twenty minutes later, we were back at the hotel and there was an option to visit Gruta das Torres, which is the longest cave in the Azores. Our evening meal was taken at the same restaurant as the night before. Again there was a good sunset (but not a spectacular as the night before). After dinner, some of us strolled back via the coastal path and enjoyed looking at the tasteful illuminations.
Monday 12 July 2010
Today, there was an option to go whale watching or walking with our leader. The walking contingent met at the harbour bus stop at 09:45 and boarded a bus to Lajes do Pico. The journey took over an hour, and when we arrived, we sat outside a café facing the harbour, and had some refreshments. We then started our circular walk and followed the coast passing the point where the Portuguese landed in 1460, and the little chapel of Sao Pedro built by the first settlers. We then walked uphill with a good view of the town behind us. We then followed a coastal track until we reached a whale lookout, and then followed a very narrow path between low level volcanic walls to a lane on a slightly higher level and started walking in the direction of Lajes, with fine views of farmland and the sea to the left of us. As we walked along the lane we passed dwellings built by the first settlers. We then walked up to the next level and had our picnics on a low wall that overlooked farmland and the sea. After lunch we walked further along the lane before descending via and old lava flow. When we reached sea level, we headed back into Lajes passing an old public lavoir and an old whaling station that is now a whaling museum. When we reached the harbour there was a choice of a refreshment stop or a quick walk around Lajes town centre before taking a taxi back to Madalena. Once back in Madalena there was an option to visit a wine cooperative or have some leisure time and watch locals participating in a competition to find the 7 wonders of Portugal that was being televised. When we met-up with the whale watchers we learnt the trip had been cancelled. Our evening meal was taken at the same restaurant as previously.
Tuesday 13 July 2010
Today, we left the hotel at 9:15 and walked across to the harbour and took a ferry boat to the Island of Faial. After disembarking at Horta, we walked a short distance and assembled opposite the Sport Café to discuss the main options available for the day. Some of the group decided to take a 2 hour bus ride around the Island, others decided to go on a walk with our leader, and the remainder decided to do their own thing. Four of us shared a taxi and went to the botanical garden which turned out to be very small. However, there were 3 dragon trees in the grounds. The staff were very friendly and put on a video for us to watch. It was interesting to learn that the botanical centre maintains a seed bank for endangered species, and provides information on previously introduced species that are now classified as pests. We then walked back down into Horta passing houses with pretty gardens. Once back in town, we strolled through the public gardens, explored the back streets and admired the architecture. After visiting the market we had lunch in a local restaurant. Afterwards, we continued to explore the streets heading in the direction of Sport Café (the agreed meeting place). In one of the streets, there were some amusing cow paintings, and in an entrance to a public building there was an example of traditional tiling and furniture. It was then off to the harbour, which is very extensive and full of ships and their crews who are sailing across the Atlantic Ocean. The harbour walls and pavements are covered in pictures painted by the crews in which they depict themselves, their boat, the date, and their names as well as all manner of things. At 17:00 hours, we boarded the ferry back to Madelana (Pico). Our evening meal was taken at the same restaurant as previously, as this is the arrangement that is in place with the local agent.
Wednesday 14 July 2010
Transfer DayThe options today were whale watching, a bus journey out of town followed by a walk, or a leisurely day. I decided to go for a stroll along the coast followed by a dip in the local pool. At 15:45 we transferred to the airport for our 17:50 flight to Ponta Delgade (Sao Migel). The flight was very memorable because we flew directly over the top of Pico volcano and got a bird’s eye view. After landing on Sao Migel, the journey to Villa Nova Hotel took 20 minutes. An hour or so later we had dinner at a local restaurant in Ponta Delgade. The highlight of the evening the opening ceremony for the Azores Car Rally and there was an opportunity to look at the cars and speak to the drivers. The ceremony was a grand affair with each car driving up onto a platform to be photographed and filmed amidst a display of fireworks.
Thursday 15 July 2010
Today, we left the hotel at 09:30 for Vista do Rei at Sete Cidades. From the viewpoint, you can see green and blue lakes that are seeped in mythology, and as for the scenery, it’s just stunning. We then started our walk and followed an earth road that runs partly around the crater, and as we walked along, there were views of the lush green countryside below us on either side. At the end of the earth road we came to a tarmac road, which gave us access to another earth road that was part of the route the car rally drivers would take at the weekend, which we then followed for a while before taking elevenses in a field with views of the sea in the distance. Continuing our walk, we came to a viewpoint which overlooked the coastal town of Mosteiros, we then followed a path down to the town and sat in the garden of a bar overlooking the sea, and enjoyed refreshments. There was then an option to go for a swim or return to Ponta Delgada. The journey back to the hotel took a good hour with very scenic views along the way, and when we got back there was still some leisure time to enjoy. Before we left for our evening meal at a local restaurant, there was a thank you presentation for our leader.
Friday 16 July 2010
Today was a free day, and three of us left the hotel at 10:00 to go sightseeing. Initially we explored part of town taking-in some of the churches that had fine tile work and buildings of interest, before heading to one of the gardens that has a collection of trees that are several hundred years old, including an enormous rubber tree with amazing roots that give the appearance that the tree is about to walk away. Afterwards, we walked back down to the town and upon reaching the main square had a look inside a church before taking refreshments in a café and watching the world go by, including four clowns who were wandering about and playing musical instruments at the same time. Once refreshed, we walked a little way along the sea wall before exploring the back streets and visiting an art exhibition. In one of the streets there was a large indoor market with amazing displays of locally grown bananas and pineapples. Also on sale were flowers, fruit, vegetables and craft / tourist merchandise. In one corner of the market there is a barber shop, and when the barber doesn’t have any customers he plays his guitar and sings songs in a very professional manner. We then continued along the back streets where there are many interesting local shops. Once back in the main part of town, we stopped off at a café in one of the lanes before heading back to the hotel. Our evening meal was taken at a local restaurant.
Saturday 17 July 2010
We had a few hours of leisure before leaving the hotel at 11:00 for the airport and our flight to Gatwick via Manchester.Trip to the Azores Week 2û