São Jorge – the island of the fajãs (Azores)

Looking for what to visit in São Jorge? São Jorge is one of the nine islands that constitute the archipelago of the Azores. It belong tot he Central group, and together with Pico and Faial form the Triangle. São Jorge is a long, slender island, whose fissure eruptions formed many fajãs (flat land, which resulted from lava flows). It differs from the others because of its beautiful fajãs. São Jorge is the Azorean island with more and the most beautiful fajãs of the Azores.

But, the island is more than its fajãs. Have a quick look of all the different things you can visit in São Jorge Island:

1. Stay at the village of Velas

web-5D__5149

It is not clear where the name of the town ‘Velas’ comes from. It could be a reference tot he port and marine with its many sails (‘velas’ in Portuguese), or it could also be a reference to the sails of the many windmills from the island. Velas is a lovely town, capital of the island, therefore an excellent base for those that come for a few days. It was a pleasure to stroll in the old town, with beautiful colonial architecture and many churches and chapels.

2. Stroll in the Republica garden in Velas

web-5D__5133

This small garden is also the central square in Velas. It stands out because of the red bandstand and wooden benches. The flowers were blossoming at the time of our visit, and many retired men were sitting and enjoying the afternoon. Opposite the garden, don’t miss the, as beautiful, city council building.

3. Take a dip at the Poça de Frades, the natural swimming pools in Velas

web-5D__5446

There are several natural pools throughout the island, but the one in Velas looked like one of the locals’ favourites, judging by the number of people we saw sun-bathing there. We also took the chance to have a swim, although the water was still a bit cool in June!

4. Gaze at the volcanic arch in Velas

web-5D__5414

This natural monument was created by the basaltic lava of a volcanic eruption and has nearby a man-made lookout with views over the sea and the nearby islands. The big parking place that is being built nearby removes some beauty to the location, but otherwise it is worth a visit.

5. Go to the old lighthouse at Ponta dos Rosais

default

The lighthouse at Ponta dos Rosais was built in 1958 and at the time it was the most advanced lighthouse in Portugal. The families that inhabited in the complex of the beacon abandoned it temporarily after the earthquake which shook the area in 1964. The lighthouse ended up being completely abandoned after the strong earthquake of 1981, which has seriously damaged its structure.

6. Climb to the whalers’ lookout at Ponta dos Rosais

default

This vigia (a whaler’s lookout) at Ponta dos Rosais was built by the time of the construction of the lighthouse. It is built in the typical architecture of vigias, white with a horizontal opening for the watching of cetaceans. This one is claimed to be the last operational vigia of the triangle, having been in use until the 80s.

7. Hike inside the Recreational Forest Reserve of Sete Fontes

web-5D__5296

This is a natural reserve which is a mix of garden, forest and picnic area. The vegetation here thrives with a lot of endemic species from the Macaronesia region. There is no lack of water sources, rivers and a lot of fog! We were mesmerised with the forest of giant Cryptomeria japonica trees, which were not only tall but also really impressive.

8. Stop at the lookout with views over Fajã do Ouvidor

web-5D__4636

With more than 40 fajãs, São Jorge really is the island of the fajãs. A fajã is a piece of flat land that enters into the sea, a the bottom of a cliff. It is usually the result of a lava flow. Everyone will tell you which one is the most beautiful fajã in São Jorge, and you will realise that every time that happens, a new name is said. If you have time, visit them all and decide for yourself. This one was definitely one of our favourites.

9. Visit the lovely Fajã do Ouvidor

web-5D__4665

It’s a difficult drive down to the Fajã do Ouvidor, because the road is narrow and very steep. All you have to do is keep your nerves under control and have a low gear! Once there, you will forget all about the road, and anyway, going up is much easier.

10. Plan an afternoon at the Simão Dias natural pool

default

When I say ‘plan’, you should take it literally. You should plan it in order to go there when the tide is low. This way, the pool will look pristine, without the waves invading the pool and making it look too scary for a swim. We obviously didn’t know this, and were not there in low tide, therefore no swim for us on that day.

