Of great importance to weather forecasters, since very stable zones of high pressure frequently build up in the area, particularly to the south and west, from which they move northeast towards Europe, bringing a settled period of good weather.
VegetationThe vegetation of the Azores, thanks to the high humidity content of the air, is of almost tropical abundance, though it falls short of the luxuriance and variety found on Madeira. The flora is mainly of either European or African origin.In spite of excessive feling of trees since the colonization of the islands the hillsides are still covered with fine coniferous forests. Plans are now under way for replanting the deforested areas. Laurels, chestnuts and eucalyptuses are frequently found, either in fair-sized stretches of woodland or in smaler groves. The undergrowth includes bamboos and ferns. Palms are rare, and olive-trees are found in large numbers only on Terceira.FaunaApart from a few native species of birds and bats the animal life is of European origin. Curiously, the sparrow so ubiquitous elsewhere has never established itself in the Azores. Rabbits, mice and rats - common everywhere, and in some places so numerous as to have become pests - were brought in by ships.PopulationThe population of the Azores is predominantly of Portuguese origin, with some admixture of Irish, Flemish and Breton blood and small numbers of negroes and mulattoes.The overwhelming majority of the population is Roman Catholic. In the past an unduly high population density and the unequal distribution of the land, most of which has remained since the colonial period in the hands of a few large landowners, led to a high rate of emigration, particularly to North and South America.HistoryThe Azores were known to the Phoenicians in the sixth C. B.C., and many centuries later were visited by Norsemen. Thereafter they were forgotten for centuries, first reappearing on an Italian map of 1351. The islands were rediscovered in 1427 by Portuguese seafarers sent out by Henry the Navigator. In 1432 Gonçalo Velho Cabral landed on Santa Maria, in 1444 a Portuguese vessel put in at Sao Miguel, and by 1452 the other islands were also known. From 1439 the archipelago, until then uninhabited, began to be settled and colonized by the Portuguese. In 1466 Afonso V made the islands of Faial and Pico over to his aunt Duchess Isabella of Burgundy, and thereafter there was a considerable influx of Flemish settlers. As an important port of call on the voyages of exploration in the 15th and 16th C. the islands enjoyed a period of great prosperity. From 1580 to 1640 the Azores, like the rest of Portugal, were under Spanish rule. They played an important part in the constitutional conflicts in Portugal between 1829 and 1832.During both world wars, in spite of Portugal's neutrality, the United States established important naval and air bases in these strategically situated islands, and these appear set to continue under relatively recent treaties between the two countries.The political movements for independence from the Portuguese mainland (Frente de Libertaçao dos Açores, FLA, and other groups) lost their importance when the Azores acquired autonomous region status in 1976.The islands are currently represented by five members of Parliament in Lisbon.EconomyThe economy, now as in the past, depends mainly on agriculture. All the islands are well cultivated, producing grain (wheat, maize), fruit (apricots, pomegranates, bananas, figs, citrus fruits; pineapples on Sao Miguel), tea and tobacco for export, chiefly to mainland Portugal. There is also a considerable amount of stock farming (cattle, pigs, sheep, goats). There are productive fisheries off the coasts. Whaling, long based on Faial and Pico, is now very much in decline. A contribution is also made to the economy by the gathering of seaweed, which produces the agar-agar used in the manufacture of gelatine.There is practically no industry in the Azores apart from a few recently established textile plants on Terceira and Sao Miguel. Linen and woolen goods, lace and pottery are made at home or in small workshops, and make popular souvenirs. Everything else, other than agricultural produce, has to be imported. For some years tourism has also been seen as a source of income but, with about 160,000 visitors a year, mostly from mainland Portugal, the Azores remains for the time being a destination for the individualist and nature lovers.TransportFrom Lisbon there are regular flights to Sao Miguel, Faial and Terceira, from where there are domestic flights to the other islands. There is a regular ferry service only between the islands of the middle group (Faial, Pico, Sao Jorge, Terceira and Graciosa). The individual islands have bus services (not Corvo), and taxis or hire cars for reaching the more remote spots.
