We are pleased that you have found the travelogue from our two-week trip to the Azores in May 2013. This travelogue is not a day-by-day report as we normally publish but a summary of our experiences on the islands we visited during our stay. The weather was very often too bad for writing a full travelogue – it would just be too boring…
Gerd, his mum and I spent seventeen days on three different islands of the Azores and each of it has its own charm and highlights. They all have a very high humidity in common which made our stay very often quite uncomfortable though the temperatures had only always been between 15 to 20 degrees. The problem was that everything inside the houses was very damp due to the high humidity: bedlinen, towels, eventually clothes and it also caused a bad allergy around my eyes which was either due to mould inside of the houses or dust mites in the beds.
There is nothing the owners could do about it: the humidity offers a perfect breeding ground for mould and dust mites so I would like to make clear that we don’t blame any owner of the houses where we stayed! Trying to fight the humidity, it is certain to lose that battle…
As usual, we managed our own booking for the trip and stayed in the following self-catering accommodations on São Miguel, São Jorge and Pico:
Quinta Altamira in Caloura on São Miguel
Jardim do Triângulo in Urzelina on São Jorge
Adegas do Pico in Prainha on Pico
O Moinho da Bibi , a wonderful old mill in Candelaria on São Miguel
All cars car, always a Ford Focus 1.6 Diesel station wagon, was rented by Ilha Verde Rent-a-car at each airport.
All cars were in good technical and clean condition and we did not have any problems with the cars nor with the providers.
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We hope you will enjoy reading about our trip to these beautiful islands in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. If you came through a search engine and only view this single intro post, then please click this link for the full travelogue: Travelogue Azores 2013 – Green islands and rugged coastlines
Sandra Schaenzer & Gerhard Schoening
SA*GA Photography ~ Moments in Light ~
We actually started our trip the day before when Gerd’s mother arrived and we all took the train to Zurich airport in the evening. Our flight to São Miguel was scheduled at 6:15 am and so we stayed once again in the Radisson Blu Airport Hotel that is conveniently located in the terminal.
We had checked in our luggage and so passing the security control and boarding was rather quickly on Saturday morning. We took off on time and flew to Lisbon where we had over four hours in transit before we boarded the SATA plane to São Miguel. I went to the Ilha Verde counter to complete formalities for the rent car while Gerd and his mum were waiting for the luggage and we were soon after on our way to our first accommodation: Quinta Altamira in Caloura on São Miguel. The houses are nicely located in a huge park and spacious with two bedrooms, a bathroom and a large living area with a fully equipped kitchen. The bed linen was very damp but the owner luckily provided an electric radiator that we kept running to make the rooms a bit drier. Air humidity is never below 80% on the Azores and people suffer from moisture in the houses; hence cloths or bed linen become damp very quickly.
Temperatures were just about 15 degrees which, together with the high humidity, made it very uncomfortable, especially for Gerd’s mum. So we settled in, stored the food that we had bought in a supermarket on the way to Caloura in the fridge and set off for a stroll around the park.
The coast line of Caloura is very spectacular but the wind was blowing heavily and it was impossible to take a photo at the coast. The fine spray of the sea waves made everything wet within seconds and so there was no chance of setting up the tripod for photos. We called it a day, had a cold dinner and went to bed early.
Highlight of the day: the arrival
28th April 2013
Gerd and I got up early and drove down to the coast of Caloura to take photos of the lava beach in moonlight. It was rather overcast but the moon was shining nicely on the rocks and the sea. There was just a glimpse of red light in the east but in the end, we were not blessed with good morning light. So we went back soon and enjoyed a long breakfast with Gerd’s mum.
We decided to make a trip through the mountains to the well-known waterfall of Caldeira Velha. On our way, we passed the crater lake of Fogo which is a spectacular and rather young crater lake, surrounded by lush vegetation and forests. We passed on and made the short stroll from the parking area to the waterfall. There are not many people and tourists at this time of the year and the area was not crowded at all. The water is warm and people can swim in the small pool in front of the waterfall but we were lucky and there were only two kids going for a swim.
