So long Sao Miguel

Oops, thought I’d posted this but it was only saved as a draft, so now to really confuse the order of things by slotting it in where it should have been. Mind you, no-one spotted me saying we’d left off hearing about the Azores on Sao Miguel rather than Terceira..

I seem to have managed to write several blog entries about the island without really ever saying much about Ponta Delgada, where I’d been staying for most of the time.

The island and the Azores were in fact originally governed from Vila Franca do Campo, where I’d spent the night at anchor, but various disputes prompted the residents of Ponta Delgada to make a secret appeal to the Portuguese King to grant it it’s own village status, and so some degree of independence, in 1507. From there it went from strength to strength, becoming the capital of Sao Miguel after Vila Franca was devastated by an earthquake, and growing to become the 3rd largest town in Portugal in the nineteenth century.

Today it’s easily the biggest city in the Azores – in fact more people live here than on most of the other islands. It’s home to about 45,000 people (similar to Canterbury), the main campus of the University of the Azores, and nearly half the businesses in the islands. Needless to say, it was quite a big change arriving there from Santa Maria and the anchorage off the Ilheu de Vila.

The arches of the ‘Portas da Cidade’ gateway are the main icon of the city, and make quite a first impression having crossed the road from the harbour.

Here they are again at night-time.

There are inlaid pavements in much of the city centre, and windows and doors are commonly edged with the same volcanic rock, creating a striking black-and-white effect.

Being a big harbour, it’s got plenty of places to buy exciting things for boats. I was actually rather excited that the prices for courtesy flags were about half what they were in Madeira, as my Portuguese one had become more of a national insult half-flag.

I’d been looking around for somewhere to buy red fabric to patch it for ages, but without success, so I decided I’d better splash out and get a new one, and for good measure an Azorean one to go with it.

The food market wasn’t bad either, though for me it was eclipsed by the excitement of the Rei dos Queijos next door. The King of Cheeses might have a small shop, but it’s well stocked in quantity

and in quality – this was tangy but not too sharp or sour, really delicious.

I also got a box of these Queijadas da Vila, made exclusively in Vila Franca do Campo. This was somewhat ironic as I’d assumed from the name that they were small cheeses until I was offered one on a French boat in Santa Maria. A surprise, but no disappointment.

All this talk of food seems to have got me some way away from what I was talking about…

There are some very nice parks just north of the centre of Ponta Delgada – these photos were taken in the Parque Jose do Canto, which has a wide selection of local and foreign plants

including some very large bamboo

and a rainbow, accompanied by a small waterfall.

As well as a park Senhor do Canto also has a street named after him – I mention this partly to illustrate the fact that nearly every street in the city seems to have been renamed at some point, presumably creating a lot of confusion!

Between the old name and the mini-biography of the person honoured, they may be the most verbose street signs I’ve ever seen, but at least they’re rather attractive.

There is another fortuitous link from this though – Jose do Canto pioneered the introduction of many new agricultural practices and crops to the island, including the introduction of tea. Along with pineapples this remains one of the most famous crops grown here – in fact the two tea plantations on Sao Miguel are the only ones in Europe.

So I went to the north coast to take a look. Both plantations are open to the public, but the Porto Formoso one appeared easier to get to by bus than the larger establishment at Gorreana.

It still nearly went a bit wrong as the bus surprisingly went along the road above the village rather than through it – in fact straight past the tea plantation but since I wasn’t expecting that it was some way to the next stop where I could get out! Thankfully not too far though – below you can see some of the tea crop in the foreground and the village of Porto Formoso below.

Tea was first grown here in the late eighteenth century on a very small scale, which increased a hundred years or so late when the local agricultural association brought experts from China to help improve the local crop.

As well as the history of the plantation there’s a little museum displaying a selection of the machinery used to dry, separate and bag the tea.
And then there’s a tasting room, with a lovely view over the fields to the coast, and some very nice refreshments.

And now finally the promised move on – after a very nice week on Sao Miguel I planned to head around 90 miles west-north-west to Terceira, very appropriately my third landfall in the Azores, as it’s named for being the third island to have been ‘discovered’ by the Portuguese.

It was a nice change to be able to leave Ponta Delgada with no likely prospect of running out of wind for an extended period, save a possible wind shadow of the Caldeira de Sete Cidades. That did happen, but I was able to motor-sail for about half an hour and then got a nice wind again. And there was a good distraction, with dolphins everywhere!

I started off sailing to windward, aiming for Praia da Vitoria on the east coast of the island, where there’s a sheltered anchorage and a very cheap marina. The island’s capital of Angra do Heroismo on the south coast was the backup option.

Maid was sailing very well through most of the day and overnight, but early the next morning I decided Angra was going to be the better option. Being able to steer slightly further away from where the wind was coming from made for a very quick sail the rest of the way, though I did lose all sight of the island at one point, as it disappeared entirely within a cloud.

Happily it reappeared again well before I approached the coast near Angra, and I had a nice view of the coast while I ate lunch.

Entry went well, though the water in the harbour was so clear I was a bit nervous about some of the big rocks visible on the bottom! None were a problem though, and I was soon moored up, tucked away in the very sheltered far end of the harbour.

First impressions were very good – after all, the centre of Angra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The harbour is dominated by the beautiful Church of Misericordia.

The area defined by UNESCO also includes Monte Brasil, the remains of a volcanic crater that shelters the harbour from the west. It was a very nice afternoon, so I decided to go for a walk up to the top. I started off along the road, looking back north towards the city on my left…

…and then went up a rather steeper footpath…

….until I could see the sea to the south as well.

It looks remote, but on a Sunday afternoon it’s actually picnic and barbecue central – a really nice atmosphere with lots of families gathered around the numerous picnic tables.

The top is around 200m high, plenty enough to look back down over Angra, and beyond to the woods and farmland in the hills beyond.

So my second impressions of this third island were definitely good as well…

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