11. Have another swim at the natural pool at Fajã do Ouvidor

web-5D__4655

Much more quiet, at any time of the day, is the equally attractive natural pool at the entrance of the village. We did not know that the population cleans the pools every year to make sure they do not have algae or other aquatic vegetation that make the floor of the pool slippery.

12. Enjoy the views at the lookout over Fajã dos Cubres

web-IMG_2048

This lookout is indeed a special one. From here it is possible to see the two neighbour fajãs (Fajã dos Cubres and Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo). One of the hiking suggestion is to walk from Fajã dos Cubres to Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo, through a trail that follows the coast. We would do that as part of a bigger hiking trail (see below).

13. Drive the vertiginous road down to Fajã dos Cubres

web-5D__4703_new

web-5D__4708

The Fajã dos Cubres has been awarded ‘7 Natural Wonders of Portugal’ title in 2018. I am sure you will agree that this has been a well deserved title. The location of the village, at the bottom of a steep cliff by the sea would be enough to guarantee the title, but the fact that the fajã has such a beautiful and well preserved lagoon only adds to its charm.

14. Catch some limpets with the local fishermen

web-5D__4743

Local fishermen have a lot of work in a sea that is thriving! If the sea is too rough, there is always something else that can be done. In this case, we met this fisherman who was catching limpets, a speciality throughout the archipelago, usually served with a lot of garlic and lemon juice.

15. Forage wild plants and herbs around the Cubres Lagoon

web-5D__4800

There is a lagoon at fajã dos Cubres, and we were impressed by the amount of wild herbs growing near it. The same fisherman who we saw fishing, told us that the lagoon was a real source of herbs and plants that he foraged for his food and spices. We recognised many of them, and others learnt with him – lemon thyme, safflower, horehound, dill – were all there waiting to be collected.

16. Have a stroll around the lagoon at Fajã dos Cubres

web-5D__4779

The name of the fajã derives from a plant called ‘cubres’ in Portuguese (goldenrod). It is a yellow flower that also exists in large amounts in the island of Flores.

17. Tour the island by car

web-5D__4815

The best way to visit the island is with a rented car. Unfortunately, it is still difficult to use public transport to move around the island – they are sparse and schedules are not comfortable for travellers, who wish to move from one point of interest to another point of interest and want to combine different activities.

Useful info (recommendation):

  • We rented a car with Autatlantis and can only recommend their service.

18. Try the beef at the restaurant Sabores Sopranos

web-5D__4831

There were many good restaurants in São Jorge, but if we had to select only one, that would be the Sabores Sopranos. We ended up going there a couple of times, and it was never because of the service. The food there is really tasty, and regardless of choosing fish or meat, you are sure to be always satisfied.

19. Have another dip at the natural pool of Portinho da Urzelina

web-5D__4838

This is another natural pool carved on the volcanic rocks by the sea and improved by men. Nearby, there is a camping site with all the infrastructures, therefore this is surely a good place to stay a couple of relaxing days on the island.

20. Check the lovely windmills of Urzelina

web-5D__5152

The windmills that appear along the coastal line of Urzelina are called the ‘Mills of Mistérios’. Contrary to the usual practice, these mills do not show on top of hills. Here, they profit from the winds that come from the sea. The typical windmills of São Jorge have a stone conical shaped base, with a tall tower and a narrow wooden component that supports two or four cloth sails that act as propellers for the windmills. There are versions of rotating wood mills and fixed stone mills.

21. Search for the natural arch of Urzelina

web-5D__4861

The natural arch at the Urzelina is another natural monument created by the basaltic lava of a volcanic eruption. Its location is more authentic than the one in Velas, and there are a few paths that take through the rocks. Careful with the high tide and stronger waves.

22. Climb the lighthouse at Ponta do Topo

default

The lighthouse at Ponta do Topo is another white cylinder building with a red structure on top, where the lamp is. Its lamp is located 58 metres above sea level. It is beautifully located at the Topo region, near meadows, in a quiet area of São Jorge.

23. Find out about the stories of Topo islet

default

The Topo islet is only 100 metres off the coast of São Jorge. It is uninhabited, except for a few cows and goats. It is said that cows reach the islet by boat, taken by their owners who leave them there to graze freely until they are old enough for meat.

