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The Best of the Azores

The Best of the Azores

by Clare Christopher

There has never been a better time to visit the “Hawaii of Europe.” The Azores remain just as unique and alluring as ever but getting there has become much more affordable: The 2015 deregulation of air travel increased competition and dramatically decreased airfares to the mid-Atlantic island chain. So book your trip, pack your bags and add these 11 items to your list of “must-dos” in the amazing Azores.

  1. Spy a Volcano – You’ll have your pick of peaks to gander at on this chain of nine volcanic isles. Rising from the Atlantic’s bottom 10,000 feet below, the Azores are actually some of the world’s tallest mountains. Mt. Capelinhos on Faial is the highest spot in all of Portugal – and the site of the most recent volcanic eruption in 1957. Traveling from island to island, you’ll travel up, down and around many dormant peaks but don’t miss Pico’s namesake cone: It is perfect in shape, perfect for trekking around, and delivers a perfectly magnificent view from its top.
  2. Marvel at Sete Cidades – The sight of the twin blue and green lakes inside an ancient, verdant, volcanic crater on São Miguel Island has been the quest of explorers since before the islands were colonized by Portuguese mainlanders in the 15th century.Sete Cidades lake - S. Miguel - AzoresToday, you can take a tour from Ponta Delgada and see one of the Azores most beautiful and famous sights that legend says was created by the tears of star-crossed lovers.
  3. Enjoy a Nature Trek – The Azores are known for their verdant green landscapes and the extensive array of walking which crisscross the archipelago. The footpaths that began life as highways for villagers and livestock have now been restored to host trekkers of all skill levels. Beginners can enjoy a stroll through the 1700s botanical masterpiece, Terra Nostra Park on São Miguel or an easy jaunt to view some of the famous waterfalls of Flores. More advanced hikers can find long walks on bluffs overlooking the ocean, around hydrangea-rimmed volcanic craters and to the tops of the highest volcanic peaks.
  4. Photograph a Red Windmill   You will love the sight of these fairy tale structures that dot the countryside in in many shapes, colors and sizes. The design of the Azorean windmill likely originated in the Netherlands and morphed to match the unique needs and landscape of each island.
  5. Spot a Whale – When you’re 800 miles west of Portugal and 2,100 miles east of New York, you can expect to see some spectacular ocean sights – and the Azores does not disappoint. Board a boat on São Miguel, Faial or Pico and you’ll likely come eye-to-tail with the world’s biggest inhabitants. Whales love the Azores’ warm summer waters so sperm whales, pilot whales and many other species come back year after year – especially since 1984 when the islanders stopped whale hunting (a practice originally brought to the Azores by the Americans in the 1700s).
  6. Step Back in Time A walk through any village in the Azores will transport you back to the 1950s – if not the 1750s – to a simpler time in the lives of seafaring folk. Terceira is particularly blessed with picturesque ports, including Porto Judeu and the oldest town in the islands, Angra do Heroísmo, which served as a major harbor for New World voyages and boasts a fortress and castle overlooking the town.
  7. Sink Your Toes in the Sand – Volcanic islands are typically short on sandy beaches. But on Santa Maria, the oldest island in the chain, you can enjoy Praia Formosa, the longest white sand beach in the Azores. Or have a swim at one of the many beaches around São Miguel island, some fringed with black volcanic sand.
  8. Adore a Tiny Donkey – When the Portuguese settled the Azores in the 15th century, they brought along their donkeys. Isolated breeding resulted in a tinier-and cuter-than-usual island burro. At one point, there were about 8,000 of these mini beasts of burden – most likely surpassing the human population of the day – but fewer than 100 remain. Today, you can meet one of these darlings on Graciosa, Pico and other islands.
  9. Dip into a Hot Spring/Cold Spring – The Azores’ volcanic legacy makes for excellent water experiences. In Furnas on São Miguel, you can soak in natural hot springs and swim in a hot springs-fed swimming pool. On Terceira, head for the black lava seaside pools filled with cool Atlantic water for a more refreshing seaside splash.
  10. Party with the BestPortugal is known for its festivals and celebrations in the Azores are some of the most unique and fantastic in all of Europe. The biggest is São Miguel’s six-day, post-Easter bash in honor of Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres. Terceira holds the joyous celebration of St. John (Sanjoaninas) in late June and a Running of the Bulls (Tourada a Corda) daily from May through September. Pico’s Fringe Festival takes place in June and Santa Maria hosts musicians from around the world for its Maré do Agosto concerts. Faial wraps up the season with its Week of the Sea (Semana do Mar) festival in August.
  11. Eat & Drink the Specialties – The Azores are world renown for their unique cuisine, especially their seafood and cheeses. When you’re on the islands, be sure to try all the local specialties. You can sip some cozido, the meat and vegetable stew cooked underground in volcanic steam. Don’t miss a taste of Europe’s only local pineapple and tea grown in the fields of São Miguel.To wash it all down, enjoy a gin and tonic at Peter’s Café Sport on Faial, as seamen have for a century or take a sip of Verdelho wine from the vineyards of Pico. Saúde!

 

 

Discover the Possibilities! Portugal.com knows the Azores. Whether you’ve got 7, 10 or 14 days, we have an Azores tour package that will maximize your time and show you the most famous and unique parts of these amazing islands. Email [email protected] for more information today!

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