Flores - The Azores - Our adventurous story.
Flores - The Azores
As mentioned previously, the nine islands of the Azores are all unique and to choose one above another would perhaps be wrong. However, Flores, which is one of the remotest islands in the archipelago (along with Corvo) is often overlooked. In doing so visitors to these unspoiled islands are missing some of the most spectacular scenery to be found anywhere in the world.
"Flores, was for us "simply breathtaking".
Things learnt:- Book hire cars WELL in advance
Walking the West Coast of Flores - Dana's account.
July - Day 1
Today we are going from Faial to Flores, the most western island of the Azores.
The flight to Santa Cruz das Flores, which is 230km from Faial, is only an hour long and we are looking forward to a few quiet, peaceful and adventurous days.
When we are about to land, I am getting queasy for a moment. The airport lies parallel to the mountain range which makes up the island interior, and we are flying directly towards it. Just in front of it, the plane takes a sharp turn towards the runway, which has to be the shortest I have ever seen.
When we get out of the plane, hot, humid air is blowing into our faces and when we finally arrive at the small tourist office at the other side of town we are totally exhausted. Unfortunately, we find out that all rental cars on the island are fully booked till the end of the month and we think, traffic jam ahead!. During our trip however, we will see pretty much all of these cars - about 20 - but it will never be packed or noisy.
That's what is so nice about the Azores; even when it's busy, it is still nothing compared to high season elsewhere in Europe.
Soon, Sean and I are on the local bus to Lajedo, where the famous west coast walk starts. On the way, we pass through a town with a sign saying, "Welcome to the westernmost council of Europe". Now, we are really at the end of the (European) world.
Lajedo itself is a tiny, sleepy village. And even though its the height of the tourist season, the only living soul we encounter is a goat.
After that, nothing but nature, which for us means heaven.
Flores as well as being known for its stunning, dramatic scenery and colourful hydrangea flowers, is also know for its abundance of fresh water, which runs over the cliffs in dramatic falls. The west coast displays all of this, and the path leads you through undulating fields and meadows, between dry-stone walls and hydrangea hedges, past and through many water streams and falls and offers many vantage points that will take your breaths away.
Different to the central islands, Flores has a lot of basalt stone and soon we pass close by to the Rocha dos Bordoes, a huge rock of basalt columns which look like organ pipes, and at whose base there are reported to be hot sulphur springs.
On we go following the well defined but occasionally overgrown path, over grassy cobbled stones until, two hours later, we reach the next village.
Mosteiro is just as sleepy and small as Lajedo, but once again we notice how different and untypical Azorean the houses here look in comparison to the central islands.
From here, the path leads further inland down into a valley, where we come across what can only be described as a ghost town.
The town of Caldeira has been uninhabited since 1992, when the majority of inhabitants emigrated to America. Although very overgrown, many of the houses are still standing, and we doubt that this place will be a ghost town forever.
The trail taking us out of the valley is surrounded by 2m high earth walls, from which twisted roots protrude. Trees and bushes have grown over the path to such an extent that it lies in constant darkness, and we slowly move along the muddy and quite steeply graded ground, which it would seem never dries out.
Our next stop is a clearing high above the next valley, (Miradouro da Fajazinha) from where you have the most magnificent view over the Flores western coastline. Completely unexpected, the path leads out of the trees and you see the coastline in front of you, on whose stony shore the ocean's waves are breaking.
Looking inland, green meadows stretch away, and in the middle nestles the village of Fajazinha. Looking further inland to where the Faja meets the mountainous cliffs, numerous waterfalls flow over the edge and drop hundreds of meters to the waiting pools below. The whole scene is simply breathtaking and for a few minutes we just stand and gape.
In Fajazinha, we have a look into the beautiful church of N S dos Remedios, which being of typical Portuguese design, is richly decorated, whereas the village itself makes a rather plain impression.
In the first small store we pass, we buy a well deserved ice-cream and I have a look around to see the antique safe which, according to our guide book, stands around somewhere. Instead, I see that the cashier still uses an old set of scales with weights on both sides of the meter.
An hour and a half later we arrive in Faja Grande, our final destination for the day. Faja Grande is the westernmost settlement of Europe and one of the remotest parts of Flores. The next land to the west is New York. Being closer here to America than Europe, it is perhaps not so surprising that the American touch is found in much of the architecture of the houses as well as the make up of the local population, with many people having pale skin and blue eyes.
With the sun's rays sinking over the horizon, the adventures and excitement for this day are not yet over. After we find the campsite (free) at Porto da Faja Grande, situated right next to the sea, with the amphitheater backdrop of the shear cliffs and waterfalls behind, we find out that our tent has no pegs! In all the excitement before our departure from Faial, I only had time for a superficial look to see if all the pieces were there. Thankfully, the Azores are "stone-rich", so we simply take a few big volcanic rocks to secure the tent.