24. Have a break at the natural pool of Pontinha do Topo

web-5D__4920

web-5D__4918

The natural pool at Pontinha do Topo is a quiet area with sunshades and wooden beach chairs. Despite having all the facilities for bathers, the access to this natural pool remains free.

25. See the cows line to be milked in the meadows

web-5D__4976

web-5D__5051

This is one of the experiences of the island that one cannot miss. The cows are milked twice per day: in the early morning (starting at 5 a.m.) and in the later afternoon (from 5 p.m.). Whenever you see the cows lining up next to some movable structure, you know what is going t happen, and you can have a stop to see how this is done.

26. Enjoy the view from the many beautiful lookouts throughout the island

web-5D__5201

This was one of the many beautiful lookouts that we enjoyed on the island of São Jorge. Locals really value the quiet moments and don’t miss an opportunity to enjoy the views over the sea or the coast. If you are lucky you can even spot a whale or a school of dolphins.

27. Hike from Serra do Topo to Fajã dos Cubres (PR01 SJO)

web-5D__5524

This hike is one of the most beautiful in the island. It starts at the Topo mountain and descends all the way until the first fajã (Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo). On the way you can stop at the beautiful waterfall (Caldeira de Cima) and then have incredible views of the fajã. From there, the trail follows the coast until the Fajã dos Cubres, where the trail ends.

Characteristics:

  • Type of circuit: Linear route
  • Duration: 9,5 km
  • Distance: 3 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Starting Point: Serra do Topo (Topo mountain)
  • Finishing Point: Fajã dos Cubres

28. Have lunch at Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo

web-5D__5592

The views over this isolated village are incredible. From above we have a good feeling about the isolation of this village that still lives without electricity. It is only possible to reach this fajã either from Topo mountain (a steep walking trail) or via Fajã dos Cubres, a narrow road, only allowed for motorcycles and quads.

29. Have a break at the waterfall inside the Caldeira de Cima

web-5D__5572

On the way down from Topo to fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo, there’s a waterfall with a small pool underneath. We can imagine that in summer, in the peak of the heat, this can be a very refreshing experience. In June, it was still a bit cool for us, though, some other hikers did have a swim!

30. Eat the clams from Caldeira de Santo Cristo

web-5D__4888

You will probably be starving after the walk, so it is a good idea to have lunch at the village’s only restaurant (O Borges). Arrive early in order to get a dish of clams – they sell out quickly. The clams are unique, because they are caught in the caldera of this fajã. If you miss them there, you can try to find them in other restaurants of the island (O Amílcar is known for having them. We had them as a starter at Sabores Sopranos).

31. Go to Pico da Esperança

web-5D__5109

Pico da Esperança is the island’s highest peat at 1,053-metres of altitude. When the weather allows, the views over the other islands of the central group are amazing. When the weather doesn’t allow, you can hardly see a thing in front of your eyes.

32. Drive along the dirt roads in the middle of the island

web-5D__4904

Just don’t be afraid to take some off-roads and see where they lead you. If you want to visit Pico da Esperança, you will have to take one such road. The views from above are wonderful, not only over the sea but also over many small craters scattered on the landscape.

33. Get some coffee at Fajã dos Vimes

web-5D__5229

web-5D__5210

The Azores really have it all, including the only coffee plantation in Europe. The plantation is a family business and so tiny that Mr Nunes doesn’t ever consider exporting. His production is sold exclusively on his coffee shop, where one can have a coffee or buy a small bag of grain to take home.

34. Buy a piece of woven textiles at Fajã dos Vimes

web-5D__5242

At the same occasion, don’t miss the woven blankets that are produced at his farm. His family has a couple of looms and they still weave traditional blanket and other pieces that can be purchased there.

35. Mingle with the hydrangeas

web-5D__5459

There is not much to say about this! We love flowers and hydrangeas are beautiful! We love that they are spread throughout the island, serving as fences on the pasture meadows but also as hedges on the country side roads.

