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Our travel pick for May: The Azores

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Our travel pick for May: The Azores


 

 

The Azores is a self-governing region of Portugal consisting of 9 islands in the mid-Atlantic. The cluster of islands is defined by their dynamic landscapes, lush pastures, fishing villages, and fields of blue hydrangeas. The largest island is São Miguel which is renowned for its lake's depression that resulted from a volcano explosion and their many tea plantations. Pico is home to Mt. Pico and lush vineyards.

Approximately 900 to 1,200 miles west of the Iberian Peninsula, the Azores have long since been forgotten until the 14th century and uninhabited until the 15th century. During this period, Portuguese settlers numbered around 1,432 which was approximately 60 years before Columbus landed in the New World. Low cost airline, Ryanair first launched flights from London Stansted and Lisbon to the Portuguese island group.

To this day, there has been little growth in this region with little to no tourism. That said, this is pretty much an uninhabited region of volcanic nature and forms where three continental plates meet; the Eurasian, African, and North American.

Although referred as the Hawaii of the Atlantic, it's weather is a far cry from the Pacific. The Azores have as may clouds and days of rain as clear skies and sunshine. You never quite know what the next day might bring, climatically.

The nine islands are divided into three groups. The eastern region consists of São Miguel which is home to the capital Ponta Delgada, the western area of Santa Maria, and central region of Terceira, Graciosa, Sao Jorge, Pico, and Faial. The central group is perfect for island hopping by ferry or short flights. Each of the nine islands has their own distinctive features which offer many wonderful adventures. Discover Portuguese colonial heritage, glorious vistas, lava-laden ruins, beautiful beaches, amazing marine life, and excellent cuisine. You will encounter many wonderful adventures and surprises that will make your trip unforgettable.

Terceira:

Unlike its neighbour, Raminho, Doze Ribeiras' village is dotted with small homes colorfully painted in brilliant colors. Terceira has suffered its fair share of earthquakes including New Year's day in 1980 which killed 61 people and measured 7.2 on the Richter Scale. Doze Ribeiras, which is the closest settlement, was hit the hardest with homes crumbling and streets cracking.

In the aftermath, the village was rebuilt in a newer style and has grown ever since. Though smaller than São Miguel, this is a good sized village that is most notable in the southern coastal capital of Angra do Heroismo. The islands are landscaped with beautiful gardens such as Jardim Duque de Terceira, well-kept lawns, and ornate fountains. Explore the wonderful shops skirting cobbled streets to find some wonderful treasures. Explore Rua Direita, Rua de Se, and pink facade Teatro Angrense on the narrow strip of Rua de Esperanca.

On a bright Saturday morning, visit Mercado Duque de Braganca for fresh fish and baskets of citrus fruits then take a stroll along the town beach of Prainha. When in need of rest and food, visit Cais d’Angra that sits on the harbour. You will delight in dishes such as parrot fish accompanied with a wonderful chilled bottle of white Magna which is locally produced.

After a fine meal, take a walk to the Rua de Se to view ruins from the 1980 earthquake. Angra's Catedral de Sao Salvador reveals the first stones ever laid in 1570.Although one of the main towers was destroyed by the earthquake, it was rebuilt. This site is a testimonial to the local's resolution to move forward, never letting nature stand in the way.

For your convenience, stay at the Angra Marina Hotel starting at €213 for a double room. Visit: angramarinahotel.com for further information.

Faial:

Faial is home to the famous Capelinhos lighthouse that is approached from the east. It sits on the westernmost point of the island and overlooks the many yachts that float by the capital of Horta. If you have your camera with you, visit the lighthouse at sunset for a striking silhouette that is very impressive!

About The Capelinhos Lighthouse:

The Farol dos Capelinhos is considered the Pompeii of Azores. Although the area does not have the ancient landmarks found in Italy, the level of destruction is equal to Pompeii. A firestorm raged from September 1957 to October 1958 devastating the entire area. Although it no longer serves as a lighthouse, it was reconstructed and opened in 2008 as a museum. This is a must visit to learn the story of the destruction that hit the area. The museum exhibits charts that depict the 13 months seismology reading from May 1958.There are many images of tourists watching in horror as the firesen gulfed everything. There are photos of Tomaz Pacheco de Rosa, the lighthouse keeper, who held his position and was almost engulfed by flames. You will also view the “Azorian Refugee Act” which was rubber-stamped by the US Congress on September 2, 1958. The life-raft is evidence of the destruction that caused the death of half of Faial's population. Entrance Fee for Farol dos Capelinhos is 10. You can get further information: parquesnaturais.azores.gov.pt

For your convenience book a lodging at the Pousada Forte da Horta starting from €145 for a double room.

São Miguel:

Heading eastward, visit this delightful island, that is a pristine coastal getaway and become engulfed in the morning sun as it rises from the Atlantic Ocean. Grab a boat tour from the dock of Ponta Delgada to enjoy a day of whale and dolphin watching! Don't forget to bring your camera for this special moment. While traveling to the chosen destination, you will encounter the majestic Porta de Cidade, a three-arch gateway which was built in 1783.The gateway is flanked by Praca de Goncalo Velho and the Forte de Sao Bras built in the 16th century.

This area is the year-round home to these magnificent creatures and before you know it, they will rise from the ocean in an amazing ballet. Watch whales and dolphins shoot out of the waters and then dive down below. If you have never experienced a whale and/or dolphin watch, you should not pass up this opportunity! The cost for whale watching trip is €55 via Futurismo, it's worth every penny!

For more information, visit: futurismo.pt and stay at the Hotel do Colegio which will cost only €92 for a double room.

Santa Maria:

While visiting the western islands, head toward the north coast that has not changed since Columbus visited here 525 years ago!The only new addition is a huge statue of Columbus in commemoration of the explorer's visit to these shores.The village of Anjos has not really changed much since those many years ago.Columbus arrived in February 1493 on his return trip of his first voyage. Riots had erupted and many crew members were taken prisoner which is documented in the village church.The church houses the triptych of the Holy Family while outside is a large bronze statue of Columbus. When you are ready to leave the past behind, head south and enjoy the warm, soft beaches of Praia Formosa.

São Jorge:

Is a small island that is only 33 miles long from east to west and less than 4 miles wide from the north to the south.Any form of urban life only exists along the very southern coast.Beautiful Calheta sits to the east while to the west you will find Velas and the 17th-century church of São Jorge. Though these islands will never be mistaken for cities, they are mammoth in comparison to the small island of Graciosa which is located 30 miles north. This is a very rural area and still harbors the area's volcanic history.

Corvo:

This is the very smallest island with only 430 habitants. Though there is very little evidence of modern life, you can wine and dine in Vila do Corvo at the BBC Bar. If you prefer a more quiet environment, visit Flores which is the westernmost island on the western coast between Faja Grande and Fajazinha.

How To Get To The Azores:

Ryanair offers direct flights to São Miguel from Stansted. The flight is approximately 4 hrs long and will run approximately £84 return trip.

Another alternative is Azorian airlines which provide summer connections from Gatwick to São Miguel. Direct flights are offered from Lisbon to Terceira, Pico, Faial, and São Miguel.

A service to Santa Maria from Ponta Delgada TAP Portugal offers Terceira and São Miguel along with Gatwick and Heathrow and direct flights from Lisbon.

In Conclusion:

The next time you are looking for a new adventure, visit the 9 Portuguese island of the Azores. You can step back in time when Columbus first step foot in the village of Anjos or go on an exciting whale watch from the dock of Ponta Delgada in São Miguel. Island hop to experience a range of different environments or relax on the warm soft beaches of Praia Formosa.

 

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