azores.jpgThink of a place to the west, where the nature and vegetation are pure and untouched, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Do you know where we’re talking about? The answer is the Azores, which offers you this and much more besides.

The Azores are nine different islands of adventure, nine delightful surprises. You can see dolphins and whales frolicking in the sea or volcanic landscapes covered in green. Then there are the stunning, lilac-coloured hydrangeas that provide hedges for the meadows; the blue and green lakes; the craters of extinct volcanoes and the steam rising from the land. The volcanic activity here means that you can even have your meal cooked under the ground!

Inland you can go mountain climbing and walking through the countryside. Or you can stick to the coast and go diving and swimming. On these amazing islands it feels as if time has stood still.

All of the islands have something to offer. Take Pico island, for instance. Classified as a world heritage site it boasts an amazing mountain, dramatic cliffs and vineyards formed from black basalt. And of course, you’ll want to discover the hot waters and the steam escaping from the vents of the volcanoes on the island of São Miguel.

In fact, it’s probable that you’ll be totally enchanted by the Azores.

Heritage of the Azores
The Azores are home to a rich historical heritage. Come and discover it.

On the island of Terceira, the town of Angra do Heroísmo has been awarded World Heritage status by UNESCO thanks to its Renaissant town centre. Don’t miss the lovely traditionally-designed houses, the Sé (Cathedral), the mannerist Nossa Senhora da Guia Church and the Museu de Angra next to it, as well as the Capitães Generais Palace. There is also a wine museum in Biscoitos.

In Ponta Delgada, the famous baroque gates stand among the churches, the Carlos Machado Museum, beautiful palaces and the Esperança Convent and Chapel, with the treasure of Christ. There are also museums in Ribeira Grande and Vila Franca do Campo.

On Faial, there are two Horta Museums. The church at São Francisco Convent has beautiful tiles and gilded woodcarvings, like those of the churches of S. Salvador and Nossa Senhora do Carmo.

Not to be missed are the Igreja Matriz (parish church) in Graciosa, the chapel of Nossa Senhora da Ajuda and the museum displaying whaling vessels and a traditional mill.

On Pico, visit the two whaling museums, the churches of S. Roque and of S. Pedro de Alcântara in São Roque, and the S. Sebastião Church in Calheta de Nesquim.

And in addition to the churches, such as that of Nossa Senhora dos Milagres in Vila Nova do Corvo, the two museums in Santa Cruz das Flores and the museum in Calheta de São Jorge are well worth a visit.

Horta harbour
The marina in Horta, awarded a European blue flag, is the most popular port in Portugal. Top class sailors meet here regularly, even if it’s just for a drink at Peter’s Bar.

The Horta marina is famous in the sea-faring community all around the world. Sheltered and safe, the marina is located in an archipelago of outstanding natural beauty. The marina is also famous for drawings on the jetty walls; painted by the many sailors who have stopped off in this historic port over the years. Creating an authentic open-air gallery, these drawings make the marina one of the most colourful on the planet. Don’t depart without leaving your mark, for legend has it that those who don’t fulfil the tradition will be struck by strong winds at sea.

On land, take the opportunity to visit the Scrimshaw Museum. Here you’ll find characteristic sculptures made of sperm whale bone and ivory. You can also take a tour of the island by car to admire the Capelinhos volcano and Caldeira’s magnificent scenery. Whale and dolphin watching is an activity not to be missed, as well as swimming in the crystal-clear waters that surround the island. At the end of the day, visit Peter’s Café Sport, one of the city’s main attractions, where you can enjoy a refreshing gin and tonic.

Experience the excitement of the Azores
Visit the Azores for an exciting and fun-packed holiday.

Sea fishing, diving, caving, climbing, not to mention hang-gliding abseiling and ultralight flying – take your pick from just a few of the exciting activities available on the Azores.

Big game fishing off these islands is growing in popularity thanks to world record catches of shark, tuna and blue swordfish. Even coastal fishing will get your adrenaline flowing with the battle to land some of the larger fish from the shallows.

Try your hand at diving and discover underwater caves, shipwrecks or the coloured shoals of fish off S. Miguel, Terceira, S. Jorge, Pico and Graciosa. All provide quite spectacular marine environments.

For caving enthusiasts, various islands provide fascinating rock formations to explore, complete with unique volcanic flora. Visit Terceira and get a guide to take you through the Grutas dos Balcões, Agulhas and Natal cave systems, or the caverns of Algar do Montoso or Furna do Pico when on S. Jorge.

On Santa Maria, you can take an unforgettable un-powered flight on a two-seater hang-glider. Here and on the other islands, hang-gliding and ultralight flying provide some incredible views of the region.

And there are plenty of great hikes to go on too. S. Jorge has many walking challenges, whilst Pico is the highest mountain in Portugal.

Sport on the Islands
The Azores are a natural haven of nine islands, perfect for anyone who loves sport and the open air.

You’ll definitely want to go swimming in the Azores, given the warm waters off the coastline. And there are natural swimming pools inland too, formed by volcanic action.

Boat trips, by motor or sail, are another attraction, with surfing, windsurfing and bodyboarding also available, with equipment for hire locally.

The islands, with their volcanic cones and humidity, plus their craters and lakes, possess some unique vegetation, creating a natural beauty you’ll want to explore. These are excellent surroundings for walking, with paths available at all levels of difficulty. For the more ambitious, take a guide to ensure you get the best out of this spectacular countryside.

In São Miguel or Terceira, horse riding also provides a pleasant way of exploring the islands.

However, perhaps the best way to view the unique landscapes, with their streams, waterfalls and green valleys surrounded by the sea, is to take to the skies with a plane tour. This will make your trip to the Azores unforgettable.

