23 Beautiful Reasons To Visit The Beautiful Azores Islands
Need an excuse to spend a few weeks island hopping? We have 23 of them. You will never regret visiting the beautiful Azores islands.
The beautiful Azores islands are like nothing I’ve ever seen before
Gorgeous. I’ve never seen anything like this. That is what I found I kept saying as hopped around the beautiful Azores islands.
The Azores are the perfect mix of European culture and island life. I could indulge myself enjoying a pastel de nata (a custard tart) and a freshly brewed cappuccino, while sitting at the beach with the sun beaming down.
So, join me, as I show my (unedited iPhone 8 images) from an island hopping trip in the Azores.
First up: Terceira
Terceira is a great first-stop on a trip to the Azores islands. It’s picturesque. The people are lovely. And – the fish!
Here is a spectacular lookout point at Serra do Cume. You can take advantage of your panoramic phone feature for the patchwork farmland on the island. While you are enjoying the agriculture side of the islands, also hit up a cheese factory, like Vaquinha Cheese Factory.
One of the benefits of travelling is the great food. But you don’t have to gain weight while holidaying.
Walking in Terceira
While the towns are spread out over the island, Terceira is a great place to walk and explore. Angra do Heroísmo has a European sensibility with closely built row houses, chic boutiques and outdoor cafés. My guide tells me it is where all worldly travellers visit, from politicians to actors.
This is Verde Maçã restaurant, where I grabbed lunch. It is a modern café/lunch spot that serves North American-friendly fare alongside tasty traditional features and desserts. Treat yourself to a slice of Donas Amelia cake. It is a dense cake that is not overly sweet, but goes down well with a coffee or tea after lunch.
While walking anywhere, make sure your walking posture is good.
Staying in Tereciera
Want to stay in a fortress that feels unlike an old castle? That is what I felt when I stayed at Pousada de São Sebastião. From the street – or even from the mountain across the bay – this hotel looks like a force on the edge of the island. But when I stepped inside, the slate tile and wooden furniture spoke art gallery to me. Especially the view above from my hotel room.
Despite only having four hours time difference between here and Toronto (and up to seven hours if you are from the West Coast of Canada), there is a bit of jet lag. But that can be fixed with a good night sleep and these jet-lag tips.
The best unexpected view of Terceira
The movie Avatar has nothing on these real-life views of being inside a volcano, Algar do Carvão. The 90 metre-deep volcanic chimney is unique in that it did not collapse or form a mountain, so tourists like myself can go for a hike. Not only was I impressed with the number of steps on my smart watch, but to see nature’s work was pretty impressive. The deeper you go, the less green you will see. But the pain of having to make the climb back up is worth every step. (Be sure to bring shoes that are comfortable and don’t slip – it’s wet inside.)
Eating in Terceira
All of the beautiful Azores islands are the places to order fish and seafood. If you’re not a vegetarian or vegan, the meat selection will intrigue you, as most of it is locally sourced.
From an intimate dinner to a social gathering, Tasca das Tias, in Angra do Heroísmo, has an atmosphere that is fitting of both. Not sure what to order? I loved the bacalau (a Portuguese cod dish), while my dinner mates gushed about the fresh limpits. For more of a visual idea of the menu, check out their dishes on Instagram.
Lounging in Terceira
Situated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the beautiful Azores islands have gorgeous ocean views. And some of which you can swim in. The Azores, including Terceira, have natural swimming pools that are free to the public. And, speaking of public, after enjoying your swim, check out the public gardens, too. The climate is perfect for collecting worldly plants, flowers and vegetation, like those at the Jardim Duque da Terceira.
Headed to Faial
Just when I was a bit sad to leave one island, I was instantly charmed by another. Horta is a real fishing island that had me feel at home. (I am originally from Newfoundland, so the hint of this kind of island life had me all nostalgic.)
The first spot our guide took us was a mountain top view on Monte da Guia, where I soaked in views of the small towns and the long stretch of beach.
The views in Faial
That view you just saw – I took that photo up these steps. From here you could see everything, including Pico island and the Horta port. At night we headed to Restaurante Genuíno, which is a real fisherman’s treat. The owner, Genuine Madruga, traveled across the globe – twice – by boat. The decor is a shrine to his travels with souvenirs adorning the walls and the tables, including a T-shirt from the former Hard Rock Café in Toronto. The roof to the unassuming eye is exposed beams and paneled wood. But to those who know better, the pointed roof is the inside of a fishing boat with seats and paddles. Also, stop in for a glass of local gin at Peter’s Café, where the fisherman must stop to wet their whistles.
Craving fish yet? Here are the healthiest types of fish you can eat.
A smash mob of art
If you think the bridge locks in Paris are sweet, then you will love the effort fisherman make when they arrive to Faial. Their stamp is a work of art. Really. It is like an outdoor gallery of civilized graffiti, noting the boat’s name and the year they visited. Some are artistic. Some are graphic. Each is unique. The seamen and seawomen will paint something to represent their visit, and some you will see that they come back many times. I could have spent hours looking at each one.
Why was I so touched by the art? Turns out artwork can help us become nostalgic.
The ups and downs of hiking
Hiking on Faial island is a real treat. And each route is incredibly different from the last. I discovered a “cottage” community, where locals used to spend their holidays in small stone houses, harvesting their meals from their summer gardens by the water. Go higher in altitude and you can peek inside the volcanic reservoirs and the natural vegetation.
