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In the Azores, the menu includes coffee, tea and tradition

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Living on a remote island at the mercy of nature demands resiliency, and the Azores do qualify as remote: nine volcanic islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, 850 miles off the coast of Portugal, their protectorate. The Azores are known for volcanic craters, natural hot springs, 600-foot waterfalls, mountains, cerulean lagoons and dense forests.

But it has not always been idyllic on the islands. Throughout their history, Azoreans have had to overcome disease, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and hurricanes that have decimated their food supply and threatened their economy and survival.

But they are masters of reinvention and ingenuity: They have learned how to cultivate tea and coffee, plants that are not native to the islands but flourish in the temperate climate and mineral-rich volcanic soil. They have also preserved and perfected centuries-old traditions in cheesemaking and wine production to ensure sustainability and safeguard their culture. They proudly share their agrarian heritage with travellers seeking an authentic Azorean experience.

Coffee

I had to walk briskly to keep up with 66-year-old Manuel Nunes. He climbs the hillsides of his coffee farm with the sure-footedness of a ram, easily negotiating the rocky terrain. His muscular fingers are adept at plucking the beans swiftly from their stems. He will dry them in the sun and roast them on his stovetop in a cast iron pan, to sell as beans and to serve as coffee at Café Nunes in Fajã dos Vimes, a village of 70 people on São Jorge Island.

Nunes’ tiny farm is the largest plantation in Europe, with 700 plants yielding approximately 1,600 pounds of coffee annually — tiny when compared to major coffee-growing countries. The low altitude coupled with high humidity makes this microclimate ideal for growing arabica coffee. There are no insects on the island that destroy the beans so no chemicals are required. The result is a strong cup of Joe without acidity. Nunes does nearly all the work himself, including the long harvest from May to September.

“It’s what I love to do. It’s my passion. It’s where I belong. I feel well here,” he said (his daughter, Dina Nunes, did the translating).

The plants came from Brazil, though no one knows exactly how they arrived. “A lot of people immigrated to Brazil in 1800s after the 1757 earthquake, but some returned, probably with seeds or plants,” Dina Nunes said.

At first, Manuel Nunes grew coffee for his own consumption and, as was the custom, to serve to his wife’s clients while they considered purchasing one of her handmade bedspreads.

Maria Alzira A. Nunes is renowned for a style of weaving called high point, one of the island’s most famous handicrafts. On a wooden loom built by her husband, she weaves together a patchwork of predominantly red and yellow squares and rectangles, a technique passed down from her great-grandmother.

“People started coming a lot, and that was a lot of coffee,” Dina Nunes said. “My father said, ‘Work for nothing? No!’ So he built the cafe in 1997.”

At first only locals came, but the Nunes’ reputation grew, and now tourists as well as locals come to buy coffee, tour the plantation and watch the bedspreads being made.

Cheese

Queijaria Canada is a small, family-run cheese factory in the farming village of Santo Amaro on São Jorge Island. The enterprise has one vat that is filled with fresh milk twice a day by João Silveira after he milks his cows. His mother, Graça Silveira, separates the curds and whey. Her husband and João’s father, Manuel Silveira, presses the curds into round moulds to give the cheese its shape. After 48 hours, the moulds are removed and the cheese is stored on crude wooden shelves to cure for 60 days.

Manuel Silveira is a third-generation cheesemaker. He produces only one type, called Canada, a semihard, spicy cheese with a buttery tang similar to other cheeses produced on São Jorge. He sells about 3,700 pounds a year to restaurants and specialty stores on the other islands, in Portugal and at his dairy’s shop, where visitors can sample the cheese and see it being made.

“If you go to a restaurant here or on another island, they will ask if you want the cheese of São Jorge or if you want the normal cheese,” Silveira told me (Dina Nunes again did the translating). “Normal cheese” in this case means whatever brands have been imported.

Cheesemaking in the Azores dates to the 15th century with the arrival of Flemish settlers, who, through a royal decree by a Portuguese prince, Henry the Navigator, were brought to the Azores for colonization.

Silveira makes cheese in small batches to ensure the flavour is consistent. (The cows eat lots of organic green grass, and you can taste it in the cheese.) He sends soil samples to the University of the Azores on São Miguel Island for analysis to determine what the land needs.

“We make this cheese with intelligence, love and passion. It’s very important. If São Jorge doesn’t do it, another island will, and on São Jorge, we are farmers. We need this tradition to survive,” Silveira said.

Wine

On a clear day from São Jorge Island, you can see Mount Pico on Pico Island. A short ferry ride will take you there. Mount Pico is 7,713 feet tall and its towering height is one key to the island’s successful viniculture.

“This huge mountain grabs most of the clouds so we have more sunlight here than on the other islands,” said António Maçanita, co-founder of the Azores Wine Co. It has 247 acres of vineyards and produces 40,000 bottles of wine a year.

