For a 2019 / 2020 holiday full of adventure and cultural discoveries, the islands of Azores are waiting to welcome you. Ideal for relaxing, the Azores have that deliciously leisurely pace of life we’re all striving for. But alongside the easy-going living, the Azoreans serve up a medley of adrenaline-fuelled activities to thrill travellers with a thirst for adventure. Can you keep your heart beating slowly enough to brave a swim with sharks? Perhaps a fast-paced pelt across a volcanic crater on a mountain bike? Or a maybe a four-legged horseback adventure through the lush green countryside is more your style?
Created by volcanic eruptions, the Azores enjoy an isolated position between Europe and North America. Adrift in the Atlantic, 1,500km west of Lisbon, the Azores are a remote Portuguese territory. They offer a unique holiday destination for world-weary explorers looking for new places to discover. The crisp, fresh air and rugged coastlines, combined with a cuisine full of unique flavours and ingredients, make the Azores a perfect escape for holidaymakers looking for a getaway with a difference.
For many people, the main draw of the Azores is the rich marine life that gathers off shore. Many species of whales, dolphins and turtles can be spotted on eco-friendly boat trips. You can swim with sharks, dolphins and all kinds of sea creatures - depending on how brave you’re feeling! Away from the sea life, there’s a huge amount to discover on each of the nine islands that make up the archipelago of the Azores. Botanical gardens, underground caverns, mountains and volcanic craters – there’s something to explore in just about every way possible. Cities on the islands offer a glimpse into everyday island life and their mazes of streets hide away quirky cafes, performance art spaces and world-class cuisine waiting to be devoured.
While the Azores may be adrift in the middle of the Atlantic, the micro-climates on the islands mean a wealth of tropical plants and fruits are grown here. That, combined with the Portuguese influence on menus, makes for a delightful menu full of new dishes to try. Caffeine addicts will want to try the home-grown tea and coffee. Yes, the Azores have their very own plantations, growing beans that make intense espressos to rival any other.
With the islands surrounded by the rich, cool waters of the Atlantic, there’s seafood delicacies even the most adventurous foodies haven’t tried. Leopard-print moray eel is deep-fried and breaded and limpets are grilled in a flavourful butter and garlic sauce. Barnacles occasionally grace the menu, alongside more familiar foods like crab and tuna. Away from the treasures of the deep, rich cheeses, spicy stews and sweet deserts are the order of the day. Tuck in and savour the unique flavours only an Azores holiday can dish up.
An archipelago in the Atlantic may not initially seem like an ideal spot for a family holiday. Will there be plenty to keep the kids entertained? The short answer is yes. You can pretty much do any activity on the islands - and then some. Kids will jump at the chance to spot their favourite sea creatures on a boat trip along the coast. Swimming, canoeing, biking and hiking all take on an extra element of fun when you learn you can do them in a volcano!
Horse riding is a big part of life on the Azores, so equine fans will be in heaven. Rides on the island take in some breath-taking scenery and there’s room for high speed gallops for the experienced riders. With museums to intrigue inquisitive minds of all ages, plus underground caves for adventurous explorers, you won’t have the chance to get bored on holiday to the Azores.
Action & Adventure
The many islands which make up the Azores offer different adventures and opportunities to explore. Hikers will want to visit Sao Miguel island. With much of the island’s treasures only accessible on foot, knowing that the lagoons, volcanic craters, streams and waterfalls have been seen by just a small number of people will really make your trek. To see the Azores from a completely different perspective, head underground. Terceira’s Algar do Carvao is a volcanic cave full of grottos, created 2,000 years ago by a volcanic eruption. Enter through the chimney of an extinct volcano and descend to the underground lake. Best seen with a tour guide, this is an adventure you’ll always treasure.
For a chance to see the Azores from the sea, duck beneath the waves to see an underwater world full of life. The bravest divers can go shark diving. If you’d rather encounter a whale shark than a hammerhead, the waters of Terceira are teeming with rays and octopus as well. A trip to the Azores wouldn’t be complete without some whale watching. Well organised trips get you close to the whales and offer the chance to swim with wild dolphins. With a huge range of species visiting these islands, your chances of spotting even the rarer species are high.
With nine islands to choose from, all with unique coastlines, there’s plenty of beaches to choose from in the Azores. While you may not find pale sands - the beaches are darker due to the volcanic rocks - many are as clean and magical as any Caribbean escape. Expect pebble and shingle beaches on some islands too. While the weather hots up in summer, things never get too uncomfortable with the thermometer maxing out in the mid-twenties. The clear waters around the islands are a great place to snorkel and scuba dive. Adventurous water sports fans can even snorkel over a volcanic crater. With surfing, sailing and even swimming with sharks and dolphins on the menu, a day at the beach has something for everyone to enjoy.
With such a wide range of activities on offer during the day, some visitors may find the laid-back ambience at night a relief. While the chilled out vibe flows through the streets, there’s still plenty to see and do. In-resort entertainment is on offer in hotels, while the bars and cafés pick up the pace with some live music events. Vineyard and wine cellars lay on great hospitality, along with some wine tasting, to showcase the many wonderful Azorean wines.
There’s a creative culture on these islands, best seen at the quirky yet chic performance space, Arco8, in Ponta Delgada. With live acts, an art gallery and some fantastic cocktails on offer, a meal in the cafe adds to an evening of discovery and fun. The Azores Fringe Festival - think Edinburgh in the sun - takes place in June on the island of Pico and is a great chance to see performances of all kinds.
Nothing says ‘romantic getaway’ better than enjoying a bottle of local wine together, with a panoramic view to share. In the Azores, you can visit the place where the grapes were plucked straight from the vines and bottled. Steeped in history, Pico’s wine country and its wine cellars are fascinating. Vines grow on the dramatic volcanic landscape, adding a unique flavour to the wines produced here.
To unwind and leave the stresses of everyday life behind, share some quality time together in Sao Miguel’s hot springs. The rejuvenating warm waters are just the thing after a hike on the island. For a magical dip with a different romantic vibe, head to the Caldeira Velha on Sao Miguel. At the end of a flower-filled pathway, you’ll find a stunning waterfall and pool. If you’d rather explore than lie by the hotel pool, a leisurely stroll in Terceira Island’s capital has plenty of sights to see. Beautiful 17th century architecture, along with local shops and cafés, are all waiting to be discovered.
A region’s cuisine and cultural highlights often go hand-in-hand. No sightseeing trip is complete without sampling some local fare. In the Azores, things have gone a step further. In San Miguel, at the hot springs of Furnas, a stew is cooked using the very same heat that warms the natural springs people bathe in. The Cozido das Furnas is a meat stew that’s buried underground and cooked using the volcanic heat in the earth. The slow-baked dish is a must on visit to the springs.
For an idyllic afternoon roaming a cityscape in the sun, visit Ponta Delgada. The largest city in the archipelago, the busy port has modernised slightly but is still home to cobbled streets, historic churches and traditional whitewashed houses. Now more famous for eco-tourism and whale watching, the Azores once did a brisk trade in whaling. Museums catalogue the history of that trading and the ships that caught these massive mammals. With a wealth of other museums on the islands, there’s everything from archaeology and works of art to uncover.