We happily snapped away; the waterfall is a great subject and there was a lot of bird life around. Gerd managed to grab some fine shots of the lively Grey wagtail while I was concentrating on the waterfall and the vegetation. The whole area is rather hot as we could see a few meters away where fumaroles were bubbling. Naturally boiling water, as the sign warned.
We drove back to Caloura and had lunch in the small restaurant at the harbour. They serve fresh fish and I enjoyed a trigger fish while Gerd and is mum went for a tuna steak which probably was the better choice… I don’t know what it was – perhaps the sheer amount of oil they use here for cooking – but I became very sick in the afternoon and suffered from puking and diarrhea for the rest of the day. It became a bit better later in the evening and I had a quiet night – at least.
Highlight of the day: the moment when the puking stopped…
We heard the noise of pouring rain when the alarm clock rang and so we slept longer and missed another sunrise. Not too bad as my stomach had not recovered fully yet. We had breakfast together and set off to visit the hot springs of Furnas. The picturesque village is nicely located in a caldera with lush vegetation and the crater lake of Furnas. The hot springs are rather impressive – the water is cooking and there are bubbles everywhere. The area is good for people with cold feet – you can even feel the heat under the ground through the shoes 😉
We strolled around the area with the hot springs and fumaroles and eventually went up to the viewpoint to enjoy the view over the village and the lake.
We visited the Plantacoes de Cha Gorreana (Gorreana Tea Plantation) on our way to Ribeira Grande and admired the old English traditional machines and Gerd and his mum also tasted and bought some tea. We continued to Ribeira Grande afterwards to grab some lunch in the only open restaurant near the beach.
While we were enjoying our food, I received an email from SATA airline informing us about an upcoming strike from 1st May to 4th May. Oops, our flight to São Jorge was scheduled for the 1st May and so we headed to the airport to find out about options. As it would have been useless to fly on the 5th for just two days on São Jorge, we re-booked our flights for the 30th April so that we would have one more day on São Jorge. The Lady at the SATA counter was very helpful and issued the new tickets without extra costs. We afterwards passed the Ilha Verde office in Ponta Delgada and also re-booked the car on São Jorge – again without any problems. The afternoon had passed in the meantime and we drove back to Caloura to pack our bags and tell the manager of the hotel that we would leave a day earlier.
We went to the coast in the evening but it was fully overcast and so we returned after a few shots and hit the pillows instead.
Highlight of the day: the hot springs of Furnas
30th April 2013
This morning started with a rather unusual experience. We got up early and arrived at the lava coast of Caloura in the dark to try photos of the moonlit beach and lava formations again.
It was slowly getting light but I soon realized that it would be yet another dull morning with no sunlight. So I instead went for moody storm photos of the sea with the rocks when suddenly the floor beneath my feet was shaking quite noticeably. I at first swore at my unstable tripod when the second shake happened and I realised that this has just been an earthquake! We later found out that it had a strength of 5.9 and was the strongest in the past ten years on the Azores! The epicenter was located just 28 km away at 10 km depth in the sea.
We moved on to a small bay in Caloura where I took photos of the waves over the rocks in the sand. The waves had been all more or less the same strength and were predictable when I was all of a sudden hit by a higher wave and found myself wet all over! I’m not sure if these two waves were caused by the earthquake but when I checked a photo that I have taken 15 seconds before, then I can see that these two waves look different from the other regular ones and also come from another direction! Dripping wet, I walked up the steps to the parking and we drove back to the hotel. Wow, what a morning!
We had breakfast and in the meantime the sun had broken through the clouds and we enjoyed some sunshine at the terrace before we drove to the airport, returned the car and checked in for our flight via Terceira to São Jorge. The flight was on time, I got the car at Ilha Verde and we firstly drove to Velas village to buy food for breakfast and lunch at the local supermarket.
