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A trip to the Azores - The greatest attractions

Lagoa do Fogo, São Miguel in the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores. Photo: Thomas Krych | The World Daily


The World Daily - Travels Desk | JUNE 2021 


Often referred to as "European Hawaii", the Azores are an archipelago of nine volcanic islands lying in the middle of the Atlantic, the westernmost in all of Europe and belonging to Portugal. It is still a relatively undiscovered destination, with attractions such as hot springs, black sand beaches, trekking on volcanic peaks or their lush green calderas, swimming with whales and many, many more! A trip to the Azores can also be combined with a visit to Lisbon or Porto, from where you will fly directly to one of the Azores islands.


Sao Miguel – Sete Cidades 


The Azores islands lie on the same latitude as the Mediterranean Sea, but the influence of the surrounding Atlantic Ocean makes it a bit cooler than the Mediterranean climate. In winter, the average temperature is around 11-12˚C at night and 17-18˚C during the day; in summer it is 17–18˚C and 24–26˚C, respectively. The temperatures here are moderate all year round: even in summer they do not reach 30˚C, but at the same time they rarely drop below 7-8 degrees. The best time to spend holidays in the Azores is from June to September, due to the lowest rainfall and the warmest water temperature - between 20 and 25˚C. However, even at this time, it is worthwhile to pack a raincoat.


Lagoa do Fogo 


Visit the only tea and pineapple plantations in Europe!

Although tea is a very popular drink in Europe, few people know that it grows not only in Asia, but also on our continent, on the largest Azorean Island of São Miguel, called ‘the green one.’ Two tea plantations, Porto Formoso and Gorreana, lie less than three kilometers apart. Interestingly, each of them claims on its website that it is the only plantation in Europe. They are located in the north of the island, near the coast, thanks to which the background of tea fields here is the Atlantic. Gorreana is a plantation with richer traditions - it has been operating continuously since 1883, producing black and green tea. It is a family business that still uses 19th century machinery and no pesticides or fertilizers. The smaller and younger Porto Formoso plantation grows and produces several types of black tea. During your visit to both of them, you will have the opportunity to look at the machines, fields where tea grows, try the products made here and buy ready-made products as souvenirs.


Tea plantations in the Azores


Moreover, São Miguel is also the only place in Europe where pineapples grow. If until recently you thought that pineapples grow on trees (this is quite a common belief), you should see for yourself that this is not true. Originally, oranges were grown in the Azores for export, but were replaced with pineapples following a plague attack in the mid-19th century. The islands do not have a typical dry season, which pineapples do not like - which is why they are grown in greenhouses. One of the most popular plantations is Arruda Pineapple Plantation located near the capital of the island - Ponta Delgada, which has existed for over a hundred years and has been run by the same family from the very beginning. You will look at the pineapples growing here, and what's more - you will be able to try the liqueur and buy jam from this fruit. The assortment of the local shop also includes many funny gadgets - the leitmotif is, of course, the pineapple!


Immerse yourself in hot springs

Furnas, lying on the crater of an extinct volcano (the last eruption took place in 1630) on São Miguel, is a place rich in hot springs and fumaroles, and the best terrain to find out about the volcanic origin of the islands. There are over thirty geysers and hot springs here. The most popular place where you can take a warm bath during your holidays in the Azores is Parque Terra Nostra - founded over 200 years ago, one of the largest and oldest gardens in the Azores, with about 2,000 plant species, including a rich collection of camellia - about six hundred species and varieties of these flowers. It is worth taking a walk among the invigorating and lush green, reminiscent of the jungle. The icing on the cake is a swimming pool fed by a hot spring with a temperature between 35 and 40˚C. The pool water, rich in minerals, has a brownish colour that will tint the fabrics - it is better to wear old or dark swimwear.




In the eastern part of Furnas is Caldeira das Furnas - a park with hot springs and fumaroles, where you will walk among the clouds of steam and see the characteristic earthen mounds inside which dishes are cooked - usually a traditional stew called cozido, prepared with several types of meat (pork, beef, poultry and sausages), vegetables and herbs. On the mounds, there are often the names of the restaurant that prepares the meal in this way - maybe you will choose a place to eat dinner right away? When leaving Furnas, it is worth visiting the local lake (in Portuguese, Lagoa das Furnas, or simply Furnas Lake). At the shore, surrounded by mountain hills and lush greenery, you will discover hot springs and fumaroles and a Gothic chapel. 


