Visit the islands that make up the Archipelago of the Azores and discover a sanctuary where the landscape is still pristine, where nature, more precisely volcanoes, gave birth to the islands and their distinctive form. The various craters, which today are beautiful crater lakes, are one of the unique, dazzling attractions of this transatlantic stopover.
The Azorean wilderness, the steep cliffs, the blue sea bursting with marine life… offer visitors the opportunity to spend an activity-filled holiday that is anything but boring. From hiking to bird-watching, from horseback riding to cycling – there are a thousand and one ways to enjoy the nine islands. Nearly all the islands boast beautiful craters and dazzling lakes, with the Lagoa das Sete Cidades being perhaps the best-known.
All round you, there are remnants of volcanic activity. On Terceira Island, for example, you can descend about 100 metres into the Algar do Carvão volcanic cavern, while on Faial a visit to the Capelinhos volcano is a must. Rocha dos Bordões, an iconic symbol of Flores Island, is a natural monument made up of vertical basalt columns that resemble giant staves.
But venturing out in a canoe or kayak to discover the coastal cliffs and waterfalls is really a full experience. As is viewing the island from a paraglider and getting a glimpse of what nature took millions of years to build. Another very interesting perspective is to experience the islands by sea by renting a boat and circling the island(s).In fact, the Azores, and especially Faial, are an obligatory stopover for those crossing the Atlantic by sea. Peter Café Sport is a well-known café where sailors from all round the world have been welcomed since 1918.
And for those who like to see the “ocean giants”, there is no better place than the Azores. Approximately 25 species of marine mammals, both resident and migratory, live around the islands. Throughout the trip, there is always a chance of watching and being dazzled by whales, or at least some friendly dolphins. Another option is to go diving and observe marine life in its natural habitat. Marine life and the numerous merchant ships and war ships that have sunk in the coastal waters of the archipelago.
However, the Azores are more than just nature. Populated since the 15th century, the islands are rich in historical monuments, particularly religious monuments. In fact, the Cult of the Holy Spirit is unique to Terceira Island.
It is worth taking time to tour the island and see the approximately 70 Impérios of the Divine Holy Spirit (special chapels). See their architecture, their bright colours… all accompanied by the friendly local people. To learn about the history of the islands, there is nothing better than visiting the various museums. Whether it is the Antiga Fábrica da Baleia (Old Whaling Factory) on Faial; the São Brás Fort, on São Miguel, which serves as protection against corsairs and pirates; or the Cathedral on Terceira, which is considered the largest place of worship in the islands. And don’t forget to visit Angra do Heroísmo, the only town in the Azores that has been classified as World Heritage by UNESCO.
And since travelling is also about having fun, you can enjoy the various festivals that are held throughout the year. In August, for example, Santa Maria hosts what is the archipelago’s oldest music festival: the Maré de Agosto (August Tide) Festival. For bullfight aficionados, note that on Terceira, the bullfighting is done “on a rope”, where the animal is not injured. A rope is tied to the bull, but he is allowed to run “free”; the rope is only used if needed.
You might think that the isolation of the islands would have led to a lack of culinary variety. Nothing could be further from the truth. Going to the Azores and not tasting such delicacies as tuna steak, cozido das furnas (stew cooked in the ground by geothermal heat), sweet cheese tarts (queijadas da vila, queijadas da Dona Amélia or queijadas da Graciosa), or the islands’ famous limpets, would clearly be a sin. And for cheese lovers, the cheese of São Jorge Island or the many varieties from Flores (flavoured with garlic and parsley or with sweet red pepper paste) are to die for.