Our accommodation Jardim do Triângulo in Urzelina was just a short 10-minute drive from Velas and we were friendly greeted by the owner Chris. He showed us around, explained us the place and introduced us to his fine hotel.
Gerd and I had a small studio with a kitchen and Gerd’s mum was staying in a double room next to us. The houses are nice and clean and located in a wonderful garden though there was the same problem with damp bedlinen inside.
There was no radiator available which made it very unpleasant for Gerd’s mother who did not feel comfortable at all and was cold all the time. We felt very pity for her but there wasn’t anything we could doSoon after, Chris’ cat and dog Stella were around to greet the new arrivals and we settled in.
The weather was dull again and so we drove to Santo Amaro and had dinner in the Fornos de Lava restaurant. Food was nice, not so oily and the staff was very friendly. We indeed enjoyed a pleasant dinner before we went back to Urzelina.
Highlight of the day: the earthquake
These are two days that can really be forgotten. Very bad weather and it was now Gerd’s mum’s turn with puking and diarrhea! It really must be the oil, we don’t have any other explanation as it also passed rather quickly and she was more or less fine again after one day.
So after we tried some hopeless shots at the coast in overcast light, we had breakfast in the main house that was well prepared by Chris: coffee or tea, cereals, tomatoes, pepper, the lovely São Jorge cheese, some cold cuts, jam, joghurt and fruit salad. Chris is a nice guy who tells stories in a very funny and amusing way – great breakfast entertainment 😉
We all set off for location scouting and for getting an overview of the island and looked down to the fantastic Fajã dos Cubres and Fajã do Ouvidor where we also made a stroll to the natural rock pools. This was when Gerd’s mum started to feel bad and we went back to the accommodation. We prepared tea for her, she went to bed and slept for the rest of the day while we relaxed and I worked on the travelogue!
Highlight of the day: hmmm, none really
2nd May 2013
It was a completely rainy day that Gerd’s mum used to recover from her upset stomach. Gerd and I drove over to Fajã do Ouvidor where we met a fellow photographer that I became friends with via Facebook: Rui Vieira . Rui is a local guy and specialises in landscape photography of the three islands in the triangulo: São Jorge, Pico and Faial. Please check out his work – he is a wonderful talented photographer with a perfect feeling for the light!
So we met him, his girlfriend Susana and their cute 4 1/2 months old baby son Nuno in their holiday home at Fajã do Ouvidor. We had a wonderful chat about photography, the islands and life in the Azores accompanied by tuna, cheese, bread, wine and local liqueur. It was great to meet Rui and his little family and we agreed to meet again on Monday for a sunset shooting.
It was still raining when we returned so we just had a light dinner and went to bed early.
Highlight of the day: meeting Rui and Susana
Gerd and I got up shortly before 5:00 am and drove over to the sunrise side of the island and descended down to the Fajã da Ribeira da Areia. There is a beautiful lava arch which is unfortunately not ideally located for sunrise or sunset at this time of the year. So we headed to the other side of the village and started taking photos of the rugged coast in moonlight. The Cory’s Shearwaters were still around us singing their funny songSoon the blue hour began and the coast with the sea and lava rocks just looked perfect. Sunrise itself was not as clear as the previous day but provided some nice warm colours and dramatic clouds. We were quite happy with what we had achieved that morning and returned to Urzelina for breakfast.
It was our last full day on the island today and so we decided to make the most classic and supposedly most scenic walk today from Fajã dos Cubres to Fajã da Caldeira do Santo Christo. It was a nice walk but we all found it not as spectacular as described by other people. You mostly walk through thick vegetation and there are hardly any views over the sea and coast. Anyway, it was a nice change and we enjoyed it a lot. Gerd and his mum headed into the village of Santo Christo while I stayed at the lagoon and took close-ups of the vegetation that fights its way through the lava rocks. It is just amazing: there is only one tiny little space and the plants start to grow.
