Sunshine Island: The Yellow Island of Santa Maria in the Azores
Santa Maria is the southernmost island in the Azores archipelago. Known as the “Yellow Island,” Santa Maria is an island recognized for its abundance of sunshine, hence the nickname. This was the first island in the Azores to be discovered and colonized by Portugal in the 15th century. This small island of 5,000 residents has a rich cultural history that dates back over 500 years. It was on this gorgeous island that Christopher Columbus first reached land after discovering the new world. Columbus was familiar with the island as his wife was the daughter of a Portuguese discoverer on the island of Porto Santo, just south of Santa Maria island, where his wife and son lived. It is said when Columbus arrived he was overjoyed to be so close to mainland Europe where he could proclaim his discoveries to the King and Queen of Spain. When they docked he and his crew went to the first church they saw, which still exists, and took mass. The governor of the island Joao Soares D’ Albergaria had Columbus and his crew arrested before letting them go the next day once it was evident that the story of their voyage was true. The first settlement on the island and eventually in all of the Azores region is located in Santana; a small coastal hamlet with a few hundred residents. It is here where “Praia dos Lobos” Lobos beach is located and a charming hotel overlooking the ocean and white sand beach. It was under the command of Captain Goncalo Velho Cabral and his crew in 1432 when they discovered the island to return and populate it with pigs, goats, sheep, chickens, and cattle to colonize this uninhabited piece of land in the Atlantic. The first residents on the islands were brave citizens from Portugal’s northern region of Alentejo, Berais, and Portugal’s southern Algarve region. The island’s relative isolation in the mid-Atlantic and its small size made it vulnerable to pirate attacks throughout its history. The fortifications of lighthouses, watchtowers, and small military cannons along the island’s coasts were erected after the constant looting and kidnapping of the islanders by African pirates’. Santa Maria was the first island in the Azores to have an airport and was the region’s main and only international airport until Terceira and Sao Miguel replaced the island with bigger, more efficient airports. It was with the aid of the British and then after American service members with their military base on Terceira island, which they expanded during world war 2 that made the Azores a strategic Atlantic island location again. Santa Maria has a unique biodiversity which is very different from the other 8 islands in the Azores archipelago. It has a wide variety of marine fossils which is highly rare on volcanic islands in general. This is the only island in the Azores to have such marine fossils and is one of the many unique characteristics that this unspoiled island has to offer. Another interesting fact about Santa Maria is the wide variety of seabirds that nest here throughout their migration period. Cory’s shearwaters, The Azores’ common wood pigeon, The Azores buzzard, The Azores goldcrest, among others all call this small island home. This safe island is important for the habitat and passage of birds during their migratory phase. It is not just the unique fauna that has people visiting this unique island, it’s the flora as well. Here you can experience 21 different varieties of endemic plants and flowers only found either here on Santa Maria island or in the Azores. The Azores bilberry, Azores Laurel, Firetrees, and the Azores heather are just a few of the unique plants and flowers this charming island grows. Whether it is deep caves, white sand beaches, historical churches, or just the peaceful pastoral scenery, the island of Santa Maria is a unique spot in the Azores that is filled with sunshine and is a great spot to visit all year round. All nine islands in the Azores have airports, and flights in the summertime as well as ferry service between Santa Maria and Sao Miguel islands leaves daily. During the winter months you can still travel here easily you just will generally depart from Sao Miguel island and then will take a short 20-minute flight. This charming island produces some unique products due to its volcanic rich soil, relative isolation, and organic methods of production. Sheep farming is popular on the island with some beautiful high-quality wool produced here in small quantities and made into luxury scarfs, sweaters, and blankets. The quality of the wool has been compared to that of sheep from Australia and New Zealand where the famous Italian designer Loro Piana gets her wool from. Another famous product from the region is the Santa Maria cantaloupe melon. This rare variety of melon is part of the cantaloupe family and the mineral-rich soil and unique growing methods make this the queen of fruits on the island. This famous melon is classified in the Azores as a protective fruit since its unique flavor profiles and health properties are unique to this variety of fruit which is only grown on the island of Santa Maria. You can taste the rich, exotic flavors of this special fruit when you visit the island at various local restaurants or it is also available for sale in the local grocery stores in Santa Maria and in the Azores. Our online store has the delicious Santa Maria melon jam which is produced in small batches seasonally on the island of Santa Maria and tastes remarkable.