GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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February 26, 2013

Azores calling visitors back to their roots

For the thousands of people hereabouts whose families hail from the Azores, a visit to the homeland has never been faster, cheaper and more welcome.

A new schedule from SATA airlines covers the speed (nonstop, under four hours) and cost (as low as about $500 roundtrip), and the archipelago’s authorities and Mother Nature are doing the rest. Offers of discount packages, top-grade accommodations, gourmet meals and extraordinary eco-excursions this time of year are aimed to boost the tourism trade the islands so need.

Yet, even in Gloucester, where so many families trace their origins back to the Azores — and where linguica, kale soup and sardines are common stock — the motherland can be a mystery.

“It’s an undiscovered Hawaii,” said Gloucester resident Christina Morais Parisi, whose parents came from the islands to Cape Ann in 1967. She first brought her young son to visit his great-grandmother and several aunts and uncles two years ago, and hopes to go back soon.

Even if you have not heard of the Azores, a collection of nine islands in the Atlantic Ocean about midway between Boston and mainland Portugal — never mind been there – the land, the closest point to Europe from the United States, evokes so many foreign styles and attractions, it can thrill the most seasoned traveler.

Island officials, meanwhile, are happy to have relatives and descendants of Azoreans visit, but wish they could allure more of the travel and leisure set to partake of the beauty, peace and adventure the area proffers.

“We are struggling for more tourists,” said Carlos Rodrigues, a hotel executive on the largest island, San Miguel. “For example, I spoke to a group of 1,200 people in Toronto and you could count on your fingers how many knew about the Azores.”

Like so many countries, the Azores (and parent nation, Portugal) were walloped in the financial crash. The economy is making a comeback, but aside from exporting pineapples and tea, tourism is the trade mainstay and not enough tourists, say officials, think of the Azores as a destination.

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