São Jorge Virado do Avesso - Azores Lovers

São Jorge Turned Inside Out


Find a dead dragon, meet a terrifying lighthouse that gave scenery to a Portuguese film, see a church swallowed by a volcano and meet cows that swim. All of this is possible in São Jorge Island - and no, you do not have to believe in unicorns coming down through rainbows with gleams. But it helps if you have a good dose of energy. Here you will know everything that you can not miss on the most central island of the Azores archipelago.




Let's start with the scariest scenario on the island that even inspired a movie. The "Ponta dos Rosais" is a short film, directed by the actor Dinarte Branco, whose action focuses on the Ponta dos Rosais lighthouse (1)At the entrance, you will see written: "Danger not to enter". Ignore it and enter. The lighthouse is 200 meters from the sea, on an incredible cliff. In the enclosure, if you look at your feet, you will find the cracks on the earth, which results from the erosion of the sea hitting the rocks. To increase the adrenaline, the lighthouse itself, where the families of the lighthouse keepers resided, is abandoned on these faults: doors and windows no longer exist; we were able to see the places where the stoves and cabinets were 70 years ago, but the walls are already mixed with the green of the landscape and the typical "David and Lucy 1995" or "Forever Filipe and Mariana (heart)" are written in them. But it was not always so. At its inauguration in 1958, it was considered to be the most technologically advanced lighthouse in the country (imagine!), completely self-sufficient in water and energy.




Another incredible experience: at first glance, it looks humble, but it is National Heritage. The Church of Santa Bárbara (2) is at the top of 15 steps, in the parish of the Manadas. On the facade, the dark red door contrasts with the black basalt and lime walls. The simplicity of the building is contradicted by the richness of its baroque interior. There is gilded carving; cedar wood on the roof; and on the walls, paintings painted on the wood and panels of tiles that portray the life of the saint who gives the name to the church. It has been recently restored and will certainly thrill even those who distrust the catechism.




Now that you are at Manadas you can climb to the highest point of the island: the Pico da Esperança (3)Upon the top of the mountain, you'll find a small landmark, a kind of square wall where you can only fit two feet. Climb it. You'll be at 1,053 meters in height. From above you can see 5 islands - São Jorge, Pico, Faial, Terceira, and Graciosa - but you can also see a dragon, and it helps a lot to know this legend. The island is called São Jorge because its mountain range looks like the dragon that cursed women in Libya and that the São Jorge killed waiting, with this, the king to give the daughter to him in marriage. And it is because it looks like the mythological animal that the island is called São Jorge. The less romantic have another explanation: the island got its name because it was discovered on the 23 of April, St. George's day, but this version has a lot less grace.


I am afraid to speak of a spectacular place where all meals are made with regional products. The fish was just caught, it was brought in the morning; the cheese is from São Jorge; the meat comes from the pastures on our side and there is Pico wine to go along. The dining room is circular, made of stone and wood, and there are windows all around. The table is facing Pico Mountain. The restaurant is called Fornos de Lava (4) and is in Santo Amaro.


There is one more story that challenges the law of gravity and can cause you to drop the lower jaw of how skeptical you're going to be: there is a church that has been swallowed up by the earth. The Torre da Urzelina (5) was the only thing left to tell the story. We retreated to 1808. The earth trembled with an erupting volcano and the lava dragged the houses. The people, seeing the threatened church, began to remove what was inside. A huge wave of lava began to descend, and people could not reach what was stored in the tower: some saints and some sticks of the Holy Spirit. The vacancy swallowed the church and what was around it, but it strayed and left intact the tower and all that was inside. It's been over 200 years. The tower is still there.




Of course, we'll have to talk more in detail about the cheeses from São Jorge. You can always make a route through the cooperatives of the island, and get to know the manufacture and the production, finishing this adventure with the choice of your favorite cheese. But please do not leave without proving our Species. They are traditional sweets of the island, made with Espécies (typical sweet from the island). The recipe says to add to the cocoa something like cinnamon, fennel, and mint. But leave room for what comes next.


There are restaurants that serve them impeccably all year round, but Holy Spirit Soups are even more special when eaten in their time. We may try to summarize the recipe very humbly, but this summary will never live up to the taste that the soups have. Basically, the water that bakes the meat and the various sausages is put on large slices of baked bread, and they add to them endless flavors. There is also sweet rice and, in some cases, rump (this last one cannot be put into words - you have to come here to discover and get lost by the taste). If you are fortunate enough to be in São Jorge in the seventh or eighth week after Easter (weeks when the feasts of Holy Spirit are celebrated), there is one more route you can and should do. Go through all the parishes and you will find, in each one of the empires of the Holy Spirit, people to serve soups. Important: Every single one of these soups is different. The best: they are free.







Finally, another unbelieving story that is going to surprise you, and it has to do with cows swimming. If you go to the most eastern tip of the island you will find the Ilhéu do Topo (7) (with Terceira Island behind). The oldest people say that a few years ago the man responsible for the Holy Spirit in the Topo had bought two oxen to make the soups, to give the typical alms of meat all over the parish and to make a bigger party than usual. To do so, he decided to put the animals on the islet - because of the climate and the favorable soil (the grass was even better for feeding the cattle).
He escorted the oxen by boat with sailors, while the oxen swam until the islet. But, days before the party there was a storm and they could not sale to fetch the animals. The owner of the party was not happy but he still intended to pay his promise and went to buy two new oxen. Two days before the party, as they finished all the preparations, they saw the fat oxen who were supposed to be on the islet. The feast was even greater than anticipated, not with two oxen, but with four oxen. For some reason, it is said that here the cows are happier.


Ana Claudia Verissimo

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