Presentation of the destination
Named as one of the top destination for nature lovers worldwide, the volcanic island complex sitting amidst the Atlantic Ocean, 1500 km west of Portugal, known as Azores, will become the setting for one of the most memorable vacations of your lifetime! In my opinion, the Azores Islands are the 'European' equivalent of Hawaii, as they are quite secluded, volcanic, lushly green islands that offer spectacular natural pools and breathtaking ocean views. Its inhabitants number to approximately 250.000 and the complex consists of 9 individual islands, San Miguel being the largest and most densely populated of them all. The weather is subtropical with high humidity levels and strong winds due to its location while it is the perfect climate and location for activities such as paragliding, kayaking, surfing, sailing, diving and trekking. Visitors will enjoy the local cuisine and experience a European island culture not commonly found in continental Europe. The local currency is the Euro and local time is GMT -1 hours.
Points of interests / things to see
There is plenty to see within this majestic archipelago and since it consists of 9 islands, it is a great opportunity to explore each and every one of them. Starting off with the largest island of the archipelago, San Miguel which will also be the island of accommodation, it is Azore's commercial centre. The island flourished economical during the 18th and 19th centuries when the Azores became major exporters of oranges especially to the United Kingdom. It is during this period that most religious sites and cathedrals were built and today consist major tourist attractions for visitors as they are luxuriously decorated with woodcarvings and stone sculptures. The island's major town and Azore's capital, Ponta Delgada is home to the spectacular church of Nossa Senhora da Estrela and the magnificent Noito Arco Bridge. Another noticeable feature throughout the island and especially in the municipality of Nodeste, are the dominating water mills, remains of rich past, surrounded by lush greenery and lavish waterfalls. By horse riding, cycling or trekking through the numerous trails of the island you can take in the breathtaking scenery of the region. For our more adventurous friends, activities such as paragliding are a great way to admire the views and see the beautiful lakes formed within volcano craters and even canoe in one of them or trek down the underground world of the Carvao Cave!
Just 81km from San Miguel and with just about 5.500 inhabitants, the island of Santa Maria was the first of the nine than make up the archipelago to be discovered. Who it was first sighted by is still a point of dispute for many but it has been said that it was either by Diogo De Silves or seafarer Goncalo Velho Cabral and the first settlers to arrive in the Azores settled on this island in 1439 from Portugal. The island is important for Azorian agriculture as it is covered in vineyards, fruit orchards, wheat, corn and potato fields. Visitors visiting the Azores arrive here, as the airport is located on the island of Santa Maria and have the opportunity to enjoy its diverse terrain with lower altitude landscapes with yellowish soil, home to the airport and the town of Vila do Porto as well as rocky, volcanic terrain creating majestic views with dark rock formations against the blue of the ocean. The island is famous for the 'Red Desert' - Barreiro de Faneca which alternates in colouration depending the time of the day. The white, sandy beach of Formosa is ideal for a day in the sun while visiting the fort of Sao Bras is worth the effort.
Although the third island to be discovered, Terceira is the second most populated island of the Azores archipelago and over the centuries it has served as a base port for vessels crossing the Atlantic Ocean and even served as a British naval base during World War II. Its port at the town of Angra saw great prosperity from the 15th century onward as it was became a commercial centre where spices and precious stone were sold. Today the island offers visitors a great choice of activities to choose some of which include the Underwater Archaeological Park at Angra do Heroismo Bay while also taking part in numerous water activities such as jet skiing, kayaking, scuba diving at the magnificent underwater world found around the island's coastline as well as swimming and diving at its numerous, natural, tidal pools of which the best are Salgueiros, Quatro Ribeiras and Biscoitos. Guides are also available for exploring the island's Chanuca, Chupa Cabras and Grota do Medo caves. For a more unique experience, Terceira's Adventure Park is worth visiting as visitors can indulge in the adrenaline-boosting 4x4 off road experience either in an SUV or quad bike! If happen to be in Terceira during June, you will become part of a ten-day festival dedicated to St. John during which the streets are filled with locals taking part in festivities and bullfighting events.
The first sea-planes to cross the Atlantic made the island of Faial their stop-over point thus confirming the strategic importance of this archipelago's geographic location. Today, Faial has used its strategic location to its favour by creating the Horta Marina, a world-class harbour which attracts a large number of yachts and luxury vessels. Moreover, Faial also became known as the fire-tree island in the early years of its discovery thanks to the unique plant that thrives in its fertile, volcanic soils. The active volcano has given the island a one-of-a-kind landscape that amazes any visitor arriving here. An impressive view can be admired at Cabeco Gordo where the dark-colour land slowly slides into the sea and the blue-coloured hydrangeas growing along the slope seem to grow out into the sea giving the impression that land and sea become. This beautifully special feature has made the island known as the 'Blue Island'. Visitors must visit the volcano itself, since the whole landscape and life of Faial revolves around this natural feature. Head out to the westenrmost point of Faial and you shall come across the Capelinhos Volcano which last erupted in 1957 and for a whole year blew ash into the air creating a space-like landscape that is breath-taking.
