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Viewing Angra do Heroismo from Monte Brasil
Viewing Angra do Heroismo from Monte Brasil
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Where in the world will you find the 15th-century UNESCO World Heritage city, Angra do Heroismo? It is located on the mid-Atlantic island of Terceira, just 20 minutes by air from Pico, Azores.

Many of its buildings were restored after an earthquake damaged them in 1980. The city's safe port attracted explorers like Vasco da Gama, in 1499, and Spanish fleets laden with gold and silver from the New World and spices from the Far East. The Spanish built more than 40 forts to protect the city from pirates.

Terceira tour

We admired the architecture of Angra do Heroismo's churches, palaces and buildings from an outlook on the extinct volcano, Monte Brasil. Afterward, we strolled along its black-and-white mosaic sidewalks, for a closer look at the city.

In the courtyard of the College Church, we discovered an umbrella-shaped dragon tree. Its sap, called dragon's blood, was used to dye cardinals' vestments red.

Holy Spirit Houses

Terceira's 68 impérios or Holy Spirit Houses, dating from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, are even more fascinating. Colorful and ornate, with wrought iron balconies and a silver crown or white dove on top, they are centres of festivities for eight Sundays after Easter.

Ornate top of Holy Spirit House (imperio) in San Sebastian
Ornate top of Holy Spirit House (império) in San Sebastian
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

"Many Azoreans, who have moved away, come back for the festival," explained our guide, José Pires Borges.

Azores traditions

As we dined on shrimp soup, served in bread bowls, and grilled black grouper at Angra's Restaurante Beira Mar, he described the processions and feasts.

"In thanks for favours granted by the Holy Spirit, people give alms to the poor, say prayers in their homes and host large feasts. If you look inside an império, you'll see an altar bearing crowns worn by people who organize the events each week. An adjacent pantry building stores tables, dishes, wine and other items used for the community meal. Traditionally, people slaughter a bull and serve the beef, along with special soup, bread and cinnamon-flavored rice pudding."

What can you see and do on Terceira? Lots. The island has lava vineyards, tunnels, swimming pools, buildings and mistérios, black lava fields, named by people who didn't understand volcanic phenomena.

It took us 10 minutes to climb to the top of Pico Gaspar, where we peered into a volcanic cone, which is now covered with grass.

Queijo Vaquinha artisanal cheese factory
Queijo Vaquinha artisanal cheese factory
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Black-and-white Holstein cows graze on electric green pastures, separated by lava rock fences. (Terceira has 40,000 cattle and 55,000 people.) Because the climate is mild year-round, there are no barns.

Farmers regularly move the cattle to fresh pastures. The practice explained why we kept seeing ceramic signs for canada. "It means cattle lane," said Borges.

Azores wine and cheese

Farmers milk cows with portable machines and convert the milk into delicious fresh cheese, and cheddar-like island cheese, queijo da ilha. At Queijo Vaquinha, an artisanal factory in Cinco Ribeiras, we watched João Henrique Melo Cota and his staff unmold and store hundreds of round yellow wheels on shelves. "We used 100 liters of milk to make this wheel," he said as he lifted a massive 10-kilogram cheese.

What goes better with cheese than wine? At Biscoitos Wine Museum, named after a volcanic region of black lava, which resembles burnt biscuits, we sampled full-bodied white verdelho wines and examined ancient wine presses, barrels and tools.

Terceira, Azores, winemakers provided verdelho to crews of Portuguese spice trading boats in the 16th century. Five hundred years later, the yachts filling the marina at Angra do Heroismo show that Terceira still a popular port of call today.



Azores Airlines

More things to see & do in Portugal:

Lisbon - One Day Pre- or Post-Cruise Tour

Sao Miguel, Azores - Tea Plantations, Pineapples, Gardens and Volcano-Cooked Stew

Azores Island of Faial - Volcanoes, Scrimshaw & Sailors' Art