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Wheels Up: Azores Islands, Australia Day & Airline Stimulus

Discovered by an Arab serving King Roger II of Sicily in 1154, the Azores were colonised by the Portuguese in 15th Century, after they had been visited by the English, Dutch, Spanish, Belgians and French... essentially, as they were seen as a stopover point between America and Europe. Whale hunting quickly became an essential resource for the inhabitants, who acquired a reputation around the world with many moving to California, Brazil, Bermuda and Nantucket, as Herman Melville explained in Moby Dick.

The greatest seafarers passed through Horta (island of Faïal), and it became a tradition for each boat to leave its mark in paint on the quayside. All the sailors had to drink a glass at Peter’s, in the famous bar opened in 1918, which is both a mailbox for sailors and a sort of museum of scrimshaw. Apart from this friendly welcome from the locals, the islands are worth visiting because of their astonishing sights, with their amazing floral displays, partly down to the climate and partly due to the fact that travellers brought plants there: araucaria from China, tulips from Virginia, Brazilian rosewood, Japanese camphor, and kapok and guinko trees. It is a genuine garden in the middle of the ocean, where pineapples, tobacco, vines, pomegranates and bananas grow in amongst azaleas and hydrangeas. Black sandy beaches, hot water springs and bubbling mud can be found alongside whitewashed houses made of black basalt, churches with their stone sculptures, creeks with high cliffs and small fishing ports.

A volcanic island
800 miles from the coast of Europe, the Azores offer a range of landscapes. The sea was a source of riches with whale hunting, but also brings in the visitors. There are more visitors arriving by sea than by plane to visit these green islands with their jagged coastline. There are in fact three main centres spread out over a distance of more than 200 miles. The islands are of volcanic origin and were formed relatively recently (4 million years ago) and indeed the volcanoes are still active, as the Capelinhos peninsula in Faïal only emerged from the ocean fifty years ago!
Located in the middle of the Atlantic, where the seas are 3000 metres deep, these are massive peaks, which culminate at 2352 metres on Pico. Located between 37° and 40° North and 25° and 31° West, they benefit from a mild, wet climate, which is not so very different from Brittany with average minimal temperatures of 8° and maximum temperatures around 25°. The best season to visit is therefore the summer, when the Azores high is well established.
In the middle of the Atlantic
Furthest east, Santa Maria was the first to be colonised and was used as an aircraft base in the 2nd World War. It is famous for its long beaches of fine sand and its many fossils buried in the sediment. The largest and most heavily populated island, Sao Miguel has towering cliffs and is entirely volcanic. With its many churches with their fine sculptures and blue mosaic work (azulejos), there are many hidden exotic gardens, where the waters of the Seven Cities keeping alive the legend of Atlantis, feed two lakes, one green and one blue in the bottom of a huge crater.

The lilac island, Terceira, tells the story of the islands, their struggle for independence and the conquests. You can find many imperios there. These tiny bright-coloured chapels are said to be home to the food offered to the Holy Ghost, and it is there too you find the Biscoitos vineyard, where each vine is surrounded by a small wall of violet lava. Pico is the name of the 2352 metre high volcano, which is still in activity and it is here that the old whaling ports of Lajes do Pico and Sao Roque are located. Sao Jorge is an island resembling a ridge rising out of the water, and measures 25 miles by just 4. Graciosa, the Island of Grace, is brightly coloured with its white windmills with red tops.
Faïal, the blue island, so called because it is covered in hydrangeas, has long been an attraction: Lindbergh and Slocum stopped here, along with whale boats. It is home to the weather centre and the telephone cable centre between Europe and America. Almost a thousand boats a year moor up in Horta, the main port on Faïal, which has a well equipped marina, which is both sheltered and friendly. The local paper publishes the name of each boat that stops there, as the arrival of a boat in the Azores is always an event for the 240,000 Portuguese inhabitants, who are off the beaten track and essentially have lived on farms since whaling ended.
Florès is one of the most beautiful botanical gardens with 850 plants and a yellow covering over all the paths. Finally, Corvo is the most isolated of the islands, where just 500 people live in an autarky. The nine islands, which have avoided tremors and earthquakes keep their traditions and religious festivals, while like all those that live by the sea, remain very open to others.
Source : http://www.vendeeglobe.org

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