We wake up to a beautiful sunrise breaking through the dark clouds and set off to explore the island of Terceira.
We leave the city behind and climb the 205 metre high Monte Brasil. Monte Brasil is the remnants of a mostly submerged volcanic formation that was created by an underwater eruption. The crater is now classified as a nature reserve and is a place of great historical importance. Monte Brasil forms a natural bay and harbour on either side of the city of Angra du Heroísmo. Its strategic position and the vantage points overlooking the city, the bay and the harbour made Monte Brasil an important military location. We stop at Pico das Cruzinhas (meaning the peak of little crosses), a magnificent viewpoint with a large monument commemorating the Portuguese voyages of discovery.
As we make our way back towards Angra we pass the crater and Castelo du São João Baptista, a castle that was erected at the foot of Monte Brasil at the end of the 16th century on the order of King Philip II of Spain (at the time also King of Portugal). It is the largest Spanish fortress ever to have been built outside of Spain. Today the castle is occupied by the Portuguese army and continues to be one of the most impressive monuments from the 16th century.
Our next stop is Alto da Memória, a memorial that stands upon the site of the Castelo de São Luis, the first fortress to be built on Terceira. The fort was built in order to control the high ground but was later abandoned as it did little to protect the shore, being so far in land. The site has a viewpoint, Miradouro de Memória, which stands 87 metres above sea level and looks over the town, the bay and Monte Brazil.
We drive east, along the coast towards São Sebastião and pass Ilhéus das Cabras (Goats Islets), also known as ‘Split Rock’. The dual islet is the largest in the Azores and is usually referred to as a single islet although comprised of two landforms; Ilhéu Pequeno (Small Islet) and Ilhéu Grande (Big Islet). Once just one single mound, this landmark is the remnants of a volcanic cone formed by a Surtseyan eruption (one that takes place in shallow seas or lakes). They are uninhabited but used to be used by shepherds who let their goats and sheep roam on the islets during the times of early settlement in the archipelago.
Legend has it that a young, reckless boy from Faial named Fernão de Hutra fell in love with the Captain General’s daughter. Furious and desperate to keep the two apart the general captured Fernão and banished him to the Ilhéus das Cabras. Fernão lived on the island for seven years until one day a monk mysteriously appeared and absolved and anointed him. The following day the boy died of regret. It is also said that a German submarine hid between these two rocks from attacking American submarines during WWII.
Our next stop is the civil parish of Vila de São Sebastião. Apparently it was in this town that another legend was born. When invading Spaniards arrived on the island of Terceira they captured a man and his son by the shore. The man’s wife, who was from this small parish, saw her husband and son being captured and ran to the hills. She rounded up the wild bulls and they charged into the city of Angra, chasing the Spaniards back into the sea and saving the man and his son.
By the church of São Sebastião is the Império do Espírito Santo São Sebastião. The Cult of the Holy Spirit among the Azorean people dates back to the first settlers in the archipelago, who brought it with them from mainland Portugal where it was thought to have been introduced by Queen Elizabeth of Portugal. The underlying tradition of the institution may be a custom that dates back to Greek antiquity, with the bouphonia aimed at abolishing hunger in certain regions. In the 13th century Queen Elizabeth was so affected by the extreme poverty in Portugal that she created the Misericordias, a charitable institution that provided shelter and primary healthcare to the people in need. The symbol of the institution was the royal crown, to which the dove of the Holy Ghost was added. Gradually several villages began organising a festival during Pentecost week with the purpose of distributing free meat and bread to the poor. This custom has now almost disappeared from mainland Portugal but survives with a special charisma in the Azores archipelago. The traditional Imperio festival is dedicated to the Holy Spirit and takes place from Pentecost onwards, throughout May and June.
We leave São Sebastião and continue east. Soon we pass at Ponte das Contendas, a protected area that is an important nesting site of seabirds and continue on our way to Praia da Vitória. This historic town is around 20 kilometres northeast of Angra du Heroísmo and is said to be one of the most modern towns in the Azores. It was founded around 1456 and received its present name from Queen Maria II in 1837. The name honours the first victory of the Liberals over the Royalists on the 11th of August 1829, in a battle which took place on the town’s shores. Before visiting the town itself we drive up a hill to the east of the city where we find the towering monument of Holy Mary. The monument is situated at the viewpoint Miradouro de Facho, overlooking the city and the bay.
- DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Portugal, Symington, M.