Santa Maria - A view from our expert author

Santa Maria Azores by Sean 2013 Shutterstock© Sean 2013, Shutterstock

Along with being the oldest island, discovered in the 15th century, Santa Maria is also the sunniest member of the archipelago.

Santa Maria sees itself as the sun island, claiming that, being a little further south and east than all the other islands, it receives more sun and sea temperatures are higher. Statistics support this, and certainly it has been very sunny on every visit I have made. Where the airport is located and sheep graze the surrounding land, the area is flat and relatively arid.

This changes rapidly on the approach to the central peak of Pico Alto, the highest point at 590m. Here once more is the typical Azorean green forest with cryptomeria trees and pittosporum mixed in places with native shrubs. Then comes the eastern half and its idyllic, picturesque, tranquil, verdant landscapes of woodland and pastures. These may be sprinkled with glimmering white traditional houses that are either scattered, in little clusters or in small villages. In places there are no buildings at all, or perhaps just a time-weathered basalt shelter tucked away in a corner of a field.

There are dramatic coastlines, proud headlands and sheltered bays, and a novelty for the Azores: white sand. This island supplies the potters on São Miguel with some of their clay, and from deposits at Santana and Figueral came the lime to whitewash all the archipelago’s houses.

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