In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, approximately 850 miles off the west coast of Portugal, lies an archipelago of nine breathtakingly beautiful islands known as the Azores. Socially distanced by nature, the Azores are Portugal’s best-kept secret. Created by volcanic activity thousands of years ago, the islands have formed a unique natural setting, featuring unparalleled beauty and vibrant scenery. With its black-sand beaches and lava rocks, visitors may liken it to the big island of Hawaii, while the lush green landscape with sea views around every corner is evocative of both New Zealand and Ireland.
The Azores’ volcanic landscapes and natural geothermal hot springs make the islands a natural pick for a wellness vacation. The flora and fauna are outstanding. A visual buffet of color in the summer months, pink, purple and white hydrangeas line the roads, giving way to countless scenic overlooks, waterfalls, lakes and natural swimming pools. Given that the destination has been unspoiled by commercial growth, outdoor enthusiasts will find an abundance of hiking trails with varying degrees of difficulty and opportunities for horseback riding, surfing and scuba diving. Due to the Azores’ mild temperatures year-round, visitors may even spot whales and dolphins in the Atlantic’s crystal-clear waters. Epicureans will delight in dining on the flavorful Azorean cuisine and the opportunities to visit local wineries, award-winning cheesemakers and tea rooms such as Porto Formosa.
Which Islands to Visit
With nine islands, each of them unique, it would be an understatement to say there is so much to do in the Azores. The best way to maximize your time on the Azores is to use a trip-planning company like Azores Getaways. Their local experts will help you to plan the perfect holiday that is tailored specifically to your interests. While there is no “best” Azores island to visit, two of the most desirable to explore are São Miguel, the biggest island, and Terceira, whose landscape is shaped by stunning volcanic geology.
São Miguel Island
São Miguel is the largest and most volcanically active island in the Azores. There are quaint fishing villages, seaside restaurants, beaches and plenty of natural wonders. You can visit a local pineapple plantation or ceramic factories to admire the beautiful architecture.
Offering oceanfront views, the Hotel Marina Atlântico is centrally located next to the Ponta Delgada Marina. Just steps from the front door, you can walk into the charming capital of Ponta Delgada. Spend the day exploring the bustling farmers market, shopping for handmade items made by local artisans or marveling at the beautiful European architecture in this historic city. After a long day of exploring, head back to the hotel to relax at their spa, which offers several therapeutic treatments, plus a large indoor swimming pool and a gym.
For a meal to remember, make a reservation À Terra, located just down the road at the Azor Hotel. In the open-air kitchen, the chef uses local meats, handmade cheeses, fresh seafood and organic produce to create spectacular regional dishes. Before dinner, sip on a cocktail at their Rooftop Whale Watching Bar. Try their famous Jolly Roger, a delicious smoky cocktail made with rum and apricot brandy.
Officially listed as one of the “7 Wonders of Portugal,” Lagoa das Sete Cidades is worth a trip to the west side of the island. From the top, you’ll have an almost 360-degree panoramic view of these iconic, vibrant, blue-and-green lakes that come together within a 3-mile-wide volcanic crater. There are also opportunities to bike around or kayak on the lake.
Situated in the Furnas Valley, the award-winning Terra Nostra Garden Hotel is a charming art deco property enveloped in nature. It is just a short drive from volcanic beaches, forest areas and two golf courses. Guests of the property are able to exit through the hotel doors directly into the beautiful, 12-acre Terra Nostra Garden, which has been internationally recognized for its exceptional grounds and botanical species. Although the hotel has a tranquil spa on-site, there is nothing better than a relaxing moonlit soak in their thermal hot spring pool, located in the park’s center. It is filled with volcanic water from the hot springs and kept at a toasty 104°F. Given that these springs are rich in iron and other minerals that are beneficial for the skin, a soak in the pool before bedtime will undoubtedly lull you into a great night’s sleep.
While in the village of Furnas, you must try Colzido das Furnas, a traditional Azorean dish that is unique to this area. Early in the day, heavy pots layered with pork, beef, chicken, cabbage, kale, potatoes, yams, carrots, chorizo and blood pudding are buried and slow-cooked for five hours in the steam of the underground volcanic vents in the hot springs. Most places in town serve this delicacy, but one of the best places to try it is at the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel, where they serve a contemporary, deconstructed gourmet take on the traditional meal.
Unmistakably recognizable with its patchwork of green fields, Terceira’s gorgeous green countryside is divided by volcanic rock’s ancient stone walls. You will marvel at the colorful chapels known as “Imperios” that play an important part in the history of Terceira and dot the countryside. A visit to Biscoitos, with its lava formations, provides an opportunity to swim in the stunning, natural ocean pools and visit the only wine museum in the Azores archipelago. The hillside vineyards on Terceira are incredibly unique because they are so close to the ocean. The salt from the water resides on the grapes to give the Azorean wine an unusual flavor.
With a spectacular seaside location, every room at the Terceira Mar Hotel has a balcony with ocean views. This resort-style property has a large outdoor, saltwater pool overlooking the Atlantic and a heated indoor pool. The proximity of the hotel to the historic town of Angra do Heroísmo is reason enough to stay at this property. Just a short walk into the historic city center and you will find yourself strolling the streets of this UNESCO World Heritage site. Visit the famous São Sebastião church built in the mid-1500s and the Jardim Duque da Terceira, where eucalyptus, palm trees and colorful flowers like hibiscus and plumeria grow right in the middle of the city. Less than a mile away, you can take a drive to the top of Monte Brasil, an extinct volcano. There is an observation deck at the Fortress of São João Baptista at the pinnacle, where you will have the most spectacular views of the city below. For a unique place to stay, book a room at the old São Sebastião fort, which has been redone as the Pousada Forte Angra do Heroismo.
If you seek privacy on the island of Terceira, the Caparica Azores Ecolodge offers six secluded, luxurious treehouse cabins with sweeping views of both the forest and the ocean. Tucked into a hillside, these minimalistic cabins are surrounded by Japanese cedar, stone walls covered with moss and beds of morning glories. Each sustainably designed space has been named for and decorated with original art pieces from female Azorean artists. They are quite cozy, but they also have creature comforts like Wi-Fi, heat and blankets. This botanical garden setting will make you feel as though you are one with nature and provides a great spot to get away from it all.
Many people come to Terceira just to visit the Algar do Carvão, an ancient dormant lava tube and volcanic chimney that was formed approximately 3,200 years ago. It is one of the only volcanoes in the world that can be descended into and explored! You will go down more than 300 feet, and the accessibility to this underground geological world is unparalleled. You must also visit the Gruta do Natal, also known as the Christmas Cave. Walk down into a sequence of narrow and long corridors with vaulted ceilings and hanging silica stalactites, some of which are the largest in the world.
An Easy Escape
With the new nonstop service on TAP Air Portugal into Ponta Delgada from Boston, the Azores have never been closer. No longer do travelers need to fly to Lisbon, Portugal, first, making a trip to the Azores now just a quick four-and-a-half-hour flight from the East Coast.
When the time comes to travel globally again, you’ll find that the Azores have never been safer. In 2020, Portugal was the first country in Europe to receive the Safe Travels stamp from the World Travel & Tourism Council, quite a significant endorsement. In addition to that, Portugal implemented its own Clean & Safe program. Hotels, restaurants and businesses that receive this coveted stamp of approval are recognized as establishments that comply with the health and safety protocols set forth by Portugal’s National Tourism Authority. In essence, it indicates that a business has taken all the possible steps necessary to avoid the risks of COVID-19 and prevent the spread of the virus.
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