I’m going to have to visit Flores island in the Azores again. Partly because what I saw of it was beautiful but mostly because I didn’t see enough of it. That’s not for lack of trying, mind you. My friend and travel companion, Dori, will back me up on that. In fact, we lost count of how many failed attempts we made at seeing the famous lakes and rock formations that had been the main reason for going there.
Despite the fog that shrouded the centre of the island throughout our 3-day stay, we managed to find plenty to appreciate about one of the most isolated islands in the Azores.
Read on for things to do in Flores in the Azores, even if it’s a bit foggy.
Stroll around Fajã Grande, Flores island
We were staying on the west coast of the island, in Fajã Grande, a fajã being a section of flat arable land. Anyone who has seen the Father Ted television series will recognise the quirky characteristics of a remote village on a damp island. It took me a while to warm to the place; when we arrived, it was foggy and gloomy and the weather didn’t improve much during our time there.
Happily, the local people seemed to be of a sunny disposition, especially in the grocery store cum café where we had breakfast each day. The decor hasn’t changed since the 1970s or 80s and it’s definitely a local place for local people yet welcoming to foreigners.
For me, the best thing about Fajã Grande is the jungly cliff face with its row of high waterfalls, including Poço do Bacalhau (see below).
Take a walk along the road beneath to appreciate them fully and meet the local cows in their patchwork of tiny stonewalled fields. Between these waterfalls and the village centre there’s a bathing area near the jetty and boat ramp and a restaurant with a swimming pool for the more timid.
On your way back through the village, look out for evidence of the community’s whaling industry carved into the volcanic stone panels decorating houses and water fountains.
Note: The thick stone walls of traditional homes in Fajã Grande mean that wifi and phone signals only work well outside, unless there’s a router in your room. Locals gather on doorsteps and benches to either catch up on neighbourly gossip or check their emails.
If you happen to be outdoors in the evening, you’ll probably hear the hilarious Cory Shearwater birds that sound like giggly bouncy frogs. You can listen to their weirdness here.
Swim in a waterfall at Poço do Bacalhau
Dori and I got some very strange looks from other visitors to Poço do Bacalhau when they realised we’d been swimming under the waterfall instead of simply being sprayed by the frothing torrent of water that tumbles into the pool from a great height. Neither of us cared – the experience was exhilarating.
Heavy rainfall the day before had helped us imagine how this waterfall and pool may have got its name. With vast volumes of water, the cascade down the sheer cliff mutates from a straight narrow stream to a wide gushing mass that looks a bit like the slabs of salt dried cod (bacalhau) you see in markets.
The path to the base of the falls has been tastefully renovated and takes you along a stream, past a series of old stone watermills and irrigation channels.
We dumped our clothes far away from the spray of the waterfall and gingerly eased ourselves into the pool. Once in the rust-tinted water, I turned to face the mighty power of the falls. The force is so strong, it’s not possible to get under the cascade but it was one of those ‘in awe of nature’ moments. I don’t care what anyone else thought of us. It was an experience neither of us will forget in a hurry.
Tip: The rocks are quite slippy so take your time and be very careful if you decide to follow suit. Wear sandals or swimming shoes if possible.
Walk to Fajã de Lopo Vaz
As we discovered, the weather on Flores varies dramatically for such a small landmass. Mist and rain on one side is often countered by clear skies and sunshine on the other.
Having driven through fog to get across Flores island and failed to see the central lakes, we decided to try our luck further south. At the bottom of the island, the skies were clear enough to risk a walk.
I’ve mentioned that fajãs are the flat parts that can be farmed. Getting to them is the tricky part, bearing in mind that this is a volcanic island with steep sheer cliffs. Fortunately, the trail down to the beach and abandoned fields at Fajã de Lopo Vaz is well established with steps and handrails where needed.
Tip: A walking pole is still useful for leverage; I ended up using a length of cane to keep me steady, especially when my legs started to wobble from exertion on the slog back up.
When we reached the fajã, we were surprised to find a man renovating a house on the black sand beach. His was the only inhabited property on the fajã – I can’t imagine being that isolated.
We followed the footpath past his house and between the field where abandoned huts and cottages and the ruins of a small village lie in the shadow of imposing cliffs cloaked in abundant greenery.
The path ends at another, rockier beach with waterfalls that tumble down the cliffs directly into the sea. Magnificent.
Swim in natural pools at Santa Cruz, Flores island
Having abandoned a walk near the village of Ponta Delgada due to more fog, we drove west to the town of Santa Cruz.
This was definitely the sunny side of the island during our stay so if you’re coming to Flores for the natural swimming pools, you’d be better off basing yourself in this, the largest town on the island.
The grandest building in town is the parish church, built from black volcanic stone.
Stay in a cute stone cottage at Aldeia Cuada
Just outside Fajã Grande, in the section where the mist clears to reveal jungly foliage and tropical flowers, there’s a small village called Aldeia Cuada. It was abandoned a long time ago and the volcanic stone cottages are gradually being restored and converted into self catering accommodation.
Although we didn’t stay there, I wish we had. Each cottage is unique and has a private garden area, although there’s a bar and shared garden behind reception which is open to visitors if you want to be more sociable.
What we missed on Flores island
The geological phenomenon of Rocha dos Bordões remains unseen, at least by Dori and I. We tried at least twice to see this unusual rock formation but the mist wasn’t having any of it. The central lakes are another mystery and I’m determined to do the PR3 walking trail around them when I return.
Getting around Flores
When I first started planning this trip to the Azores, I had hoped to avoid renting a car. Further research into public transport soon convinced me that a car makes much more sense, especially as there are no buses at weekends.
Tip: Don’t leave it too late to book – there are limited vehicles on each island so although it’s possible to get great deals, last minute high season prices will be steep.
Getting to Flores island
Budget airlines like EasyJet have started flying to the Azores, making these Atlantic islands more accessible and affordable than before. However, they only fly to the main island, São Miguel, so you’ll need an inter-island flight from SATA to get to Flores island itself. Note that it’s one of the furthest islands in the archipelago so flights are not especially frequent and you’ll have to plan ahead.
Where to stay in Flores, Azores
Accommodation options on Flores island are somewhat limited so it’s best to book ahead if you can.
Depending on where you base yourself, you can choose from:
Sítio da Assumada, a wooden eco lodge near Fajã Grande
A stone cottage in the village of Aldeia Cuada that I mentioned earlier.
Casas da Cascatas, which has a house by the base of Poço da Bacalhau
INATEL Flores, a modern hotel with a pool and ocean views in Santa Cruz
Azores guide books and maps
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