The idyllic Azores archipelago sits in the middle of the Atlantic ocean and is made of nine islands. The islands are characterized by volcanic formation and a lush green vegetation surrounded by crystal clear blue ocean, making the Azores a heaven for outdoor enthusiasts. Due being rather small in size with a total population of just under 250,000, they offer a huge variety of things to do. From a large catalogue of outdoor activities to UNESCO world heritage towns and culinary heritage, the Azores have something in store for every type of adventurer.
Close to earth's inner powers
The Azores are located on the mid-Atlantic ridge and all islands have been formed by volcanic activity, dating back to the formation of Santa Maria, the most Eastern island, more than 8 million years ago. The latest eruption just occurred in the late 1950s, when a submarine eruption of the Capelinos Volcano added about 2km to the Western side of the island of Faial. The volcanic heritage and the ongoing activity is omni-present when visiting the Azores and is a powerful reminder of who is in charge. Be it the stunning green collapsed caldeiras that can be found on every island, the beautiful rugged rocky coastline, the sulfur exhalations or the hot thermal water springs - the volcanic heritage created a unique and amazingly scenic landscape that seems to be made for outdoor adventures of any kind and never fails to awe.
UNESCO World Heritage sites
The whole Azores archipelago is classified as a UNESCO Global Geopark, combining the protection and promotion of its unique geological heritage with the sustainable development of their communities. Further, you can find two designated UNESCO world heritage sites on the islands - the historical center of Angra do Heroismo on the island of Terceira and the vineyard culture on the Pico island.
Angra do Heroismo
The town with its protected natural port has been an important port call for sailors crossing the Atlantic since the 15. century. An earthquake destroyed large parts of the town in 1614 and the town was rebuilt with a geometric renaissance-style structure with impressive churches and stately houses representing the wealth of those past centuries. Yet another earthquake on January 1, 1980 reduced the whole town to rubble, but the people of Angra rebuilt their town in the old style with financial support from the UNESCO. The town was named UNESCO World Heritage in 1983.
The Pico vineyards
The first vine seedlings arrived to Lajes on the island of Pico in 1460 from Madeira and those Verdelho grapes are still used to produce white wine today. Wine-growing on Pico accelerated after the volcanic eruption in 1719 when farmers from Terceira, Northern Portugal and Flanders turned the lava fields into fertile terraces by removing the bigger rocks from the yards and building stonewalls to protect the vines from strong winds and salty spray coming from the sea. You can still find the piles of rocks today in the Western parts of the island. The vineyards were classified as UNESCO World Heritage in 2004.
The grapes produce a wine high in alcohol and during the 19. century the ripe wines were a popular export to America and Europe until a pest infestation almost ruined the viniculture. Wine-growing recovered slowly by the use of alternative growing methods and production of new sorts and some delicious high quality white and red wines are grown on the island of Pico nowadays.
Visiting the Azores without venturing off onto a hiking trip is like visiting Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower. So a visit to the Azores can simply not go without.
You can find 86 official trails on the islands covering a total length of more than 800km between them, offering hikes of different lengths, levels, altitudes and scenery. A third of the official hiking trails can be found on Sao Miguel while Santa Maria offers the longest route with the Great Route surrounding the whole island.
Every island has its own unique hiking adventure in store - from circling the shiny blue and green Sete Cidades or calm Fogo lakes on Sao Miguel, jumping from faja to faja on Sao Jorge or climbing Portugals highest peak before sunrise on Pico, no island is the same and you will be rewarded with fantastic scenery and stunning views over the islands and the ocean.
Make sure to bring proper equipment when venturing off - rain- and windproof clothes and proper hiking boots are an absolute must.
Cozido das Furnas
After spending a day hiking around Sao Miguel’s beautiful trails, you deserve a hearty and filling meal. What could be better suited than a delicious Cozido das Furnas? And where else would you get the opportunity to say that your meal has been cooked by a volcano?
Cozido is a traditional Portuguese dish composed of various meats and vegetables. It is a popular and hearty dish and different variations exist in different regions all over Portugal. In Furnas, the Cozido is extra special as it is cooked in a large pot and then placed underground for 5 - 6 hours to be cooked by the hot steam from the hot springs around Furnas. The only liquid used for the dish are the juices coming from the ingredients and the hot springs work magic to the meat and vegetables. A tasty highlight to any trip to Sao Miguel!
Soak in the wonderful thermal waters
Relaxing and soaking in hot springs - thanks to the ongoing volcanic activity, visitors to the Azores can enjoy a dip in the warm waters surrounded by lush green scenery. Particularly Sao Miguel is home to some idyllic natural pools, which are easily accessible. The extinct crater that forms the Valley of Furnas counts 22 hot springs and a hot river makes its way through the town.
The healing powers of the hot springs were already known in the 19. century, making the Azores a popular destination for Europe’s gentry and turning Furnas into a spa town. Today, visitors from all over the world are soaking in the soothing waters of the Terra Nostra Baths and the smaller Poca da Dona Beija at Furnas while taking in the beautiful natural setting.
The Caldeira Velha North of the Fogo Lake is another little thermal paradise. Surrounded by a lush forest, a scenic waterfall plunges into a small natural pool heated by thermal springs, creating the perfect space to relax in the heart of nature.
Warm seaside baths can be found at Praia do Fogo and Ponta Ferraria, where the ocean is heated by hot springs close to the beach.
If you are visiting the small island of Graciosa, make sure to make time for a visit to the Carapacho natural swimming pool, one of the most picturesque bathing spots on the Azores. The bath is nestled into a water-filled basalt frame opening towards the Atlantic ocean. The baths were recently refurbished and offer some jet showers, massages and Jacuzzis.
You can find more than 20 different species of whales in the waters around the Azores, making the islands one of the best spots in the world to see whales in their natural habitat. Besides Sperm whales, false killer whales, Atlantic spotted dolphins and grampuses are a common sight.
Since the whaling tradition officially ended in 1987, whale watching has taken its place and the Azores pride themselves to be one of the most reliable places to spot the large mammals. The old Vigias (whale spotting towers) have been reactivated and former whalers assist the tour operators by observing the waters and transmitting populated locations. Boats are not allowed to come closer than 50m and can only stay for a limited time to ensure that the animals will not be disturbed.
Many operators use rubber dinghies to get close to the whales, so be prepared to bring some waterproof clothes and having good sea legs is a distinct advantage!
Europe's only tea plantation
The family-owned Cha Gorreana has been growing and producing 35 - 40 tonnes of tea since 1883. Old, traditional machines are still being used for the production and the whole process is completely free of the use of chemicals.
Gorreana Tea is internationally recognized as a world-class tea and its Europe's oldest and only remaining tea plantation. You can visit the Gorreana tea estate and the boutique, factory and museum and it's the perfect place to enjoy a cup of freshly picked organic tea while learning about the historic side of tea growing, chat to the plantations tea pickers and enjoy the fantastic views over the ocean. A truly unique and authentic experience!