Flores, the "island of flowers", the most westerly of the Azores, lies 230km/145mi northwest of Faial and 20km/12.5 mi south of the neighboring island of Corvo in lat. 39°25' north and long. 31°15' west. The 4,500 inhabitants live by arable and livestock farming, producing abundant yields for domestic consumption and for export.TopographyThe island owes its name to its masses of flowers - including, like Faial, the many hydrangeas - which make it one of the most beautiful of the Azores. 17km/11mi long and up to 14km/9mi wide, Flores has an area of 142sq.km/55sq.mi. Its highest point, the Morro Grande (942m/3,091ft), is in the northern part of the island. The whole of the central and southern parts is made up of volcanic heights, with numerous crater lakes, waterfalls and hot springs.
Santa Cruz das Flores
The main town on Flores is the port of Santa Cruz das Flores (pop. 2,000) halfway along the east coast, which has several small 18th century Baroque churches.
One little port is Lajes (pop. 800) in a bay on the southeast coast of Flores.
It is well worthwhile taking a trip into the lush interior of the island of Flores with its numerous crater lakes (Funda, Lomba, Rasa, etc.) and their carp which are used as bait for deep-sea fishing.
Sao Miguel (St Michael) is in the east of the archipelago and the largest and most heavily populated of the islands (area 747sq.km/288sq.mi; 65km/40mi long and up to 16km/10mi wide; pop.133,000). It is the economic and cultural hub of the Azores, with more features of tourist interest and better facilities for visitors than any of the other islands, and its extraordinary fertility means it is also known as the "green island". Most of its people live on the steep south coast and are engaged in agriculture, producing maize, figs, pineapples, oranges and tea.TopographyThe highest points on the island are the Pico da Vara (1,105m/3,626ft) in the east and the Pico da Cruz (846m/2,776ft) in the west; in the middle of the island, between these two peaks, are many basalt cones ranging in height between 200m/650ft and 500m/1,650ft. The volcanic character of this hilly island is reflected in the countless extinct craters, large and small, and the severe earthquakes and volcanic eruptions which have racked Sao Miguel since the 15th C. Some of the largest craters are now occupied by beautiful mountain lakes (Caldeira das Sete Cidades, Lagoa das Furnas, Lagoa do Fogo) which are now among the island's main tourist attractions. Warm and mineral springs are found, particularly in the valleys of Ribeira Grande near the north coast, and at Furnas near the south coast.
Santa Maria, the most southerly of the Azores, lies 85km/53mi south of Sao Miguel in lat. 37° north and long. 25°5' west. This rocky but fertile island, 17km/11mi long and up to 8km/5mi wide, has an area of 97sq.km/37sq.mi and a population of about 6,500, who live mainly by crop-farming, stock rearing and fishing, with pottery often as a sideline. Santa Maria has a well-equipped airport which dates from the Second World War when it was used as an American base.TopographyThe island is hilly, becoming flatter towards the west, with steep coasts fringed by long stretches of cliffs. The highest point is the double summit of Pico Alto (590m/1,836ft). There are no calderas on Santa Maria. Some 35km/22mi northeast of Santa Maria is the Formigas Bank, an undersea ridge which emerges from the water to a height of up to 11m/36ft in a series of bare cliffs known as the Rocas Formigas.
Vila do Porto, Santa Maria
Vila do Porto (pop. 6,000), the chief town on the island, is a small port in a wide, open bay on the south coast, surrounded by cliffs. The town, defended by two forts, is believed to have been the first settlement founded by Portuguese colonists in the 15th C. It has a number of 16th and 17th C. churches, including the church of Nossa Senhora da Assunçao (15th C.; partly rebuilt in 1832), with a fine tower.
Excursion to Sao Lourenco
From Vila do Porto an attractive excursion (12km/7.5mi south) can be made, passing below the Pico Alto, to Sao Lourenço, which enjoys a beautiful setting above a sheltered bay on the east coast.
