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Flores: the beginning of Europe

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If you stand on the beach at Faja de Baixo and look out at the sea you can imagine that there is nothing but water between you and the eastern coast of the United States.

Behind you, 40 waterfalls cascade down soaring cliffs. There is not a more enchanting place than Flores, and its tiny neighbor Corvo. Together they make up the Western Group of Azorean islands – over 150 miles from the Central Group, Flores’ landscape is quite different from the rest of the Azores, it feels younger, and windswept.

Flores western coast is a flat slice of land, called a Fajã, running from the cliffs of the mountain plateau to sharp black rocks and beaches along the Atlantic. Tiny towns, with white washed houses flow to the sea, and a dozen of waterfalls splash from the cliffs behind them. In this mild climate, there are cedar forests, tidal pools, and trails to climb to the waterfalls, and even ponds to swim in at the foot of waterfalls.

The central mountain plains are dotted with seven crater lakes, all easily accessed by foot or car, all at different heights, so that some are actual higher than others that lie along side. The landscape here is like an English moor with lines of hydrangeas that follow the road’s that rise fall with the green landscape. Sheep, goats and cattle graze amid the dark crater lakes, and rabbits dash back and forth from the brush.

The southern coast is home to the former whaling town of Lajes Das Flores, where the black ramp leading up to former whaling factory is still the best way to the rocky beach. Old tripots and whaling implements are on display at the factory. Nearby restaurants serve the fresh catch of the day, and 19th century church crowns over the village.

Follow the ocean road north through cedar forest to the main town of Santa Cruz on the east coast. The small island of Corvo, shaped like a giant tear floats 30 miles off the coast, its 300 inhabitants living in the island’s only town, Vila Novo do Corvo. The wild and open place is accessed by a 10-minute flight, ferry, and by tagging along on a local fishing boat.

Pleasant, white, and riding high black sea cliffs, Santa Cruz boast most of the island’s simple eateries, many run by fishermen and their families, as well as a whaling museum (with lots of New England artifacts, and all sorts of bottles of whale oil), and numerous churches. The town offers a few basic hotels, and plenty of activity in its ports.

Follow the road north along steep sea cliffs to the northern town of Ponta Delgada, with its lighthouse and open coast. From here trials stretch back miles to the south coast, perfect of hiking. There is no access for cars, and the landscape is green, wild, and natural. No village or sign of life can be found for miles, as the centuries old footpaths lead through waterfalls, and striking sea views back to the westernmost coast in Europe.

The archipelago of the Azores, the closest point in Europe to New England, is made up of nine islands. The sapphire blue and emerald green lakes, fertile prairies, volcanic cones and craters, colorful hydrangeas and azaleas, 15th century churches and majestic manor houses make the Azores unlike anywhere else on earth. As a destination, the Azores has won many accolades: One of 10 Best Values, USA Today; Top 10 Places for Whale Watching, Sherman’s Travel; Top 3 Places to See Foliage Outside of the US, Wall Street Journal and Top 10 Islands You Never Heard of from Budget Travel.

Flores flô´riz, Port. flô´r [symbol] sh) , island (pop. 4,435), 58 sq mi (150 sq km, the most westerly of the Azores, Portugal. Santa Cruz is its chief town. Cattle raising is the main industry.

Azores Express, a U.S.-based tour operator and member of the SATA Group, offers direct flights on wide body A310 aircraft to São Miguel, the main island in the Azores archipelago, with connections to Flores.

For more information and reservations, contact Azores Express at 800-762-9995, www.sata.pt. For more information about the Azores Islands visit Portugal’s official tourist board site at www.visitportugal.com and www.drtacores.pt.

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