São Jorge is one of the most scenic islands of the entire archipelago of the Azores. It is part of the central group and with good approximation is equidistant from Graciosa, Pico, Terceira and Faial. It has a very elongated shape, and on its surface of about 250 square kilometers there live about 10,000 inhabitants.
Together with Faial and Pico, Sao Jorge forms the so-called “triangle of the Azores”. It is a long and narrow island, with steep cliffs where it is possible to venture in spectacular walks, but the best way to admire it entirely is to rent a car and wander around the country roads, stopping in the most deserving points of a photo.
Sao Jorge has a rugged coastline and a mountain range that forms the back of it. Its highest peak, the Pico da Esperanca with over 1000 meters of altitude, offers a splendid view of the other islands of the central group.
The best time to visit Sao Jorge is between April and October; in early spring, between April and May, you can witness the migration of some animals, including the blue whale.
Sao Jorge is called island of the fajãs, distinctive plains of the Azores originated by landslides or landslips. On the island there are more than 40, some of which can only be reached on foot, the trails are one of the best ways to learn about the island and its nature. There are paths of varying difficulty and you can also request the help of specialized guides.
Exploring the island of São Jorge is possible to observe the territory, divided into small plots for a subsistence agriculture. Interesting are the typical stone houses with windows with three guillotines, while sooner or later it will be easy to come across the steel cables, used to transport wood from the plains to the coast.
But you can also admire the beauty of the Fajã da Caldeira do Santo Cristo, one of the most beautiful places of the island, a natural lagoon elected to Natural Reserve and Ecological Area, where you can collect clams. Do not miss the Fajã dos Cubres, where there is a lake with crystal clear water, and the Fajã do Ouvidor, with its magnificent natural pools.
Sao Jorge also includes two islets: Ilhéu dos Rosais and, off the eastern end of the island, Ilhéu do Topo, an area chosen by many species of seabirds for nesting. Flowers endemic to the Azores grow here, which is why they have been declared a Nature Reserve.
Only 1 km away from the islet of Topo there is an ancient fishing village, called O Topo, characterized by a small harbor and a lighthouse.
To visit the Natural Park Florestal da Silveira, very popular with families with children because you can walk along the many paths, to reach some vantage points from which you can admire the island from above. There is also a picnic area, to relax after the walk.
The Pico da Esperança is the highest point of the island, from which you can enjoy an unforgettable panoramic view of all Sao Jorge and nearby Pico, Graciosa, Terceira and Faial.
It is impossible not to take a nice walk along the seashore near Urzelina, where you will come across the“Furnas da Pombas“, a curious volcanic rock formation populated by pigeons. Characteristic of Urzelina is the tower, all that remains of an ancient church that was buried when the Pico de Esperanca erupted in 1808.
Sao Jorge certainly doesn’t have any big cities, only small villages and towns. However, two of them are definitely bigger and more interesting: Velas and Calheta.
The capital of Sao Jorge, founded in 1460, is home to some churches of high artistic and architectural level as the Church of Santa Barbara, which has a valuable collection of hand-painted tiles depicting scenes from the life of the Saint.
For those hunting for souvenirs, it is a must to buy a Mantella de Sao Jorge, brightly colored blankets made by hand using the techniques of the past.
From the port of Velas, well protected from the weather, ferries leave for the other islands.
It is a small town on the coast, where the white houses are in strong contrast with the black rocks. In Calheta you can visit the local churches and the interesting Regional Museum.
Like several islands of the Azores, Sao Jorge is not exactly the best destination for those who want to spend some time at the beach lying in the sun. It seems incredible, since all around the island there is the Ocean, but the coasts of Sao Jorge are very jagged and do not offer beaches of great importance.
However there is something, especially in Calheta: the Faja das Almas, for example, but also the Faja de Sao Joao and the Faja de Santo Cristo. It may not be Hawaii, but anyone who has gone to these places has been more than satisfied.
One of the easiest and most immediate things to do on the island of Sao Jorge is…. try to see it all. You can do it by renting a car, but also a nice bike ride is really nice, although obviously you can not cover all distances. However, there are also other activities that are particularly appreciated by those who go to this magnificent place.
The island of São Jorge is by far one of those with the best routes for canyoning, offering participants wonderful landscapes where, among other features, should be highlighted the many beautiful waterfalls where participants will have a real and unforgettable contact with nature and the freshness of the island.
The Azores have recently been discovered as a place of excellence for surfing. The magnificent surrounding landscape and the richness of the Ocean create a perfect environment for an unforgettable adventure. The Faja de Santo Cristo is considered a sanctuary for surfers and bodyboarders, as well as a hidden paradise that is truly worth visiting.
In Sao Jorge there are two factories that provide work for the inhabitants of the island. The first, located in Calhetas, produces a very high quality tuna, while the other is dedicated to the production of the true delicacy of this island: the Queijo of San Jorge, a cheese with an amazing taste. Stop by, but don’t eat too much!
The main festival held in São Jorge is the Feast of the Holy Spirit, which begins with the coronation of an “emperor”. For 8 consecutive days, the island is in celebration, culminating in a lavish buffet complete with music and jesters.
In the first week of July, the Culture Week is held in Velas. Calheta celebrates it in the second week of July, with music, theater, exhibitions, conferences and national and international artists.
The festival of Santo Cristo is held in Faja del Santo Cristo on the first Sunday of September. It is a cheerful festival with colorful fireworks and live music, which frame a solemn religious ceremony.
Sao Jorge has an elongated and narrow shape: it is therefore advisable to stay in the center of the island, not to risk being too far from other interesting areas.
Most visitors choose to stay overnight in the capital Velas, where there is a good choice of hotels and guesthouses. Outside Velas the range of facilities available is rather limited.
The beautiful, small Casa do Antonio gives its guests a fresh, modern feel; the en-suite rooms are spacious and comfortable and the staff is always welcoming. Complimentary tea and coffee are offered as well as traditional fruit and sweets. The eight en-suite rooms are different from each other, but all have telephones, air conditioning, safes and cable TV. The so-called “tower room” is the best, with its breathtaking views of Pico and a private balcony; it’s the only room with a double bed.
One of the best-equipped hotels on the island, with a pool, tennis court, gardens and well-appointed rooms with ocean views, and a bar with a rooftop terrace.
Exactly as for the other islands, also to reach Sao Jorge the most indicated means is the airplane. The airport is located in the vicinity of Velas, and was inaugurated in 1989. Today it is “monopolized” by a single company, the Sata Air Acores, which covers the routes to and from Terceira and Ponta Delgada.
If instead you want to reach Sao Jorge from one of the other islands of the archipelago, you can easily do it by boat, which is also a rather economical solution. From the port of Velas ferries depart frequently for the other islands: the journey to and from the nearby Pico and Faial is quite short, for the others it is necessary to consider a longer duration.
On the island is still very difficult to get around with public transport as they are little used and developed, are even almost non-existent inland.
The only way to explore the length and breadth of Sao Jorge without any limitations is to rent a car. On the island there are very few of them, so it is advisable to book it in advance before departure through the Internet.
Sporty people who like to be in contact with nature might also consider renting a bicycle. You’ll be surrounded by nature in the open air, and it’s definitely the cheapest way to explore the island.