Graciosa (the "lovely"), the most northerly island in the central Azores group, lies some 70km/45mi northwest of Terceira and 55km/35mi north of Sao Jorge in lat. 39°3' north and long. 28° west. It owes its name to the abundance of its flowers. The island's 5,500 inhabitants live by arable and fruit farming, and by raising livestock.TopographyThe island is 13km/8mi long and up to 7km/4.5mi wide, with an area of 62sq.km/24sq.mi. Unlike the other islands in the Azores, it is not particularly hilly but, like them, it has steep and rocky coasts. Its highest point is the rim of the Caldeira do Enxofre (411m/1,348ft).
Santa Cruz da Graciosa
Santa Cruz (pop. 2,000), chief place on the island and its principal port, lies in a small plain on the northeast coast. The little town was founded in 1485. The parish church (1701) is worth seeing and has a fine altar.
Caldeira do Enxofre
About 5km/3mi southeast of Santa Cruz is the little port of Praia da Graciosa, from which it is a 1.5 hour climb to the Caldeira do Enxofre, 4km/2.5mi south. This crater, from which there are extensive views, is 1,200m/1,300yd long, 600m/650yd across and some 300m/1,000ft deep, with a crater lake and several eruption vents. On the floor of the crater is the Furna do Enxofre, a cavern some 150m/165yd long, 100m/110yd wide and over 20m/65ft high formed by the collapse of a layer of solidified lava after the outflow of the molten lava below. In the cavern are a small warm lake and several fumaroles of carbonic acid.
Termas do Carapacho
At the foot of the Caldeira, in the extreme south of the island, is the little spa of Termas do Carapacho, with subterranean healing springs for rheumatic ailments.
Roughly in the middle of the central group of the Azores is the long narrow island of Sao Jorge, 55km/35mi west of Terceira and separated from the islands of Pico to the southwest and Faial to the west by the 18km/11mi wide Canal de Sao Jorge.The 11,000 inhabitants live by livestock rearing and crop husbandry, fishing and exporting timber.TopographySao Jorge has an area of 238sq.km/92sq.mi and consists of one long narrow ridge of forest-covered volcanic hills, 45km/28mi from end to end, which reaches its highest point in the Pico da Esperança (1,066m/3,498ft) and falls down to the sea in steep and rugged cliffs.
Vila das Velas, Sao Jorge
The chief settlement on the island is the little port of Vila das Velas (pop. 2,000) lying in a sheltered bay on the southwest coast.
About 22km/14mi southeast of Vila das Velas is Calheta, a modest coastal village with a small harbor, from which the Pico da Esperança (1,066m/3,498ft) can be climbed. This is a now dormant volcano which last erupted in 1808; from the top there is a superb view of the whole archipelago.
Topo, Sao Jorge
At the eastern tip of the island is Topo, which is noted for its brighly colored woolen blankets and cloth.
Corvo ("crow island"), the most northerly and the smallest (17.5sq.km/ 6.75sq. mi) of the Azores, lies 15km/9miles northeast of Flores in lat. 39°42' north which is in roughly the same latitude as Palma de Mallorca in the Balearics and Corfu in the Ionian Islands.The 400 or so inhabitants of the island gain a modest subsistence from fishing and rearing livestock. The women weave excellent woolen cloth for domestic consumption.Virtually untouched by tourism, Corvo is the only island in the Azores not to have an airport.TopographyThe island, 7km/4.5mi long and up to 4.5km/3mi wide, is made up of a single extinct volcano, Monte Gordo (777m/2,549ft), the crater of which, over 1.5km/1mi wide, contains a lake with nine small rocky islets.SightsWith its rugged and cliff-fringed coasts, which are particularly steep on the west side of the island, Corvo has no proper harbor. Boats put in at Rosário on the south coast, the island's only settlement, with a radio station and meteorological observatory on the hill above the village.
Futurismo Azores Whale Watching
Futurismo offers whale and dolphon watching activities in and around Azores Islands. Whales have been a common sight in the area for several hundred years and Futurismo promotes safe interaction with these giants of the sea.Visitors can also enjoy swimming with the dolphins in the Atlantic Ocean.