We slowly walked back and came across a lizard that was happily posing for me quite a while. Cute little chap and I’m not sure who was more curious: the lizard about what I was doing or me wondering if he would stay or go.
We popped into the small bar at Fajã dos Cubres where we had a lovely chat with the Lady and had some cheese with red wine for lunch. What a treat it was to sit there in the warm sunshine and enjoying food and wine
It was time to leave and get our bags ready as we would head over to Pico tomorrow. Gerd and I left again at 7:00 pm to meet Rui again in the parking area of the Parque Forestal in Rosais.
We took his 4×4 car to drive to the lighthouse at the end of the 5 km long trail and climbed through the stick vegetation behind the lighthouse until we were standing high upon the cliffs of the most westerly part of the island with steep rocks below us.
It was a fantastic and very dramatic sight and soon after the sun was low enough to start shooting. It was so nice again to do it together with Rui, talking about photography experiences and admiring the view. The good light and sunset was once again over way too quickly but we just stayed a while and chatted while the gulls were settling for the night.
We went back to the parking area, thanked Rui for taking us there and waved goodbye. What a fantastic end of a good day once again!
Gerd and I enjoyed some glasses of wine while we were reflecting on the day and went to bed happily.
Highlight of the day: sunset at Rosais
7th May 2013
It was a very short night when we got up at 5:00 am again to pay a last visit to Fajã dos Cubres. We were very lucky, it was all clear and we could take star photos before dawn kicked in. We eventually got our golden sunrise on the last day – sometimes you just need some luck. We returned very happily to Urzelina and enjoyed our last funny breakfast with Chris.
It was a boring travel day today. We left for lunch in Velas and met Rui, Susana and Nuno for saying goodbye. I will really miss them – they are lovely! It was a bit stupid to go by plane as we first flew to Terceira and then back to Pico while the ferry just needs 30 minutes. But it was not clear if the ferries would run that early in the year and so we went for the safe solution.
Planes were on time in the end, we arrived safely on Pico, got the car and drove to our next accommodation: Adegas do Pico in Prainha. We met José who showed us the house which was a different one that we had booked because the road to our house had been damaged by strong rain.
The house is a very nice old renovated traditional house with stone walls and lots of wood. Lovely, but also damp inside.
José provides a dehumidifier as well as radiators and Gerd’s mum at least felt comfortable again although she did not like the dark stone walls at all. We did like it very much: we had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living area and a very cosy kitchen with a beautiful wooden kitchen table. You can feel Jose’s love for the houses in every corner with every little detail.
It was very overcast with light rain and no chances for photos so we cooked another pasta bolognese sauce, had dinner and went to bed early.
Highlight of the day: sunrise at Fajã dos Cubres
I once again got up alone at 5:30 am and drove over to the coast of Santo Amaro which is just a few kilometers from Prainha.
It is again a very spectacular steep lava coast and the sun rose dramatically over São Jorge. It was almost like a déjà-vu when the multiple rays of sun met the sea!
I had to rush a bit this morning as we have booked a whale watching trip with Espaço Talassa who are supposed to be the best and also provide marine specialists during the trip. We made the short drive over to Lajes and joined the other people for this trip. We were seven people on a Zodiac that can handle up to 12 people. Our marine biologist was Hella from the Netherlands and our skipper was César, a local young man from Pico. We got rain coats and life jackets and went over to the harbour into the Zodiac.
We were already warned that it would be choppy but I was not really prepared for what was about to come! The sea was very rough when we came out of the sheltered harbour and we had to navigate against the waves for about 8 miles. It was incredibly bumpy, the waves were high and I felt like being in a nutshell 😮 I panicked a bit and could not imagine to stay three hours like this but, on the other hand, I did not want to be the party pooper! So I decided to be a turtle: hat down over the eyes and nose, shoulders up – I can’t be afraid of something that I don’t see… This strategy worked and after about half an hour, César stopped the Zodiac and we saw two beautiful large fin whales for the first time in our life. They were just traveling and taking a breath every 30 to 45 seconds which was our moment to admire the beauty and length of this large mammal.
