azores

Nine volcanic islands make up the Azores archipelago, a dramatic landscape of rugged cliff faces and verdant greenery in the Atlantic ocean, floating about 1500km off the shores of Lisbon.

A beacon of natural beauty, Azores is home to two of Portugal’s 15 UNESCO World Heritage sites; the “Old Town” of Angra do Heroismo on the island of Terceira and the ancient vineyards of Pico. The islands’ unique placement in the Atlantic – together with the volcanic, mineral-rich waters – attracts sea life from miles away, making it an unrivalled spot for whale watching. With dozens of trails of varying levels of difficulty, these islands are ripe for exploration.

Spend some time island-hopping and get to know the different lands, each with their own unique characteristics. Smoking volcanoes, crystalline lagoons and ancient vineyards are just some of the wonders that await – here’s how to do the Azores properly.

Sāo Miguel

The showroom of the archipelago – as well as the most accessible – every corner of Sāo Miguel provides new magic. Known as “the green island”, it’s all tropical jungles and rolling plains, epic waterfalls and hot springs

To See

The twin lakes of Lagoa das Sete Cidades – one blue and one green – lie together in the crater of a dormant volcano; hike the 12km circuit around the lakes, with several routes down to the water’s edge. Legend has it that the lakes were formed by the tears of a shepherd and a princess who were forbidden to love each other.

On a clear day, you can see the entire island from the top of the Serra da Água and the striking Lagoa do Fogo (Lake of Fire). The viewpoints of Ponta da Madrugada, Boca do Inferno and Vista do Rei provide equally impressive views. Bathe in the clay-brown thermal pool at Parque Terra Nostra and don’t miss the ruins of Monte Palace Hotel, the Aqueduct, the Caldeira Velha, the Ponta do Canário, the Ponta da Ferraria and the Portas da Cidade.

To Eat

Visit the town of Furnas for “cozido das furnas”, a traditional dish baked in the earth from the heat of the volcano – O Miroma is a local favourite. Try A Tasca for just-off-the-boat tuna steak and pineapple cake, Rotas da Ilha Verde for vegetarian and vegan options or Taberna Açor for Portuguese tapas and cured meats.

To Stay

Terra Nostra Garden Hotel, is located in the idyllic surroundings of the Terra Nostra Botanical Park. Seek out the property’s art-deco facade nestled away among fauna and foliage.

Terceira

Terceira is an island of celebration, with many festivals, carnivals and religious tributes taking place throughout the year. The locals say they spend 10 months of the year celebrating, so wander the street and let the party guide you. Angra do Heroismo, the capital of the island, will stay etched in your mind long after your departure – the Igreja da Misericordia (blue church) is a particularly beautiful focal point.

To See

Serra do Cume is a green expanse where cows graze and photographers gather at the viewpoint to survey the vast lands that stretch for miles. Head below ground to explore Algar do Carvão (the Cavern of Coal) a burrow of ancient lava, filled with stairs and walkways. Back above ground, take in the sights Lagoa das Patas and Vitoria Beach before winding down in the natural pools of Biscoitos.

To Eat

Caneta does an excellent example of Alcatra, a slow-cooked pot roast traditional to Terceira. You’ll find the best food on the island at Beira-Mar offering a menu of cracas (barnacles) and grilled fish followed by sweet, sticky pudding.

To Stay

Hotel do Caracol and Casa da Amoreira are both good options. The former is surrounded by Monte Brazil, overlooking the Bay of Silveira and is just 15-minute walk from the UNESCO city of Angra Heroism. The latter offers simple accommodations with views of volcanic rock formations and the islands of Pico and São Jorg.

Pico

The mountain of Pico rises over centuries-old vineyards and black-sand beaches, lending a mystical intensity to the island.

To See

A climb up Mount Pico will take a few hours but the view from the summit is well worth the exertion. Pico’s vineyards and whale-spotting rides are the primary paid-for activities, but dotted across the island are plenty of lagoons – Lagoas Capitão, Peixinho, Rosada and Paul – which can be enjoyed for free, so keep your swimming gear in the car.

To Eat

Try the Cella Bar, an architecturally impressive tapas joint dubbed as one of the most beautiful in Portugal. For dinner, O Ancoradouro‘s menu is typical of the region; limpets and grilled octopus are the dishes to order. Caffe 5 Cinq is the place for vegetarian options and healthy fare.

To Stay

For larger groups, Casas do Sal is a great choice. Smaller parties should opt for Casinha da Júlia, a great Airbnb built in 1900. The historic house is resaonably priced and nestled at an ideal juncture between the sea and the mountains.

Faial

The volcanoes of Capelinhos and Caldeira offer two of the most impressive landscapes of the entire archipelago; Capelinhos is still active and last stirred in 1958. Caldeira is the crater of a now extinct volcano, the activity of which resulted in the origin of the island.

To See

The Capelinhos Volcano and the Caldeira are Fiala’s main draw, but don’t miss the beaches – namely Almoxarife, Norte and Porto Pim. The island is best explored by car, stopping and starting as nature (or your driver) dictates. The Varadouro Natural Pools are sure to impress even the most surly vacationer.

To eat

Bring a packed lunch for a day of exploring but come evening, O Genuino is likely to hit the spot. Order tuna, octopus and caldeirada (fish stew) to share.

To stay

Faial is an island you can visit in just one day, with ferries to Pico at the end of the day. If you’d prefer to sleep over, stay at Casas da Arramada e Pousada da Horta.

São Jorge

Fajãs – great acres of flatland that reaches out into the sea – are the visual identity of São Jorge. Enjoy the Azorean cheese and preserves for which the island is known and snap a panoramic picture of neighbouring Pico.

To See

Scattered around the island are various viewpoints or “ponta” where you can stop the car and take in the views. Look out for Ponta Ruiva, Ponta dos Rosais and Pico da Esperança. If you’ve got time to spare, check out the fajãs of the Ouvidor, Almas and Cubres and the eco-reserve of Caldeira do Santo Cristo.

To Eat

Enjoy a leisurely lunch at Conserveira de Santa Catarina and pick up some edible souvenirs to take home. For dinner, head to Amilcar in Fajã do Ouvidor.

To Stay

Casa da Lagoa promises a peaceful sleep in simple surroundings. Homely touches add to its charming and laid-back style.

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Destination Inspirtation: Sintra, Portugal

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