Visiting São Jorge

If you are going to S Jorge then prepare to be amazed: my favorite island is S Jorge. There are so many things to see and fun things to do. In this post, I will go through what I recommend to see as well as some tips on where to stay and where to eat.

View over São Jorge with the island of Pico in the background. Image by Ó. Nogueira CC-BY2.0

What to see on São Jorge?

São Jorge is a large island compared to the central islands’ counterparts with a 1,5-hour drive from end-to-end. Therefore, if you want to be able to explore all the different parts of the island you should have some kind of car. Below are my favorite things to do or see on the island of São Jorge.

Aeral shot over São Jorge. As can be seen, the island appears to be slightly leaning with higher cliffs on one side
View over Fajã dos Cubres and Fajã da Caldeira in the background. They are connected by a path which can only be done by foot!

Hike to the Fajas

The Fajãs are naturally made stretches of land that appeared from the crumbling of cliffs. These then became inhabited by the local fishermen who used that land as a base from which to fish. A great thing to do in São Jorge is to hike from the top of the cliffs, down to the Fajãs. While you can of course do your own itinerary and find what is the most suitable for you, I did the following and I recommend you to do the same if you are unsure: You drive first with your car to the Fajã dos Cubres . Once there, you grab a taxi (it should be ordered before) and head to the top of the ridge at Serra do Topo. When you are there you can hike along a path that takes you to the Fajã da Caldeira, which is otherwise pretty much inaccessible by car. From there you can walk the last hour back to the original spot to Fajã dos Cubres where you left your car. This hike should take you 4-5 hours depending on if you stop to enjoy the viewpoints and enjoy taking pictures of cows.

Cascada Pequena can be found on the hike down to Fajã da Caldeira. The hike passes though green hills and luscious green forest.

Visit the abandoned lighthouse of Farol dos Rosais

This lighthouse is located on the western end of São Jorge. You will have to drive a while to reach it and drive on dirt roads. The drive is quite long so you should not drive too fast on these dirt roads. I actually punctured a tire on the way! However, the view will be worth it. The lighthouse was built in 1958 and decommissioned in 1982. The cliffs are very beautiful and you will see a lot of birds resting on the rocks while fishing. Driving to the lighthouse is an experience in itself as you will be driving along green rolling hills and grazing cows. Once at the lighthouse, the scenery is even more beautiful with the cliffs but mind the drop!

Visit Miradouro do Topo

The eastern extremity of the island is less remote than the previous. There are natural pools in which you can bathe. Furthermore, there is a small village close by, called Topo, in which you can have lunch or even dinner. One thing worth mentioning is the uninhabited island of Ilhéu do Topo which is only a few hundred meters from the shore. This island is used for sheep and cows to graze and is left for themselves; they would be moved back and forth with a ferry. This offers them some of the best grazing spots in the Azores.

Visit the famous cheese factories

There are a few factories that offer guided tours of how the Azorean cheese: Queijo da Ilha is made. One is the União de Cooperativas Agricolas de Lacticínios de São Jorge. This is a large factory that gathers milk from all across the island. Another place to visit however which I strongly recommend is the small artisanal factory of Canada located in the town of Santo Amaro. This family business has been passed down through several generations and the sons are still making the cheeses by hand.

Café Nunes is run by the same family that grows their own coffee beans on the slopes of São Jorge

Try coffee from the only coffee plantation in Europe

This unknown small plantation on São Jorge is the only one on European soil. The story is that the family which holds the plantation has been approached by the Portuguese company Delta to expand and commercialize the novelty. However, it seems like the family valued more their own enterprise and freedom than the money that would come with such a deal.

The family offers small tours of the plantation: the guide speaks very good English! There are also small artisanal museums that display different artisanal work like baskets and clothes weaving. 

The family also has their own little café which brews the coffee from their beans. The café is called Nunes and can be found in the little village of Fajã dos Vimes. The modest café also offers homemade small biscuits. Very charming family and a cute café.

Where to stay on São Jorge?

View from our porch on Intact Farm Bungalow

São Jorge offers a few accommodations despite the small towns. A lot of Bed&Breakfasts are located outside of the towns and are scattered mostly along the southern coast, where the main towns and roads are. I would recommend staying somewhere in the middle of the island since the island is very long and you will likely have to drive a lot if you are located in one of the extremities. Also, keep in mind that if you are staying in one of the Fajãs (villages at the bottom of the cliffs) on the northern side, the climb by car back to the top of the island takes a while: therefore, it is better to stay on the southern coast where you can easily move around. While there are a number of great places with amazing views over Pico, my favorites are:

  • Intact Farm Bungalow. the owner was a great host, offering us wine and bread in the morning. He also offered us rides in his cars. The Bungalows offer a great view over his vineyards.
  • Quinta das Figueiras. A 3-star hotel with affordable rooms a little bit outside of the town of Velas. They even have a small pool should you feel like taking a dip and have a view over Pico before heading out for your daily trip.
  • Most hotels in the main town of Velas are very affordable. However, don’t expect hotels with all the commodities like Jacuzzi and such. This is still a remote island far from the European mainland.

Where to eat and drink?

Lunch with my friends at the Sabores Sopranos. My friends had the grilled stick while I had the pork casserole with mussels: very tasty!

São Jorge offers amazing food due to the many local farms supplying great quality produce. Meat comes from cattle on the island and fish is caught by the fishermen working from the ports of São Jorge and other nearby islands. Since the prices are generally very cheap, you can’t really go wrong from getting overcharged. Places to eat in São Jorge I can recommend are the following:

  • Fornos de Lava. This restaurant has a great view over Pico and offers a higher cuisine. While the prices are higher the scenery is hardly beaten.
  • Flor do Jardim. A little café in the middle of Velas, next to the city park. This café offers good lunch at a very affordable price. Good stop to have a quick meal when passing thru the port.
  • O Branquinho. Located on the western part of the island, this restaurant has a great variety of dishes with meat. Perfect stop if you are headed for the Farol on the Ponta dos Rosais.
  • Sabores Sopranos. This restaurant is on the way if you are going to the Topo on the eastern extremity of São Jorge. The place offers grilled meat as well as seafood. The restaurant is right next to the main road so it is a very convenient place to have dinner or lunch when going/returning to Velas.
Restaurant Fornos de Lava with the view over Pico. Imaged owned by Fornos de Lava CC-BY2.0

To sum-up

São Jorge is one of my favorite Azores islands due to the breathtaking cliffs with the Fajã, the abundance of cows grazing on the slopes, and the many cute villages offering good food with Mount Pico as a view. If you want to read more about the Azores, you can read more about the islands in my Azores category or read my full guide on how to plan your trip to the Azores linked here. Happy traveling!

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