São Jorge Island A Nature Walkers Paradise
São Jorge is a green island with vegetation covering hills and valleys that afford amazing views of Pico and its mountain. Sheer cliffs plunge into the sea and its stunning open landscapes are punctuated by native birdsong.
Often compared to a huge stone ship anchored in the blue sea, a holiday on São Jorge is a walker’s paradise that will bring you closer to nature. One of the most scenically dramatic and friendly islands in the Azores, São Jorge is a long, snaking spine of peaks peppered with lush green craters, the sides of which dramatically tumble to the ocean blue below.
The walking on São Jorge is just spectacular. One of the most beautiful paths heads from the top of the island down to Faja do Santo Cristo with its pretty church and lagoon. After a refreshing swim in the ocean, you continue along the coastal path past an abandoned faja (coastal plain / leveled crop land near the ocean) until you reach the stunning Faja dos Cubres.
Velas, the picturesque capital, is a sleepy harbor town that dates back to the mid 15-century and has a delightful traditional Azorean bandstand in the main square. The majority of the locals live on the coastal plains (fajas) which lie at the foot of the steep volcanic cliffs and are home to an abundance of bird life including the Cory’s Shearwater.
While you are on Sao Jorge Island, make sure you sample the local food including the famous Sao Jorge cheese and the clams farmed in the lagoons on a number of Fajas. Don’t miss a visit to the church of Santa Barbara at Manadas, one of the finest examples of religious architecture on the Azores containing glazed tile work, carved ceilings and rich gilded altars.
Getting To and Around São Jorge
SATA, the regional airline, has daily flights to the island departing from Ponta Delgada in São Miguel or Lajes airport in Terceira. There is also a ferry to São Jorge island.
From Faial, the ferry takes one hour and 15 minutes. From Pico, the ferry takes 30 minutes and departs from Madalena and S. Roque. There is also a ferry from Terceira which takes two and a half hours.
Hotels in Sao Jorge Island
Sao Jorge Garden Hotel in Velas
The fantastic Sao Jorge Garden Hotel is a 3-star hotel on the Azores’ Sao Jorge Island. It is the best accommodation option for those looking for a relaxing vacation. The modern Sao Jorge Garden Hotel sits in the picturesque Velas village in a seafront location which affords it stunning views of the Atlantic and Pico Mountain. As it is located in village of Velas, the hotel is only minutes away from the local airport and offers a free shuttle service for your convenience.
Quinta do Canavial Guest House in Velas
Quinta do Canavial is a manor house located on the outskirts of Velas overlooking the spectacular Bay of Entre-Moros. This converted home has 3 double rooms and 1 twin room in the main house and 6 twin rooms and 1 one bedroom apartment in a nearby annex. All have en suite bathrooms. Guests can dine at the owner’s restaurant which serves evening meals upon request. Guests can also visit the family’s lovely Holy Spirit Chapel on the grounds.
Os Moinhos Ecohotel & Fornos de Lava Restaurant
The Os Moinhos Ecohotel is a vacation home rental, of sorts. It is located on an ecological farm and has the fabulous Fornos de Lava restaurant that serves old style cuisine made in a wood burning stove. The restaurant has panoramic views and is built on an old threshing floor once used by local farmers.
Sao Jorge Island Highlights
Pico da Esperanca – From Pico da Esperanca, the highest point on the island at 1,000 meters, one can catch a glimpse of the other islands in the Azores’ central group: Terceira, Graciosa, Faial and Pico. The vegetation that covers the hillsides is a rare and beautiful sight.
Topo – Topo, located at the extreme east end of the island, has a lighthouse and an islet where colonies of sea birds nest and rest. The islet has been classified as a Nature Reserve and excellent examples of endemic Azorean flora are found here.
Faja da Caldeira do Santo Cristo – The town of Faja da Caldeira do Santo Cristo is famous for its delicious clams and, nearby, you’ll find Faja dos Cubres with its crystal lake. There are other interesting fajãs (coastal plains) you can visit while touring Sao Jorge which offer rare and unforgettable natural beauty.
Velas – In Velas, many manorial homes bear witness to Sao Jorge’s noble past. Also, the São Jorge Church (mother church), the Nossa Senhora da Conceicao Church, City Hall, the Portao do Mar, and the “Arte Sacra” Museum are distinguished and impressive structures.
Food & Drink in Sao Jorge Island
The local gastronomy not only includes many Azorean basics, but also includes local plates of fish and pork seasoned with an abundance of spices originating from the communities visited in the Far East by Portuguese sailing vessels during the Age of Exploration.
Clam dishes are fairly unique to Sao Jorge as it is the only location in the archipelago where clams can be found (usually in the Faja da Caldeira de Santo Cristo).
There are many local and delicious sweets for visitors to try, including: coscoroes, roquilhas de aguardente, especies, suspiros, olvidados, bolos de vespera, cavacos, queijadas de leite, and acucareura branca.
In addition, the traditional corn bread (made from white or yellow cornmeal) is still very popular. At one time, wheat based breads were generally reserved for the privileged classes of the island.
The Azorean yam was also an important base of the local diet, as well as being an export product. The local Sao Jorge cheese has been the most important part of the local economy, resulting in the establishment of an order, the Confraria do Queijo de São Jorge, to promote the consumption and sale of this popular cheese.
Culture & Festivities in Sao Jorge
The principal festivals on the island are similar to those celebrated on the other islands of the archipelago. There are the festivals of Espirito Santo (Holly Ghost) that are held around the island and celebrate the saints.
The festivals are an important manifestation of the religious character of the islands. Typically, these festivals occur every Sunday during the seven weeks before Easter and culminate on the seventh Sunday (Pentecost).
Although some traditions vary from place-to-place, in general, there are processions to the church and masses associated with this festival. There are also alms for the poor, the serving of a meat based broth (whose methods of preparation and serving vary from community to community) and gathering of the local citizens for conversation and/or dancing.
Velas’ Semana Cultural (Culture Week) is another festivity that mixes local traditions and cultural influences from abroad. During this week, expositions and presentations of local Azorean culture are mixed with local concerts, bullfights, and a regatta between Velas and Horta in Faial during the first week of July.
Meanwhile, in the village of Calheta, the Festival de Julho (the July Festival) highlights four days of festivities that brings together ethnic processions, musical comedies, theatrical presentations and local sports competitions.
The Romarias (religious pilgrimages) are a tradition of the island’s Catholic communities and are strongly linked to historical catastrophes associated with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
The Romaria de Nossa Senhora de Carmo, which occurs annually in the Fajã dos Vimes on July 16, and the Romaria de Santo Cristo in the Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo are popular processions where many faithful walk between religious sanctuaries, praying, contemplating, and usually stopping for mass at local churches.