A science lesson in our vulnerability to nature
Since the Azores are literally founded on volcanic activity – without volcanoes, there would be no land for the Azoreans to live on – Faial island is the place to learn about how the Earth spins. At the Capelinhos Volcano museum, housed in a lava-buried lighthouse, an English-speaking guide takes us through the eruption that happened at this very spot 60 years ago. Among some very cool displays of the volcano formations and collapses, there are adorable black and white photos of families visiting the ash and the smoke. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime sight,” said our guide of the mementos. This is also around the time when many Azoreans moved to Canada as refugees for their safety. In fact, whenever I told a local that I was Canadian, they would always tell me about a cousin of theirs who lives in Canada.
Now that we were in a family mood, we headed to Snack-Bar Aldina, where we enjoyed family-style plates of pure comfort food.
Next stop: Pico island
Pico island is the youngest of all the beautiful Azores islands. And it was my next stop. Thankfully, it is just a quick ride – it is really close to Faial, and this is the view from my hotel room in Horta. The Azoris Faial Garden, a perfectly pink hotel with waterfront views. The perfect spot to catch the sun coming up over Pico.
(Do you fall victim to motion sickness? Here are five ways to deal.)
First stop at Pico island: Wine, of course
Since Pico is so close to Faial, I hopped on a quick ferry. Described to me as the youngest of the beautiful Azores islands, I did notice that it was less green than the other two. But then I learned that all the stones along the water were maze-like fences, protecting ground-grown grapes from the ocean air. And the lava rocks adsorbed heat from the sun, making a green-house effect for the vines. And because of the complexity in having to navigate the fences, all the grapes have to be hand-picked.
I stayed at the cottage-like accommodations at Aldeia da Fonte, where each room had its own porch and pathway down to the ocean.
Clinking glasses at sunset
It was sunset when I arrived at São Mateus for a wine tasting with Azores Wine Company. Vinter Paulo Machado took me through the recent bottles – as a young winery, all their wine was recent. Many of its bottles are sold out before they are even bottled, and Machado didn’t even have a bottle to sell us. However, I was able to buy a “reserve” from 2015 at a wine store.
Dolphin and whale watching at Pico
It is true that you can do this type of thing at most islands. But our Futurismo guides had an unparalleled passion for sea animals. They go out every day – whether tourists join them or not – to log photos of the dolphins and whales. They are researching their migration, and follow them from the water and lookout points along the island. And I went along for the wavy ride. The team was so committed to finding a whale that they took us 60 kilometres outside of the usual trip to spot two. Above you will see two male dolphins playing around.
Another big ocean activity: Surfing. While I did not have a chance to hit the waves, I will have to save that for another trip.
Fine dining in Pico
This island life was calling for Pável Kiselev, the owner of the island’s only fine dining restaurant, Casa Âncora. He and his wife were holidaying in the beautiful Azores islands, when they decided not to live in Russia any more. They opened up the restaurant, hiring a chef with Michelin restaurant experience to create the menus. The food is sourced locally and the wine is fitting of Pico island and its vintage reputation. It was the perfect way to end a visit to Pico.
The last island: São Miguelphoto credit: Lisa Hannam
São Miguel is the largest and most urban of all the islands. When speaking with other tourists on their travels, I learned that many travellers come to São Miguel, and that is it. It is such a shame to miss out on the other islands. It was the last stop for me, but I wasted no time.
I visited the Caldeira Velha to check out the hot springs. The lineup starts early, and parking spots get taken quickly, so make sure your driver has you there early enough.
Then I went to the Gorreana tea plantation – the only tea produced in Europe. I saw how black and green teas leaves were prepared and then hand packed into sachets. Of course I raised my pinky at the end of that tour.
Hot stuff in São Miguel
Hot springs are a no-brainer activity when you are in the beautiful Azores islands. But a Furnas dinner is a must! This is where all the components of your meal are put together in a pot and then buried deep near a hot water spring for hours as it cooks. I wasn’t sure what to expect for the Cozido das Furnas meal, but I ate it at Terra Nostra Garden Restaurant, an elegant restaurant. It kind of reminded me of a Jigg’s dinner. The dessert was simple, a juicy pineapple round with a spring of rosemary. But after a full dinner of beef, chicken, pork and pork belly, lamb, taro, potato and carrot, the fruit was just what I needed. (This is why you might be craving fruit after eating meat.)
The most impressive gardens
Behind the restaurant where I enjoyed a Furnas meal is the most impressive gardens, Terra Nostra Park. It is beautiful, romantic, exotic even. The 200-year-old grounds feels like Neverland, with its winding walk ways, mirrored rivers, blooming flowers and orange ponds. Yes, orange. They are that colour because of the iron content in the pool, and the temperature is that of a warm bath.
(Want to add more steps to your fitness monitor? Check out these pro-walking tips.)
Spa date in São Miguel
I don’t know about you, but a vacation isn’t really a vacation until I have had a trip to a local spa. So I hit up Furnas Boutique Hotel for a facial with a local, organic skin care line. There are other typical treatments as well, including massages and wraps and more. But you can also go for a dip in the iron thermal pools.
(Psst, we have seven ways to enjoy the benefits spa treatments at home.)
Some vitamin sea therapy in São Miguel
There are many thermal waters you can enjoy in São Miguel, as well as on the other beautiful Azores islands. But checking into the Terra da Ferraria spa is a special experience. With treatment rooms and various thermal pools (both inside and out) you can really get the full luxe experience here.
But if you want this to truly feel indulgent with these pools, you should hit up one of São Miguel’s countless outdoor calisthenics gyms. It’s like a playground for adults. Granted it is mostly locals climbing at these gyms, but if you’re not wanting to skip any workouts, this is the way to train in the Azores. You won’t regret it.
Flying to paradise
Flying to Europe is tough. The overnight flight can be killer, but flying to the Azores is about five hours. And with direct flights from Toronto twice a week with Azores Airlines (and convenient ones for island hopping), the beautiful Azores islands aren’t far away at all.