The Azores, an autonomous region of Portugal, are an archipelago in the mid-Atlantic. The islands are characterized by dramatic landscapes, fishing villages, green pastures and hedgerows of blue hydrangeas. São Miguel, the largest, has lake-filled calderas and the Gorreana tea plantation. Pico is home to the 2,351m Mt. Pico and vineyards sheltered by boulders.
Delve into Algar do Carvão
Fascinating caves and tunnels await in Algar do Carvão on Terceira. You don’t have to be a speleologist (someone who studies caves) to be taken aback by this collection of grottos and subterranean passages, which are blessed with all sorts of weird and wonderful rock formations.
Explore the Furna do Enxofre
Hidden beneath the verdant vegetation of Graciosa island is the great cave of Furna do Enxofre. This Indian Jones-esque grotto can be accessed via a brick staircase, which takes visitors to a warm sulphur lagoon at the bottom. Graciosa’s natural attractions also include the subterranean lake of Caldeira and the hot springs of Carapacho.
Go trekking in São Miguel
A mecca for trekkers, São Miguel is the largest and arguably most beautiful of the eastern islands. Most hikers head to the picturesque Sete Cidades, a 40sq km (15sq mile) volcanic crater, which harbours two limpid lakes: one deep blue in colour and the other emerald green.
Kick back in pretty Ponta Delgada
The largest municipality in the Azores, Ponta Delgada is an attractive town with narrow cobbled streets, whitewashed houses and expensive yachts bobbing in the harbour. A former fishing village, it has a commendable selection of bars and restaurants serving local seafood and other regional fare.
Reel in a big fish
If you’re that way inclined, the Azores islands are a great place to go big game fishing. There are huge marlins and tunas to be caught off the archipelago and there are charter boats available at many coastal resorts, particularly on Faial and São Miguel.
Ride the waves
The swells off Santa Maria and São Miguel islands can get pretty gnarly, which is music to the ears of surfers. As well as reliable waves, board-riders can take advantage of the lack of competition for them (the cool climate keeps the crowds at bay). For those who prefer the help of a sail, windsurfing lessons are available at the islands’ sailing clubs.
Seek whales and dolphins
Marine life abounds off the coast of the Azores, where some 25 species of whale and dolphin have been spotted – including the giant sperm whale. The best sightings are from June to September in the waters around Faial, Pico and São Jorge. To get even closer to the action, strap a tank on your back and explore the local dive sites. Scuba shops at Faial and São Miguel will be able to kit you out.
Golf. You can’t escape it. And on the Azores it’s no exception: the archipelago boasts three 18-hole golf courses in all. Two of them, Furnas and Batalha, are located on São Miguel and the third is on Terceira. Aside from some winter drizzle, the mild climate allows year-round play.
Watch Touradas a Corda
The Azores’ answer to San Fermin (the running of the bulls), Touradas a Corda takes place between May and October and is a tradition on the island of Terceira. Unlike in Spain, the bulls are not killed at the end of the spectacle, although many may question the ethics of letting a bull loose in the street and encouraging spectators to wind it up.
While away the day in Angra do Heroismo
The historic town of Angra do Heroismo nestles on the coast of Terceira and is a fine place to while away a lazy day or two. Founded in the 15th century – and developed into a major outpost for the Portuguese and Spanish empires – the UNESCO-listed town has a quiet pace of life and pretty aesthetics. Bars and restaurants abound.