The water was still choppy but I wasn’t afraid anymore now – what a sight!!! The fin whales left after about 10 minutes and we were waiting for a call from the observing tower. Then we got the news that a pair of sperm whales is around and we headed near that spot. And yes, there they were: two sperm whales about 30 meters away. When they took a breath, we could clearly see the distinctive shape of the head and body. Very cool!!! We enjoyed it a lot but had not been lucky enough to come across a blue whale which are also around this time of the year. But when we headed back, we were accompanied by a funny group of common dolphins which was also very very nice.
We returned to the harbour, had a cup of tea and got a certificate about the animals that we have seen. It was a good trip despite the fear I had to go through in the beginning! Sorry that there aren’t any pics of this trip but we preferred watching the animals instead of peaking through the viewfinder. The experience was much more intense this way.
We met Gerd’s mom and headed back to Prainha to change into dry clothes and to have lunch in a local restaurant. The choice of fish and meat was very good and we enjoyed a hearty lunch after this gorgeous trip.
It was going to be a long day as the weather stayed good and Gerd and I went up into the high land in the late afternoon. The light was marvellous now and the scattered craters looked great in the green landscape. We eventually settled at Lagoa do Capitão where we shared our sandwiches with some finches and a pair of ducks. The sun set quickly and I grabbed some shots with attractive trees as a foreground. Contrast was not easy to handle but I’m quite happy with the results. We stayed until it got dark and made some star photos of the Pico volcano and I also took photos for star trails to the other side; unfortunately not North where the clouds were building up.
We came back late around midnight and tiredly went to bed immediately.
Highlight of the day: Whale watching
11th May 2013
It was already time to leave Pico today for São Miguel and our last two days of this holiday. But I still had one more sunrise on this beautiful island and I drove up to the high land again when I saw that it was all clear.
It turned out to be a good decision and I was blessed with a beautiful sunrise over the islands of São Jorge, Terceira in the distance and Pico. I continued through the landscape of the mountains, stopped here and there to grab a shot until the light was almost gone again after one hour. The trip was a bit too hectic for my taste but no choice if you only have this one opportunity! I was really missing the first spoilt rainy day!
I went back to the house and we had breakfast together.
We payed the bill, had a chat with Jose and loaded our luggage into the car before we drove over to Lajes again as Gerd forgot to buy a T-shirt as a souvenir from the whale watching shop yesterday. We afterwards made a light lunch stop in a café near Madalena, took some photos of lava detail at the coast and drove to the airport.
Check-in and security was quick and our plane even took off 15 minutes early to schedule!! It was really funny, all passengers were boarded, the captain closed the doors and off we were!
So we arrived almost half an hour earlier in São Miguel where I rented the car while Gerd and his mom were waiting for the luggage.
Our last home of this trip was the beautifully renovated old windmill of O Moinho da Bibi in Candelaria. We were greeted by Gabriela who showed us the mill and has also prepared a traditional meal that was cooked in an old wood oven.The portions were HUGE: we had yams with blood sausage and pineapple, roast beef, a whole chicken, vegetable stew, tomatoes, flan as a dessert and three bottles of very good red wine. Everything was delicious but we could not finish all the food and took half of it over to our kitchen for the next day which was not a problem at all.
We enjoyed dinner though I was a bit sad to miss the sunset. Weather was about to change again and I was afraid that this has just been the last opportunity. Which it was indeed…
Highlight of the day: sunrise in the high land
Our last full day already! When we got up at 5:30 am, it was raining but we set off nevertheless.
We were lucky and the rain had stopped when we arrived at Mosteiros where I wanted to take photos of the steep rocks that are located just offshore of Mosteiros.
I took some photos in the blue hour, we changed location and I continued with some photos against a bit red sky where the sun was about to rise. We caught a glimpse of the sun for about three minutes before it disappeared in thick clouds again. I went on with photos of the sea stacks on the slippery rocks but I enjoyed it to the fullest.