Here, the vines grow on the ground rather than on trellises. Instead of being hindered by an overabundance of volcanic rocks, the Azoreans have used them to their advantage. Black basalt walls protect the vines from harsh wind and seawater and keep them warm with heat retained from the sun — although temperatures rarely dip below 52 degrees or exceed 80 degrees*. These 3-foot-tall rectangular pens, called currais, are visible all over the island at vineyards and farms and in backyards, where wine is produced for personal consumption.

“Salt is terrible for a vineyard, but the vineyards that have survived here are from here and can take a bit of salt,” said Maçanita, who makes white wine using the Indigenous grapes verdelho, terrantez do Pico and arinto dos Açores. Each varietal has its own distinctive notes but shares a refreshing blend of fruit, mineral and salt, much like the Azores themselves. It’s the only white wine I have ever tasted that I have liked.

Grapes have been cultivated on Pico since the 15th century, after early settlers recognized the vines fared well in the volcanic soil. With an influx of new immigrants came different grape varieties, and a thriving export business to the United States, Europe and even Russia until the mid-1850s, when its vineyards were devastated by twin plagues of mildew and vermin.

“This took production from 10 million litres to 25,000 litres by 1859,” Maçanita said.

“One way we survived that crisis was by planting rootstocks from America and Europe that were more resistant to mildew, a tradition we maintain today,” said Ana Ferreira, the marketing director at Pico Wines, a co-operative of 300 members who grow the grapes from which the wine is made and share in the profits. The co-op was formed in 1949 to help resuscitate the declining industry.

The crumbling currais were rebuilt, native grapes were replanted, and a cultural legacy was revived. In 2004, UNESCO recognized the efforts when the landscape of the Pico Island vineyard culture was named a World Heritage site.

“It’s pretty extreme to do grapes here, but when you mix these factors — volcanic soil, proximity to the ocean, this latitude and three Indigenous grapes — the taste is completely different,” Maçanita said. “Authenticity for wines is most of all a sense of place. You have no doubt when you put one of these wines to your nose what type of place it comes from.”

Tea

Chá Gorreana, the oldest and largest tea plantation in Europe, is on São Miguel Island, a 50-minute flight from Pico.

“My family put the tea in, and we had faith it would grow,” said Madalena Mota, whose relatives founded Gorreana five generations ago in 1883 when blight wiped out their orange crop.

The first tea plantation was started around 1820 by Jacinto Leite, who brought camellia-sinensis seeds to the Azores from Brazil.

Only Gorreana and the neighbouring Chá Porto Formoso plantations remain from a once-thriving industry that peaked in the 20th century. Mota attributes Gorreana’s longevity to the use of hydroelectricity, which runs the machines required for manufacturing. This practice has not changed since 1920, when it was implemented by her great-grandfather.

To make black tea, the leaves are air-dried for 10 hours, then placed in a rolling machine to remove the sap; they are oxidized, dried again and then packaged. The process for green tea is similar except the leaves are steamed before going into the roller and are not oxidized before drying.

“The water comes from our stream. This energy keeps me alive now because we are in Europe, and energy is expensive. If we didn’t have my energy, we would close,” Mota said.

Gorreana produces 40 tons of green and black tea annually from the plant camellia-sinensis; it is sold in the Azores and exported to niche markets in Canada, the United States and Europe.

The company does not use chemicals, as there are no funguses that adversely affect the plants on the island. It is aromatic and smooth with a rich, full flavour.

Gorreana’s 86 acres are open daily. Visitors can walk the fields, take a tour, observe the tea-making process and sample tea, all at no charge.

“This is my passion,” Mota said. “But Gorreana is not mine. It’s from the Azores, from Portugal. To pass it on to the next generation is to keep it alive.”

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Travel & Escape

Why your hotel mattress feels like heaven (and how to bring that feeling home)

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(NC) Choosing the right mattress is a long-term investment in your health and well-being. To make a good choice for your home, take a cue from luxury hotel-room beds, which are designed to support the sound sleep of tens of thousands of guests, 365 nights a year.

“When we’re shopping for a mattress, we do lab testing, identify the best materials, bring in multiple mattress samples and have our associates test them,” explains David Rizzo, who works for Marriott International. “We ask for ratings on comfort level, firmness, body support and movement disruption. It takes 12 to 18 months just to research and select materials.”

Here, he shares his tips to pick the perfect mattress for your best sleep:

Understand your needs. People have different food and exercise preferences, as well as different sleep cycles. So, it’s no surprise that everyone has unique mattress preferences. Not sure whether a firm or a soft mattress is better? Rizzo says the best gauge is to ask yourself, “Do I wake up with aches and pains?” If the answer is no, you’re golden.

Foam versus spring. All mattresses have a core that is made up foam or innersprings or a combination of the two. Today’s foam-core mattresses contain memory foam — a material engineered by NASA to keep astronauts comfortable in their seats. It’s special because it retains or “remembers” its shape, yielding to pressure from the sleeper’s body, then bouncing back once the pressure is removed.

An innerspring mattress has an encased array of springs with individual coils that are connected by a single helical wire. This wire creates continuous movement across the coil that minimizes disruption if the mattress is disturbed, such as by a restless sleeper. According to Rizzo, the innerspring is “bouncier.”