Who would have thought that Portugal's highest mountain would be found more than 1000km into the ocean and on a small island known as Pico? A truly surprising fact which, once again, makes the Azores a holiday destination that does not to impress as you continue exploring each and every island. Pico is the second largest island of the Azores and home to Pico Mountain dominating the landscape as it rises 2350 meters above sea level and is the only snow covered part of the island archipelago. The volcanic and rich in mineral soil of Pico was what made the island known to the world as it is fertile for the growth of vineyards which produce an internationally known range of wine known as verdelho which was even served to Russian Tsars. Hence, visitors should indulge in a wine tasting experience upon their arrival at Pico while taking in the beautiful views of Pico Mountain and the surrounding ocean. Pico is also a meeting point for many who enjoy whale watching as well as mountain climbing. Visitors have the opportunity to climb Pico Mountain which is a demanding physical activity and must be accompanied by a guide. Nevertheless, the overnight stay half way up the mountain is a great chance to indulge in the beauty of the sun setting over the ocean against the volcanic landscape!
The small island of Sao Jorge, is well known to Azorians, Portuguese but also to the world over for its top quality and Protected Designation of Origin cheese, unique to Soa Jorge, a type of cheese made from raw cow's milk which leaves a peppery after taste and is an Azorian delicacy. The reason for the top quality of cheese is the landscape and rich vegetation covering this otherwise volcanic island which makes its lands ideal grazing grounds for cattle. Apart from scrumptious cheese indulgence, visitors can also enjoy strolls through the two picturesque port towns of Calheta and Topo with a good number of heritage sites and museums to visit and see.
The second smallest island of the Azores is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, a title awarded to regions which demonstrate a balanced relation between the human population and nature. Graciosa is a world example and demonstrating example of developing ecological and cultural diversity to ensure the preservation of nature for future generations. Its nickname "White Island" is due to a natural occurrence found here, where a volcanic rock known as trachyte, begins to rot away after several years of contact with the atmosphere and turns white, hence creating large areas of white coloured rocks that form unique views in contrast with the ocean.
The westernmost shores of Europe lie here at the island of Flores. This small island, as depicted by its name, is lushly covered, flower paradise. Nature awaits visits at Flores for a truly remarkable experience through magnificent, naturally beautiful landscapes that most of us get to see only through documentaries. Amongst this lush vegetations, volcanic craters, high slopes, streams, plateaus and waterfalls, lies the island's landmark - the dominating rock Rochas Dos Bordoes, a creation of vertical basalt columns rising high above sea level and alternates in colour depending on the time of day and the sunlight! Flores's statement flowers are the pink coloured azaleas and hydrangeas therefore it is also known as the Pink Island!
Last but not least, the smallest island of the Azores, Corvo, is a place where life is calm and peaceful. Bird watchers will find a hidden paradise at Corvo as it is a stopover point for migrating birds from North America and home to a large variety of bird species such as shearwaters and Azores woodpigeons. Boat tours are a great way of discovering the island's coastline and its rich sea life through diving. The island has a caldera, formed by collapse volcanic land and its main attraction is the collapsed volcano crater under the caldera with a 2.3m diameter and 305m depth. In its centre a shallow lake has been formed with small islands in its centre, which the locals say, are a miniature map of the Azores Islands.
Vacation rentals in Açores (Aveiro)
How to get there ?
The most common and easy way to reach this complex of volcanic islands is by air. You'll be surprised to know that the Azores have their very own airline company known as SATA serving most major European airports as well as the United States and Canada. Therefore, whether you are coming from the west or the east, there will always be a flight serving your needs. From Europe, there are frequent flights from Lisbon in Portugal and the duration of the flight is 2 hours. Other European airports with links to the Azores are the Canary Islands, Madeira, Madrid and Barcelona from Spain, Paris (France), Brussels (Belgium), Gatwick (UK), Germany's major airports, all Scandinavian countries' major airports as well as Amsterdam and Copenhagen. From the United States, the two airports from which airlines fly directly to the Azores are Boston and Oakland. From Boston the flight is just 4 hours long hence not a long trip as one would expect while flights from Montreal and Toronto in Canada last for just about 5 hours. Moreover, you will also be glad to know that numerous budget airlines have frequent flights to the Azores, especially over the summer months. The local airline is also a good transport link amongst the islands themselves.
Hotels in Açores (Aveiro)