São Jorge

São Jorge is a Portuguese island in the central Azorean archipelago of Portugal. It is separated from its nearest neighbors (Pico and Faial islands) by a 15 km strait (consequently, the three islands are sometimes referred to colloquially as the “Triangle” group or just “The Triangle”). São Jorge is a relatively long thin island with tall cliffs, and where the population (approximately 10,500 habitants) is concentrated on various deltas along the north and south coasts (its east to west length is 53 km and its north to south width is 8 km and its area is 237.59 km²).

As with all the Portuguese islands, Genovese maps contain information about the Azores in the 14th century but Sao Jorge was most likely officially discovered on behalf of Portugal by Prince Henry the Navigator in about 1439 or so.   It was most definitely populated / occupied by the time Joao Vas Corte Real obtained the captaincy of the island in May 1483.

During this period, the island was wild and many of the roads difficult or non-existent between the communities, resulting in isolated villages located along the coast. Connections between these communities developed by sea, and the better provisioned ports were likely to develop economically. This was the case with Calheta, Urzelina and Velas; the sites, although farther from the Terceira (the towns are located on the opposite coast), were preferred way-points due to secure and sheltered ports, with good anchorage and providing many goods and services. The growth of the population was rapid, and by the mid-17th century, São Jorge had approximately 3000 inhabitants and three towns: Velas, Topo and Calheta. The island demonstrated a strong economic vitality: in addition to wine, corn, and yam, it was also an important exporter of woad to Flanders and other countries in Europe.

Following 1583, the island experienced a period of relative isolation, partially due to the poor quality of its ports and its limited economic importance. After the Spanish occupation and further attacks by privateers, the island was largely abandoned and its inhabitants were left to survive a meager existence.

Periods of local prosperity or misery occurred in the following years; there were several bad growing seasons and natural catastrophes (such as the earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tornados in 1580, 1757, 1808 and 1899) that created famines and hardships. Between 1580 and 1907, at least six significant eruptions occurred; ten people were killed during the 1580 eruption and eight in 1808. In 1850, the island’s vineyards were devastated by the phylloxera plague, which had a terrible affect on the economy until the development of the orange industry (about 1860). The island’s isolation ended after the completion of the ports of Velas and Calheta.

From a “walking tour” or hiking perspective, Sao Jorge most likely offers the best extensive trails in some of the most beautiful areas of the Azores.    Each trail is extended by another trail for the most part that takes you further and further.

The Southern town of Faja dos Vimes has excellent walks and 3 major trails of beauty that connect on the top of Sao Jorge to Northern trails that are also fantastic.  If you are lucky, you will find lodging in Faja dos Vimes that provides spectacular views of the Island and mountain of Pico.    It’s worth the effort to stay in this small town and take in the countryside.   The town has a small cafe for sandwiches and drinks and just above that, you will find a wood loomed Artisan that makes beadspreads and rugs.    Also nestled into a canyon, behind and above Faja dos Vimes (at about 200 ft. Above sea level),  you will find Vistalinda Plantation, a privately owned plantation featuring 10 varieties of passion fruits, beautiful flowers as well as stevia, coffee, and fruit trees local to the Azores.  In addition, the property features traditional Azores architecture from the 18th century forward.   To visit the plantation, you need to go through their website and pre-arrange your visit.

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