The Azores
Deep in the Atlantic Ocean, closer to Europe than to North America, lies a group of islands steeped in history, thanks to their strategic location. Sir Francis Drake used them as a launchpad for raiding Spanish ships returning from the Americas with treasure. Vasco da Gama stopped here to catch his breath on his return journey from India. Even Magellan's crew, on their groundbreaking circumnavigation of the globe, paused here before heading back to Spain. Other renowned explorers like Christopher Columbus and Sir Walter Raleigh also sought refuge in these islands to regroup and recover.
This archipelago, known as the Azores (or Açores in Portuguese), was officially discovered by the Portuguese in the 15th century, although evidence suggests it was known to earlier civilizations. Maps dating back to the 14th century, such as the Catalan Atlas, depict islands in the same general vicinity.
When you visit São Miguel, the main island, and watch a sunset from its westernmost point, Mosteiros, you begin to grasp how these islands were formed. The coastal black rocks, which create natural pools, are remnants of lava flows into the ocean, showcasing their volcanic origins. Some islands in the Azores still boast active volcanoes. On São Miguel, places like the town of Furnas highlight ongoing magmatic activity with its hot springs and the unmistakable scent of sulfur. This volcanic activity renders the islands incredibly lush, filled with verdant parks and scenic viewpoints. São Miguel even boasts Europe's only tea plantations, Gorreana and Porto Formoso, in operation since the 19th century. The island feels like a vast botanical garden adorned with Portuguese tiles and charm.
One of the Azores' most captivating features is the natural swimming pools etched into the rocks by the ocean. These pools, some warmed by hot springs flowing into the sea, make swimming in the chilly Atlantic a delightful experience. And the sunsets are simply breathtaking! The vibrant colors and the way light reflects off the ocean seem to stretch into infinity. Watching the sun dip below the horizon here, you truly feel like you're at the edge of the world.
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