São Jorge

São Jorge / Azores


With an area of ​​244 square kilometers, São Jorge is the fourth largest of the Azores islands. It belongs to the central group of the Azores. Around São Jorge there are Graciosa, Terceira, Pico and Faial in a clockwise direction.      

São Jorge's extraordinary landscape

Some authors describe São Jorge as needle-shaped; others compare the island to the back of a whale or a fire-breathing dragon. The reason for these unusual descriptions: São Jorge measures 54 kilometers in length and a maximum of seven kilometers in width. The average height of the island is 700 meters. From the ridge, the Pico da Esperança rises as the highest elevation at 1.053 meters. The bird's eye view shows a row of small caldeiras lined up in the highlands.

São Jorge's enchanting landscape


São Jorge's enchanting landscape


Lagoa de Fajã de Caldeira de Santo Cristo


Lagoa de Fajã de Caldeira de Santo Cristo 


Unlike the rest of the Azores Islands, São Jorge does not have wide caldeiras. Instead, the coastline rises abruptly from the sea at a height of 400 to 700 meters. A special feature are the many fajãs, small headlands created by landslides or lava flows.

São Jorge - past and present

The year in which São Jorge was settled is unknown. The island was first mentioned in 1439. As with some other Azores islands, the settlement of Flemings on São Jorge also began. At the end of the 15th century, the wealthy Flemish merchant Willem van der Haegen first founded the settlement Topo (Nossa Senhora do Rosário) together with fellow countrymen. São Jorge's soil turned out to be extremely fertile. It was not long in coming for further local foundations.

Topo - Church of Nossa Senhora do Rosário

Topo - Church of Nossa Senhora do Rosário


Over time, the residents of São Jorge became prosperous. That in turn attracted pirates. The inhabitants countered the raids of the privateers in the 18th century with the construction of numerous fortresses. Over the centuries, the island has been repeatedly hit by earthquakes. The severe earthquake of 1757 was catastrophic. It mainly destroyed the settlements in the east of São Jorge. Allegedly more than 1.000, of the then 5.000 inhabitants, died as a result of the natural disaster.

Little more than 8.000 people currently live on the sparsely populated island, or an average of 33 inhabitants per square kilometer. Large parts of the island seem lonely, apart from the many cattle and sheep.

São Jorges milk producers


São Jorges milk producers


São Jorges - milk producer


São Jorge - milk producer


São Jorge - Agriculture, Cheese and Tourism

São Jorge is an island characterized by agriculture and cattle breeding. While the farmers in the 18th and 19th centuries mainly devoted themselves to orange cultivation, the cultivation of wheat and wine dominate in the present. Occasionally, tropical fruits and coffee are also cultivated. Most of the milk production from cattle farming, by hearsay 20.000 cows graze on São Jorge, are used for the island's tasty cheese, the “Queijo São Jorge", used. Two factories and several small factories produce the aromatic cheese with a seal of quality. The Casa de Artesanato / Café Nunes in Fajã dos Vimes sells coffee, wine and cheese produced on the island.

São Jorge - Coffee drying in front of the Casa de Artesanato


São Jorge - Coffee drying in front of the Casa de Artesanato


São Jorge - Casa de Artesanato


São Jorge - Casa de Artesanato 


From a tourist point of view, the island is a destination for individual tourists and hikers. Most visitors enter São Jorge via the island's airport. Other guests reach the island by ferries and also by small cruise ships. The ships mainly head for the port of Velas.

São Jorge - Velas from a bird's eye view

São Jorge - Velas from a bird's eye view


The individualists among the holidaymakers mainly devote themselves to water sports such as fishing, canoeing, sailing, surfing or diving. The island has no beaches, instead natural pools invite you to swim. Intrepid contemporaries deal with canyoning, paragliding and mountain biking. The network of hiking trails is exemplary: preferred hikes lead to the Fajã de Santo Cristo, the Fajã dos Vimes or the Pico da Esperança. The Great Route of São Jorge covers half of the island with more than 40 kilometers.

Our top attractions in São Jorges

Five fascinating fajas

Many of the fertile fajas are difficult to reach, a fact that hardly fits the present day. Since the earthquake in 1980, many of the previously inhabited and rural fajas have been abandoned by their residents. São Jorges Fajãs have been recognized as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 2016. The UNESCO biosphere project associated with the recognition is intended to counteract rural exodus. From the bulk of the fajãs, we name our top five.

Fajã Caldeira de Santo Cristo

One of the most beautiful headlands on the island is the Fajã Caldeira de Santo Cristo. The Fajã is located on the north coast, level with the small town of Calheta opposite. The special feature of the piece of land is the salt water lagoon connected to the sea. In the Centro de Interpretação da Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo, visitors can learn about the history of all the fajãs on the island. In addition, the Fajã is a place of pilgrimage for surfers because of the constant, long waves.

Fajã Caldeira de Santo Cristo
Fajã Caldeira de Santo Cristo
Fajã Caldeira de Santo Cristo - Ermida
Fajã Caldeira - Ermida de Santo Cristo

Fajã dos Cubres

The 34 hectare Fajã dos Cubres is also fascinating. It is located west of the Fajã Caldeira de Santo Cristo on the north coast of the island. The Fajã dos Cubres, like the Fajã Caldeira de Santo Cristo, can be reached by car via a serpentine road. The small town was destroyed in the earthquake of 1757. After the reconstruction, the "New Year's Quake" in 1980 caused further damage to the houses. The lagoon is fed by seeping sea water and fresh water. The water surface is the habitat of native seabirds.

Fajã dos Cubres
Fajã dos Cubres
Fajã dos Cubres lagoon
Fajã dos Cubres - Ermida de Nossa Senhora de Lourdes

Fajã do Ouvidor

The Fajã do Ouvidor is also located on the north coast below the municipality of Norte Grande. This place also has a driveway, which is why the region is always well visited. Especially in the summer months it is one of the last inhabited fajãs on São Jorge. There is even a small fishing port and two natural swimming pools.

Fajã do Ouvidor


Fajã do Ouvidor


Fajã do Ouvidor - the port


Fajã do Ouvidor - the port 


Fajã de São João

In the southeast of the island, near the hamlet of São Tomé, is the Fajã de São João. Fruit and vegetables are grown in the surrounding fields. Wine and coffee ripen on the mountain slopes. The Fajã has a church and a small port. Wealthy families chose the fajã as their summer residence.

Fajã de São João

Fajã de São João


Fajã de João Días

To the north of the municipality of Rosais, there are several dozen houses on the northwest coast of the island. Most are used on the weekends and during the holidays. There is no access to the Fajã. From the 450 meter high cliff, a path leads down to the headland. Loads are transported down the path with pack animals or from the sea with boats. Grain, figs and vines are grown in the fields.

Fajã de João Días


Fajã de João Días


Fajã de João Días


Fajã de João Días 


 

 

More sights from west to east

Farol dos Rosais and Vigia da Baleia

The lighthouse of Rosais, named after the headland, sits enthroned at the extreme north-western tip of the island at a height of more than 250 meters. The beacon was put into operation in 1958. Several tremors caused the lighthouse to come to a standstill in 1964. Further earthquakes in 1980 and the resulting rock collapses forced the site to be abandoned. Since then, the tower and the buildings belonging to it have been falling into disrepair. Access to the site is not permitted. The Ponta dos Rosais is classified as a Portuguese "Monumento Natural". Many seabirds nest on the headland, which is difficult to access.

Farol dos Rosais


Farol dos Rosais


Vigia da Baleia


Vigia da Baleia 


The Vigia da Baleia viewpoint, painted white, dates from the whaling era. It is located a few hundred meters from the lighthouse. In the past, the observation posts were not only used to find whales but also to discover pirate ships.    

Parque Florestal das Sete Fontes

The densely wooded park, measuring twelve hectares, extends between the Farol dos Rosais and the city of Velas. The given variety of plants impresses the visitors. In the park there is a small chapel, an emigrant memorial and an animal enclosure.

Parque Florestal das Sete Fontes


Parque Florestal das Sete Fontes


Parque Florestal das Sete Fontes - game reserve


Parque Florestal das Sete Fontes - game reserve 


Island capital Velas

The main town on the island is the small town of Velas, with a population of around 1.800. The municipality in the south-west of São Jorge received its town charter in 1500. Velas is one of the oldest places in the Azores. The old town is in good condition. The mansions of the 18th and 19th centuries as well as the town hall built in the baroque style are worth seeing. The mansions bear witness to the age of orange exports, which led to remarkable prosperity among the landowners.

Downtown Velas on São Jorge


Downtown Velas on São Jorge


The port of Velas


The port of Velas 


What we like about Velas is the Jardim da República, a small park on the edge of the center. Its main feature is the red and white pavilion surrounded by flower beds and benches. From the Jardim da República the direct path leads to the parish church and the marina of the village.

Velas - Jardim da República


Velas - Jardim da República


Velas - Jardim da República


Velas - Jardim da República 


Prince Henry the Navigator had the Igreja Matriz de São Jorge parish church built as the first church on São Jorge. The three-aisled church has seen several extensions and additions over the years. For example, the bell tower was not completed until 1825. The church is dedicated to St. George, the island's patron saint. The Museu de Arte Sacra is attached to the church. Figures of saints, capes and furniture are exhibited.

Velas - church square

Velas - church square


Even in the smallest towns in Portugal, we often come across modern, futuristic buildings. In Velas, the Auditorio Municipal demands our attention. The cultural center stands on the foundations of the Forte de Nossa Senhora da Conceição harbor fortress. The building has a versatile auditorium with 200 seats, a library and exhibition areas.

Velas - Municipal Auditorium

Velas - Municipal Auditorium


Pico da Esperança

The easy-to-climb Pico da Esperança, the "Mountain of Hope", is 1.053 meters high. The highest mountain, São Jorges, is almost halfway between the north-west and south-east tip of the island. On a clear day, all the islands of the central group of the Azores can be seen. The view of the island of Pico and its volcano is impressive. There are two small lakes in the crater of Pico da Esperança.

São Jorge - Pico da Esperança


São Jorge - Pico da Esperança


São Jorge - Lagoa do Pico da Esperança


São Jorge - Lagoa do Pico da Esperança 


Urzelina

The name of the village Urzelina is derived from the Urzela crop. The plants were used in the past to produce brown dyes. There are also some mansions built by the wealthy planters in Urzelina.

São Jorge - Urzelina seen from the sea

São Jorge - Urzelina seen from the sea


When the volcanic eruption of Pico da Esperança in 1808, parts of the place were destroyed and 30 people lost their lives. A witness to the eruptions is the tower of the Igreja de São Jorge Mateus. While the nave was buried under the lava, the tower survived the eruption. In addition, Urzelina is the location of the hexagonal fortress Forte de Urzelina. The fort is next to the port.

Calheta

The second largest city on São Jorge is Calheta. The town with about 1.300 inhabitants is located in the southeast of the island. Like Velas, it has the political status of a district town. The "Triangulo ferries" run from the port to the neighboring island of Terceira all year round. The preserved fortress Forte da Preguiça protected against pirate attacks. The place was affected several times over the centuries by earthquakes and most recently in October 1945 by a tsunami.

To the east of the port is the Francisco de Lacerda Museum, which opened in 1991. Permanent exhibitions are devoted to the island's history and specifically the canning industry. Another focus is on the music of the Azores and in particular on the work of the composer and conductor Francisco de Lacerda, a son of the island.

Topo

The municipality in the southeast of São Jorge, with fewer than 500 inhabitants, is known for the offshore bird island Ilhéu da Ponta do Topo and for the lighthouse Farol da Ponta do Topo.

São Jorge - Ilhéu da Ponta do Topo


São Jorge - Ilhéu da Ponta do Topo


São Jorge - Farol da Ponta do Topo


São Jorge - Farol da Ponta do Topo 


The 20 hectare, flat bird island is now strictly protected after excessive grazing. The lighthouse built above the village has been in service since 1927. The 16 meter high beacon extends 20 nautical miles.

August 2021

 

 

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