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Symphony World Travel - Fetcham

31st January 2020

Portugal – The Amazing Azores

I have to share the most amazing experience ever, the fabulous nine major archipelago gems of the Azores, little heard of here in the UK, but only a 3hr 30min flight from Gatwick.

You gain an hour because of the positioning of these historic volcanic Islands, half way from Canada and half way from Lisbon Portugal, in the Atlantic Ocean, with a micro climate due to the Gulf Stream, these are the secret Portuguese Azores, rapidly becoming popular.

I visited four Islands all very different.

All the Islands are Volcanic with huge craters called ‘calderas’ some still steaming. The West coast of Sao Miguel the Sete Cidades two caldiera lakes one blue and the other green, spectacular scenery on every turn, an abundance of Hydrangea bushes line the roadside in front of the dry stone walls, they are so pretty, hiking and cycle trails, 33 Blue Flag beaches, snorkelling, scuba diving, whale watching, we came across a pod of 300 dolphins and went in pursuit of a sperm whale amazing. 

The Islands were also certified as a UNESCO European Geopark in 2013, the marine life is certainly not to be missed, including cold water coral, another not to be missed are the caves, all Islands seem to have their own and all different, they are spectacular, these have been designed for non-potholers, with manmade walkways, steps and lights, it still has an effect on one’s legs though, good exercise! That said, all done at a leisurely pace.

The Island of Sao Miguel, being the largest in my opinion the best of all the islands it has it all, including some well-known branded shops, lovely cafes and restaurants, now some good star rated hotels and quaint boutique ones, hot springs and fabulous scenery, an abundance of things to do and see. 

There is a specific place in the North called Furnas Lake, restaurants have their own holes in the ground, which are marked by the restaurants’ name on flags, they cook Cozidos, these are  huge buckets filled with meats and vegetables and lowered into the holes for 6hrs to cook in the steaming hot volcanic soil, once cooked the restaurateurs haul them out and serve in their restaurants, this is an Azorean high light judging by the packed restaurants, certainly an acquired taste but one should try it, just to say they have sampled this delicacy? ‘Stew’.

Want to stay somewhere different then why not try a Windmill?

Santa Maria the southernmost Island and where Columbus landed at a place called Anjos. Santa Maria has lovely white houses all with uniquely painted windows and door frames depicting what area it is. The Island is mainly forest and of course the Hydrangea bushes.

Terceira is equally beautiful but stands in stark contrast to the rolling hills of Sao Miguel and the forested Santa Maria, being a large elliptic plateau. Terceira boasts the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angra do Heroismo, the charming fishing town of Praia da Vittoria, lush countryside and volcanic caves, there is a place called Biscoitas, which is amazing, one can swim in the sea in the warm volcanic rock pools, there are places to get changed (don’t forget your jelly shoes as the rocks are very sharp), tea room also.

Graciosa, the northernmost Island of the central group is very tranquil, harder to reach and very laid back, there is a new Harbour being built in Santa Cruz, which will undoubtedly attract ferries and cruise ships, so more tourism for this little Island.

Suffice to say I could go on and on about the lovely Azores, please do contact me if you wish to know more.

This blog was written by Jan Colson, a member of the team at Symphony World Travel, Fetcham.

By Nicky Banin
31st January 2020