36. Try the cheese of São Jorge

web-5D__5189

web-5D__5175

Cheese is produced in all the islands of the archipelago, but it is said that the best one is the one from São Jorge. In 2018 Velas was elected the capital of cheese. There are several cheese factories that can be visited, or else it is possible to buy their cheese on cheese shops and supermarkets.

37. Enjoy the incredible views over Pico Island

web-5D__5125

São Jorge is also a hotspot for incredible views over Pico island and its mountain. Pico is always changing, and at different times of the day you will find it dressed in a different way according to the day lights, the clouds or the season.

38. Buy some Espécies, the typical cookies

web-5D__5429

These cookies are incredibly good and can be found in bakers or even in the supermarket. They are made with different spices, such as  fennel, cinnamon and pepper, which becomes the brown filling inside a soft dough that cooks in the oven until crispy.

39. Drive along the EN2 panoramic road

default

This road is particularly beautiful as it stretches along the coast until Topo. We enjoyed the ride and even stopped frequently for the lookouts or to fly our drone over such a breath-taking landscape.

40. Have octopus for lunch

web-5D__4895

We love all kind of sea food, but octopus is on our top list of preferences. In the Azores they really know how t prepare it, and our favourite was grilled octopus served with a simple sauce of fresh garlic and olive oil. Delicious!

41. Stay in a hotel with view over the sea

web-IMG_2014

There are really many choices of places to stay on the island. We really wanted to stay in a hotel with view over Mount Pico, therefore we decided to have Velas as our base. The São Jorge Garden had a beautiful swimming pool from where we could relax and enjoy the views over Pico.

Useful info (recommendation):

  • We stayed at São Jorge Garden and loved the swimming pool and garden with views over Pico mountain.

 

Tips to help you plan your visit to Flores island Azores

  • COVID 19 Travel Restrictions

The Azores have remained in the green zone of the safest destinations for holidays in 2021. The government of the Azores is taking the Covid pandemic very seriously, and all travellers who arrive without a negative test, will be tested upon arrival as well as on the 6th and 12th days of their stay. Costs are supported by the government and the procedure is quick and smooth. Covid 19 should not hold up your visit to the Azores.

  • Free Flight Routing Service to a Second Island

SATA Air Açores provides a free routing service to passengers travelling within the Azores, and to or from Mainland Portugal or Funchal. In practice this means that if you want to visit, let’s say, Flores, you only need to have a ticket to Terceira or São Miguel (the archipelago’s gateways), and do not need to buy another ticket to continue to Flores. You get a free routing to Flores (certain conditions apply, though).

  • 35 EUR Safe Destination Voucher to Spend in the Azores

As a reward for arriving with a negative test and making a safety registration online, the government of the Azores is offering the Azores Safe Destination Voucher to all visitors, in the amount of 35 €. You receive the voucher via email once your registration is confirmed. The voucher is valid for 20 days counting from its issuing date and you can use it on many services and products (including car rental agencies, restaurants and travel agencies). Get your Azores voucher here.

  • Transport during your Visit to São Jorge Island

Unfortunately, public transport will not allow you to visit the entire island, because there are few bus routes, and the ones that exist make few journeys per day. Only the main villages are connected and often the schedule is reduced to one or two trips in the morning and another one or two in the afternoon.

For travellers interested in seeing different villages, stopping at lookouts, having a break for a swim, the easiest solution is to rent a car or bike. There are several car rentals in Sao Jorge (but not many), so it is better to have this organised before arrival, to make sure you get a car. In the high season, the island can get busier.

OUR PICK: We rented our car with Autatlantis and recommend the experience.

  • Useful Websites – Spotazores

Weather changes very quickly in the Azores. Locals usually say that sometimes the weather is so capricious that the four seasons show up in only one day. Also, sometimes it is raining on one side of the island, and the other side has a bright sunshine. In order to help you search for the best weather, there is a website and app (Spotazores) that features live webcams located in different places of the island. It makes it easier to decide which way to go if you are seeking for good weather or running away from fog. Here is the link to spot Azores.

Planning to visit more islands in the Azores? Have a look at our articles:

 

 

More from Anabela Valente

Iranian traditional cuisine

The truly tasty Iranian food is that cooked in Iranian homes. If...
Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *