MARY City Guides: Smokin’ Clouds in Azores

Text by David Schayne

Photos by Ross Belfer and David Schayne

As the raw Middle Atlantic flexes its muscle against the friendly rock cliffs, the greens are as beautiful as they are vexing. It seems everything we were ever though of as an ecosystem seems to fly out the roof of your convertible smart car the deeper you wander into the island(s).

Evergreens and cacti were ever more harmonious in the same landscape as in the Azores. The smell of giant, dewy tropical leafed plants and the sharp saltiness of the Atlantic spry manifested every breath like real nose candy. The deep verdes and light leaf greens dancing at the every changing light, the clouds and sky move at remarkable speed. The piney, woodsy aroma of towering evergreens dance around your nose; the green and purple cactus laze over black, volcanic-rock garden fences. Thermal pools amidst Jurassic-like landscapes entrench you in an unfamiliarly comatose state that brings your blood pressure and mental state in perfect balance.

A place many have heard of but few can find on a map (2-and-some hours flight direct from Lisbon; and 4-hours direct from Boston on SATA Airlines), which makes this archipelago of nine islands smack in the middle of the Atlantic feel even more special. The Azores offer unique feeling not to be felt in many parts of the world. The microclimate ensures that a flash of every season occurs almost daily, which makes dressing based on mood quite difficult, but rainy season storms last about fifteen minutes and soon gives way to tropical sun, rainbows, and an even sweeter, dewier fragrance in the wet air.

In this surrealist biosphere of infinite green landscapes, the tessellations of volcanic rock vineyards present themselves as opal stone estuaries crawling up mountainsides impossibly reaching mountain tops.

The climate is too wild and savage for a grape to mature to red, it simply doesn’t have what it takes to mature into red wine on the vine, specifically on the island of Pico, where a soaring volcano — the archipelago’s largest — towers over vineyards floored under black sand laden over time since the last eruptions in the 16th century. Thankfully this produces a white wine as unique the terrevoir is hails from. Characterized by a high salinity and ashy volcanic flavor, the delightfully tart and slightly acidic whites are perfect foils for the freshest fish, galickiest clams and stew kale and pork based nourishment that the island has always prided itself on.

A place not many people have seen before. Azores is a destination; everything opens to you when you arrive at your destination. The contradictions on the islands only leave one dazed by the beauty that comes from these oxymoronic pairings; dozens of greens from evergreens, grape vines and cacti, more cows than people, dilapidated houses with an oddly, new fresh coat of saturated red paint. Once these curious combos start to seep in and becomes commonplace in your head, is when the island really start to present themselves in an intimate way. This intimacy is best discovered in the Azorean people, but don’t ever expect a smile from the never red sun beaten faces of Azorean locals. Although friendly, the locals don’t go out of their way to treat you differently, or even notice you. The nonchalant behavior of locals connects to the scarcity of humans that you feel on islands like Pico and Terceira, the perception of sounds forms into a enveloping and reciprocal experience with nature with the absence of man-made sounds. This elevated Zen of a stoic silence is a gift the Azoreans give every time they don’t bother saying anything in return.

A population of few with the cultural of many as diverse as it is rich, Beaches are laden with purple inflected shopping bags which are actually poisonous jellyfish to the mossy balconies of the abandon hotel near the lookout pout from where you pick up French tourists while smoking the very clouds you may drive thru on route to a volcano.

Smokin’ Clouds in Azores