Temperature preference. Consider how warm or cool you like to sleep, and factor in the construction of the mattress to find one with a temperature that suits you. The air space engineered into an innerspring mattress promotes ventilation, which some people find keeps them pleasantly cool. To accomplish the same purpose with a foam mattress (or the foam layer of an innerspring) it may be infused with metal, usually silver or copper, to help dissipate heat and humidity.

Need to test out the right mattress for your needs? Find the right fit during your next trip by booking your stay at marriott.com.

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Travel & Escape

How to make the most of summer travel

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(NC) One of the best parts of our short Canadian summers is the opportunity to enjoy them a little bit extra on long weekends. If you need ideas, check out these creative things to do whether you decide to stay in town or go away.

Do a dinner crawl. Pub crawls are fun for couples, friends and also families with older kids. For an exciting twist that stretches your dollars and lets you taste food from several spots before you get too full, try a dinner crawl. Eat apps at one restaurant, mains at another and dessert at another.

Go on a mini getaway. You don’t need to go very far to enjoy a vacation – exploring a Canadian city over a summer weekend is great way to treat yourself to a holiday. Whether it’s checking out the museums in Toronto or the parks in Vancouver, there’s something for everyone. For upgraded benefits, special experiences and the best rates guaranteed, join Marriott Bonvoy and book direct on Marriott.com.

Host a potluck. Perfect whether you’re staying at home or going to your cottage, gather friends and family together for some food and fun. A potluck is an easy and affordable way to host a big get-together and lets everyone try something new and swap recipes. Make the festivities extra special with a fireworks potluck, too – ask everyone to bring some fireworks or sparklers and put on a light show. Just be sure to follow local regulations for consumer fireworks.

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Lottoland: Here’s why Canadians love it!

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Lotteries have been in existence for many centuries now and it’s an open secret that most people enjoy playing a good lottery.

Asides from gauging your own luck, the thrill of playing, the anticipation of the results and the big wins every now and then is something most people look forward to. Since 1982, the lottery has been in Canada, but now there is a way to play both the Lotto and other international lotteries from Canada, all from the comfort of your home.

With Lottoland, all you need to do is register and get access to numerous international lotteries right from their website. The easy-to-use interface has all the information you need, and great amount of care has been taken to ensure that the online experience is similar—and even better—than if players were to visit each location personally.

The Powerball and Mega Millions lotteries are hitting record highs with their prize money, in what the organizers claim to be the largest jackpot in the history of the world. However, the U.S. has gambling laws that are state controlled and buying your ticket through an online broker can be considered gambling.

“No one except the lottery or their licensed retailers can sell a lottery ticket. No one. Not even us. No one. No, not even that website. Or that one,” Powerball’s website says.

Therefore, to stand a chance to win the $1.5 billion-dollar lottery jackpot it means you have to purchase your lottery tickets directly from a licensed retailer such as Lottoland.

Since 2013, Lottoland has been operating in Canada, rapidly growing in popularity amongst Canadians. Due to its easy of use and instant access to lotteries that were previously considered inaccessible—as Canadians had to travel all the way to the U.S. to purchase tickets in the past—Lottoland has attracted lots of visitors.

Currently, there about 8-million players on Lottoland, a figure that points to the reliability of the website.

One of the core values of Lottoland is transparency and that’s why a quick search on the website would show you a list of all of their winners. Recently, a Lottoland customer was awarded a world-record fee of $137 million CND.

Also, due to the incredibly slim chances of winning the grand prize not everyone would take home mega-dollar winnings, but there are substantial winnings every day.

Securing your information online is usually one important factor when registering on any platform and as the site explains, “Lottoland works very hard to verify your information.”

The site has a multi-verification process that will ensure that you confirm your identity and age before giving you a pay-out. However, in the rare case that a player has immediate luck and wins a lottery before completing the verification process, Lottoland will hold on to the winnings until they complete your verification.

While this might seem like a tedious process, it is very important as these safety features would ensure that your information wasn’t stolen and ultimately your winning routed to another account.

Lottoland is licensed with the National Supervisory Bodies For Lotteries in several countries such as the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden, Ireland and Australia—where it is called a wagering license. Typically, most gaming companies don’t establish insurance companies as it entails that their activities have to be transparent and the must be highly reputable in the industry.

Nonetheless, Lottoland has no issues meeting up to these standards as they have established themselves as the only gaming sector company who has its own insurance company—an added advantage for new and existing users.

Lotteries aren’t the only games Canadians enjoy playing and Lottoland recognizes this by providing players with other types of gaming. As an industry leader, video designers of online games often make them their first choice when it comes to publishing their works.

Online games such as slots, blackjack, video poker, baccarat, keno, scratchoffs, roulette and many others are always on offer at the Lottoland Casino. There’s also the option of playing with a live dealer and a total of over 100 games.

Lottoland has received numerous rave reviews from its growing list of satisfied customer and their responsive customer service agents are always available to answer any questions users may have, along with solving challenges they may have encountered.

More and more Canadians are trooping to Lottoland in droves due to the unique experience of going to a casino without having to leave the comfort of their homes.

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