Flores and Corvo are the westernmost islands in the Azores and are situated over the North American tectonic plate. Flores has a surface area of 143 km2 and the highest point is 914 m at Morro Alto, followed by Pico da Burrinha (886 m) and Pico do Touro (671 m). Inland areas are not particularly rugged, but several caldera-lie craters and cinder cones are dotted across the landscape, some of which contain permanent lakes, like Lagoa Funda, Lagoa Rasa and Lagoa Negra. Lagoa Funda lake is the largest on the island, has a maximum depth of 200 m and measures 800 m in diameter.
A very peculiar and striking geomorphological formation is Fajã Grande – Fajãzinha, a valley that opens to the west and surrounded by a cirque of crags that rise to over 200 m. This is the head of a well-defined ravine (Ribeira Grande) that carries water all year round and has a spectacular series of cascades at the source. The highest coastal cliffs tower to 250-300 m and are found on the north and west flanks. The east coast is much gentler and features recent lava flows and alluvium deposits that have given rise to the low-lying platforms or promontories of Santa Cruz das Flores, Lajes das Flores and Ponta da Rocha Alta. Other low-lying platforms are found at Ponta Delgada and Fajã Grande on the west and northwest coasts. Another coastal landmark is the islet of Ilhéu de Maria Vaz, situated in the northwest.
Flores is undoubtedly the wettest island in the Azores. Contributing factors are its considerable height in relation to its size, its location in the middle of the ocean and its latitude. Average annual rainfall in low-lying areas is around 1430 mm, but in mountainous regions it can exceed 3700 mm. In fact, in a specific location in the northern half of the island, precipitation varies from 4500 to 4900 mm. As a consequence, cloud cover and rainy days are the norm on Flores. Hours of sunshine are few and mainly restricted to summertime. West winds and the occasional cyclones from the Western Atlantic also affect the island.
Flores has a population of 3800 inhabitants (2011) who live in the island’s two municipalities of Santa Cruz das Flores and Lajes das Flores. Aside from the capital (Santa Cruz), the most important villages are Lajes, Ponta Delgada, Fajã Grande, Fazenda das Lajes and Lomba. At one time the population numbered over 10 000 but has declined considerably over the past 150 years. Emigration has been a recurring phenomenon throughout Flores’ history, which is also true of the neighbouring island of Corvo.
The economy of Flores chiefly depends on the primary sector, especially cattle (milk and meat products), tourism and, to a certain extent, fishing. The stunning landscape, coupled with the tranquillity and isolation of the island, have allured many European visitors seeking contact with nature and the local people. In the past, exports included dyer’s woad, orchilla and sheep’s wool, and in 1860, whaling was introduced, reaching its culminating moment in the 1930s. At one stage, there were two whale factories, one in Santa Cruz and the other in Lajes. Agriculture was initially synonymous with subsistence farming. Sweet potatoes, potatoes and other vegetables, along with fish and bread, were the staple diet of the local people. Today, however, stockbreeding is much more important than agriculture on this island and, thanks to heavy rainfall, pastures are green all year round.
The name of the island stems from the numerous flowers that carpeted the cliffs when it was first sighted in 1542 by the Portuguese Diogo de Teive and his son João. This was a late discovery compared with the other islands in the archipelago and Flores and Corvo were the last to be discovered. Flores was initially peopled by settlers mainly from Terceira and Madeira. Historical events worthy of mention include corsair and pirate incursions. In June 1587, for example, five English ships razed the town of Lajes to the ground, and in 1770 Lajes again came under attack, this time by American corsairs. Interestingly, roads were not adequately built until the 1950s, yet the airport and port were renovated in the 1960s. Fortunately, Flores has escaped the devastating effects of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions (the most recent recorded seismic event was in 1793), and has no historical volcanism.