Whilst finally settling down for the night, the sun begins to set in a red glow over the still ocean. We sit and watch in silence at the breathtaking and humbling scene before and around us. Once the sun has set we have a meal in the well received restaurant situated next to the campsite. A perfect end to a truly wonderful day.
At night, our dreams are filled with visions of natural beauty, the noise of the sea and the eerie whistle of an Azorean bird.
I wake up just in time for the sunrise, which colors the cliffs and Ilheu de Monchique in a pale, foggy pink. Ilheu de Monchique is a big lump of a rock off the coast of Faja Grande and the absolute westernmost land of Europe. Seabirds are the only inhabitants on the rock, which is still used by sailors as a navigational orientation point.
Because the cliffs are cloud-covered and the second half of the walk is recommended only in good weather and visibility, we relax in paradise till midday, hoping it will clear. When it does not, we decide to stay another night and take a hike inland instead. Something that we would highly recommend doing.
To get there, though, you first have to climb the cliff and sometimes I feel very uneasy on this narrow, often steep path, which is covered by only sparse vegetation, allowing many good views, some straight downwards!
We are glad when we finally reach the top, where the path continues along the cliff edge, right through a field of cows... with a bull in it, who, when we get closer, starts moving towards us and then sits down down in the middle of our path, as if to make a point. We decide to keep going but on the other side of the meadow, always along the dry-stone wall, careful not to draw any attention and always ready to jump across the wall should the bull make a move towards us. Luckily, the animals lose interest in us after a while and we continue our hike till we get to the next road. From here, we once again turn onto another trail, which is a muddy and slippery river bed. I don't think there is a chance for me getting and keeping my feet clean till the end of this trip.
Finally, we reach our destination, the plateau with the crater lakes, caldeiras. One has almost dried out, one is only a huge, overgrown hole, one has a waterfall feeding it, and the biggest one shimmers in all possible green and blue tones, although it is called Lagoa Negra (Black Lake) because of its depth of 108m. We are glad to finally have got here, and although we are wet and our feet ache from the uphill hike, the atmospheric scenery that surrounds and envelopes us made the hike well worth the effort.
Wanting to experience as much of the island as possible in the time we have, we do not want to hike back the way we came, so we set off along the road hoping to get a lift back to Faja Grande. We are fortunate not to have to wait too long as the second car passing stops. The woman in the jeep looks everything but Portuguese and when I talk to her in that language, she looks a bit puzzled, just as confused as she looks when I say good-bye in English. Who knows where she is from... Anyway, she is a very kind soul, and that just was my first hitch and ride in the back of a pick-up truck! I loved it!
After a well earned swim in the sea followed by a refreshing shower, we tuck into one of our gourmet camping meals, before experiencing another stunning sunset, and another peaceful night's sleep.
With the weather improved, we plan to cover the second part of the coastal walk. The first few meters of this walk could be quite interesting for those with serious vertigo (like me), although this doesn't keep me from going on. The grassy path leads right along the cliff edge: on the right you have the rock face, on the left of the 1.5m wide trail is nothing but air, and we can hear the waves crashing far below. But when all is said and done, the path is actually quite safe, becoming wider and leading through trees to hold on to.
If you do have vertigo, do not be put off,the only difficult bit of the trail is the very beginning and the views coming up are more than making up for it.
The path winds itself around the coastal cliffs of Flores, until we reach the north-west corner, where vegetation is less dense and offers a fantastic view of Flores' north side and the island of Corvo in the distance.
Below us, we can see the flat but high plateau with the lighthouse of Abernaz.
From this viewpoint we start walking inland once again and soon get to a river which runs through six foot high hydrangea hedges in full bloom and over rocks and pebbles towards the sea.
A little later, we walk through moorland, up and down, through more river streams and eventually into the town of Ponta Delgada in the very north of Flores, where this spectacular walk finds its end.
A French couple on holiday kindly give us a ride back to Santa Cruz and it is nice to be sitting for a change and enjoy the absolutely spectacularly changing landscape and the cooling breeze from a different perspective.
Back in Santa Cruz, we spend the next 2 hours in a cafe, reminiscing the last days and discussing what to do next. The rock pools sound most tempting in this heat, so we pitch our tent in a field nearby and spend the rest of the day in the heavenly waters.
Later, when everybody has gone home and the sun begins to set once more, we get our camping stove and cook another gourmet dinner among the volcanic rocks and pools by the sea.
The Azores - Nine Islands of adventure - Our stories
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