Refuges in the Azores
Natural surroundings that have remained unspoilt and unchanged by the ravages of time, where lush green vegetation contrasts with volcanic formations and the blue of the sea. The nine volcanic islands that form the archipelago of the Azores offer you an irresistible week of romance.

Idyllic landscapes, with enormous two-tone lakes, immense valleys and fields brightly decorated with hydrangeas, the islands of the Azores are the perfect refuge for two people in love.

On the island of São Miguel, be sure to stroll through the volcanic landscape of Vale das Furnas and don’t forget to enjoy a swim in the lake’s warm water. And why not sample the famous “cozido das Furnas”, a stew that is cooked in pans buried in the ground? At Lagoa das Sete Cidades, you can’t fail to be moved by the love stories that are frequently told here, and you’ll certainly enjoy the sunset seen from the top of the Serra da Tronqueira.

On the island of Faial, go for a boat ride and photograph whales and dolphins, or take a trip over the almost lunar landscape of the Capelinhos volcano, which emerged from the ocean in 1957. As night begins to fall, relax in Peter’s Café, the famous bar where you can experience all the colour and excitement of the marina of Horta, a frequent port of call for boats crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

You should also include in your programme a visit to the islands of São Jorge and Pico, each of them only 30 minutes from Faial. On São Jorge, you’ll have the chance to sample the island’s famous cheese and admire the peculiar fajãs (seemingly flat surfaces on the sea) lying at the foot of high cliffs. On the island of Pico, visit the vineyards planted in fields of lava, which have been classified by UNESCO as world heritage, and don’t leave without tasting the local wine that was once famous in the court of the Tsars.

Landscapes of the Azores
The Azores means nature and protected environments.

There is every shade of green and the lush pastures streaked with blue hydrangea in fields bordered with ferns and flowers. Many flowers sprinkle the slopes running down to the sea. Chestnut, beech and other trees intersperse the remains of the Laurisilva forest that predated human settlement. And there are all the volcanic features of craters and cones, lava flows, cliffs, ravines and caves, fumaroles and lagoons. Those are the natural ingredients to these islands that serve up stunning landscapes framed by the deep blue of the sea beyond.

The volcano peaks provide excellent vantage points out over the nature of the Azores. Pico, the main central cater that gave its name to this island, rises up to Piquinho, with 3 or 4 fumaroles at the top. Be it from here or the volcanic peaks of Terças, on Graciosa, Pico da Esperança on São Jorge or Cabeço Gordo on Faial, there are great views out over these islands and the others in the central group.

On Flores, it is from either Morro Alto or Pico dos Sete Pés that there are the best views. While on Corvo, the Morro do Pão de Açúcar opens up over both the island and the sea. On São Miguel, from Pico do Carvão, surrounded by lagoons, you can see the island centre and the sea, while from Pico do Ferro, look out down on the spectacular Vale das Furnas, also visible from the Salto do Cavalo viewpoint.

While on Santa Maria, get up Pico Alto for a full panorama of the island.

All in all, there are so many viewpoints from which you can take in the fabulous land and sea panoramas, the pieces that add up to create the great natural beauty of the Azores.

Whalewatching in Faial
Observe whales and dolphins off the coast of Faial and enjoy the thrill of the high seas.

If you’ve never been close to these creatures in their natural habitat, the island of Faial is a good place to find out what you’ve been missing. Enjoy a boat trip out to sea where you can spot more than 24 species, ranging from the blue whale, to sperm whales and dolphins. It’s an expedition you’ll never forget.

Once you’re back on dry land, discover the ‘blue island’ where hydrangeas border the roads down to the sea and then visit the island’s capital, Horta.

Built between two bays, it has a famous marina that is well known as a resting point to yachtsmen sailing across the Atlantic. Why not follow their lead and drink a gin and tonic in the world famous Peter’s Café Sport? It’s said to be the best you’ll ever taste.

Learn all there is to know about the ancient tradition of whaling at the fascinating Scrimshaw Museum and see the remarkable collection of engraved sperm whales’ teeth.

Or climb to the top of the now extinct Vulcão dos Capelinhos where the enormous crater provides a stark contrast to the vibrant nature of the rest of the island. You could almost be mistaken for thinking you were on a lunar landscape.

Or finally how about just relaxing and enjoying the beach of Porto Pim? Go for a pedal-boat ride across the bay’s calm waters and take in Faial’s scenery from out at sea.

Flavours of the Azores
In the Azores, the abundant supply of fresh fish and shellfish provide the flavours for the regional cuisine.

The islands have strong local fishing traditions ensuring freshly caught fish is common across the archipelago. Banquet on some of the magnificent local fish, or alternatively shellfish, another great Azorean asset. Some species are native to these islands such as the ‘craca’ barnacle, or ‘cavaco’, a particularly tender and flavoursome type of lobster.

There are, however, traditional Azorean meat dishes: ‘cozido das Furnas’ is a meat stew actually cooked beneath the earth in the thermal heat that seeps upwards on Ilha de S. Miguel. Get there early and see how dinner is being cooked right by the lake. And on Terceira, there is particularly well seasoned loin, cooked according to long tradition.

It should be remembered that following their discovery, the Azores became a stopover point for caravels returning from the Orient. Perhaps due to this, Azorean cuisine is always rich in spices recalling those days of plenty when the islands were key to the maritime spice route.

And all such specialities take on a further dimension with a local wine. While verdelho is the best known, there are others worthy of accompanying dinner. The reds and whites of Pico, Graciosa, Santa Maria or Terceira all deserve a mention. Wine comes in for special attention at Biscoitos with its local museum dedicated to the theme. And for dessert, try the unmistakable local pineapple or any other of the sweet fruits grown on the Azores.

Informations provided by ITP – Instituto de Turismo de Portugal – www.visitportugal.com