We returned back to the mill and prepared breakfast. It was dry now and we thought we could give the large crater of Sete Cidades a try.
We went up to the first view point of Visto do Rei which is the most famous view into the crater with its two lakes. The experience is a bit spoilt by the ruin of the old abandoned Monte Palace Hotel that was closed in 1990. The view into the crater is spectacular but the light was a bit flat so that we just took a photo for the record. Again, simply not enough time to cover so many interesting subjects in just two weeks
We continued our drive to the village where the local people celebrated the sacrament of the young children which traditionally takes place the Sunday before Whitsunday. Neatly dressed people were carrying flags and candelabras and a local band played a rather sad song when they followed the procession to the village. The sound of five fireworks marked the end of the procession.
We afterwards passed Mosteiros for a bit of location scouting and headed back to the mill where we enjoyed the leftovers of the gorgeous dinner for lunch. The light did not turn better but Gerd and I still drove to Mosteiros again to capture some photos in the moody evening light. There was just a small stretch of red sky at the horizon but it was still fun to play with the rocks and the sea. The algae on the rocks worked great and added a bit of colour to a monochrome scene.
It was already late when we returned to the mill, so we just packed the last things and went to bed.
Highlight of the day: Mosteiros
13th May 2013
We had to get up pretty early because our flight to Lisbon was scheduled for 8:25 am already. There was just enough time for a quick coffee and we had to leave the lovely mill. Whenever we return, this will be a must stay again!! We set off, filled up the car and drove to the airport where we found out that our flight was over six hours late! So I queued the SATA counter and the friendly guy did his best to re-book our tickets. In the end, there were no flights to Zurich the next day and we were booked to Frankfurt. SATA arranged for a hotel in Lisbon and also paid for taxi transfer, dinner and breakfast the next morning. Not ideal but the best we could get.
So we went to Ilha Verde and got our car back for the day – very nice!
We checked in the luggage and had a coffee in a bar while I tried to rent a car in Frankfurt so that we won’t have to take the bloody German railway but it was impossible – all companies were fully booked!!! We decided to go back to the viewpoint of Visto do Rei to photograph inside the Monte Palace Hotel. It was eery to be inside but also very interesting. The elevators were gone and we looked into deep elevator shafts; toilet bowls were standing in the stairway; the old textile wallpapers were all covered with mold which was not really surprising. It must have been an impressive hotel but all the glory was gone and shattered now. We spent almost an hour strolling around before we drove back to Ponta Delgada to grab lunch in a nice restaurant.
It was time to go back to the airport now and so we finally returned the car and passed the security control. The flight to Lisbon was even more late and it was already 7:00 pm when we landed in Lisbon. It took us 90 (!!) minutes to get out of the plane and to get the luggage and so it was unfortunately way too late to explore Lisbon. We wanted to visit a Fado bar but had to cancel that plan and had a very good buffet dinner in the Novotel Hotel instead. We were very tired and went to bed after a quick shower.
Highlight of the day: the stroll through the Monte Palace Hotel
14th May 2013
It was again a very early start and we just had 15 minutes for the breakfast before we took the taxi to Lisbon airport. Check-in was surprisingly quick and our plane left on time to Frankfurt where we landed after 2:45 hours. We tried again to rent a car but they were indeed fully booked and so we had to buy train tickets. Gerd’s Mum decided to wait for her train in Frankfurt and we took her to the DB lounge where she had drinks, snacks and newspaper available. We all three enjoyed a last and nice lunch before we said goodbye and Gerd and I took the train to Basel.
So this was the end of a great holiday. We did have some bad weather but we cannot expect to have picture perfect conditions in a location like the Azores and I think we have achieved some great photos. Not to forget the amazing experiences and all the lovely people we had met.
We hope you liked reading our travelogue and we thank you for your interest – Sandra & Gerhard.
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