São Jorge

Explore the tropical microclimate of São Jorge’s fajãs often created by lava flowing into the sea.

Sao Jorge Azores by rui vale sousa ShutterstockA friend of mine in Velas greets his visitors with ‘Welcome to São Jorge, my island with 10,000 people and over 20,000 cattle’. Known widely beyond its shores for its delicious, strong, Cheddar-like cheese, São Jorge’s many other attributes are far less recognised.

Every visitor will react in his or her own way to each island they see, but to me São Jorge is an island of mystery. Perhaps because, before ever setting foot, I saw it first across the channel from Pico, a long cliff wall rising from the sea and invariably disappearing into cloud or mist. I also caught glimpses from Graciosa, Terceira and Faial. Finally, one summer, I went across in a small boat from São Roque to Velas and watched with fascination as the slow voyage gave diminishing detail of Pico’s coast behind me and an increasing but narrowing view ahead of São Jorge and of the little port and main town of Velas.

Approaching the harbour I could not but be aware of the huge presence of Pico Mountain behind me now that I was distant from it, its sharp cone at the forefront of the island, the high plateau behind like a girl’s long hair in the wind or like the carved figure on the prow of an ancient sailing ship.

Trying to look in opposite directions at the same time, Velas harbour became prettier with every chug of the engine. Tying up at the quay, the imposing gateway and walls dating from the time of pirates promised quiet pleasure.

While my bag was whipped away in a truck to the hotel some little distance away, I walked the few metres into town; narrow streets, small shops, the main church, some manor houses, a little square or two, the sound of voices coming from tiny bars. Clouds hung heavily upon the uplands beyond, concealing them in spite of my coming closer. Perhaps tomorrow the clouds would repent and reveal all.

(Photo: A dirt road on the island of São Jorge © rui vale sousa, Shutterstock)

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