You can also enjoy a warm bath during your holiday in the Azores in another part of the island, northwest of Furnas, in the Caldeira Velha nature park. There are as many as four thermal pools, in addition hidden in the lush laurel forest, characteristic of the Azores, with lots of ferns. A ten-minute walk from the car park is shared by the site with three thermal pools, where the water temperature reaches around 38˚C. A real treat is the fourth swimming pool, located a little further, into which the water falls from the waterfall! The water is a bit cooler here (around 24 degrees), but you can use a natural water whip.


Relax on the black beach

Travel agency catalogues are usually full of photos of beaches with light (preferably as white as possible) sand. How about something unusual - very dark, practically black sand, the colour of which comes from volcanic ash? We invite you to a vacation in the Azores! One of the longest beaches of this type is Praia (Portuguese for "beach") de Santa Barbara, located on the north-central coast of the island of São Miguel. Due to the large waves, it is very popular among surfers, and adepts of this sport can take advantage of the surfing school located here. The sand is dark but very soft. Another place where you can rest on the black sand is Praia dos Mosteiros on the northwestern coast of São Miguel, characteristic (and at the same time very picturesque) due to the two tall, vertical black volcanic rocks protruding from the water near the shore, especially picturesque at sunset. In the south of São Miguel you will find two more black beaches: Praia Grande (meaning simply the "big beach") near Ponta Delgada and Praia de Agua d'Alto to the west. Both are big, but also very popular, and thus - you will meet the most people there. And if you go to Furnas, it is worth knowing that you are only a few kilometers away from the black beach of Ribeira Quente (also known as Praia do Fogo, or "beach of fire"), where the water in the ocean is warmer thanks to the hot springs! In addition, the large green hills located nearby protect Praia Ribeira Quente from the wind.

On Faial Island, don't miss the black sand Praia do Almoxarife near the capital Horta. From this beach you can see the largest peak not only in the Azores, but in the whole of Portugal - an extinct volcano on the neighbouring island of Pico! Interestingly, the sand lying on the beach completely disappears under water during the winter. There are many beaches on the Azores coasts, not only in dark colours - you will also find here light or even reddish sand and rocky coves, forming natural rock pools in some places.


Horta – Porto Pim Beach 


Sete Cidades (meaning "seven cities" in Portuguese) is a name that describes several places and objects: a large, extinct volcano in the western part of the island of São Miguel, lakes located in its craters and a neighbouring town. Two viewpoints located on the slopes of the volcano - Miradouro da Vista do Rei and Miradouro da Boca do Inferno - offer an extraordinary view of the local lakes. Two of them are especially captivating, separated by a narrow passage through which you can drive a car: the smaller, greenish Lagoa Verde and the larger, blue Lagoa Azul. Or maybe during your holiday in the Azores you would like to wander the land of volcanoes and lakes? If so, choose one of the three marked trails. Walking them takes from two to four hours. If not, we recommend walking around one of the lakes or kayaking on Lagoa Azul!


Sao Miguel – Sete Cidades 


A vantage point worth seeing - even if only briefly - is Lagoa do Fogo, also a lake of volcanic origin, with a nice view from the asphalt road that runs nearby. To get to its shore, you have to go down quite a steep path. You will see a very nice, sandy beach, protected by a nature reserve. Unfortunately, you cannot swim in the lake, but having a rest on the shore is very relaxing.


Dive into an underwater volcano

The islet of Vila Franca do Campo, located near the shores of the town of the same name, is an amazing place: the crater of an underwater volcano, in the middle of which lies an almost perfectly round lake. The lake is connected to the ocean from the São Miguel Island by a narrow passage, known as Boquete, thanks to which the waves and crystal-clear waters are calm - perfect for diving and snorkelling.


Vila Franca do Campo 


Reach the highest Portuguese peak

The mountain located in the Azores, or actually - as befits these islands - extinct volcano Pico, on the island of the same name, with a height of 2351 meters, is the highest peak in Portugal. The hardships of about a three-hour climb to the crater of Pico Alto volcano will reward you with wonderful views of the ocean and the nearby Azores islands: Faial and Sao Jorge. The highest point of the elevation is the Piquinho volcanic cone ("little Pico") emerging from the crater - it takes an additional twenty minutes to climb to the top. At the top, you can also pitch a tent and spend the night - it's an opportunity to see the sunset and sunrise from here.




Take a look at the whales and learn about the history of whaling

Traditionally, many Pico Islanders made a living by whaling until the 1980s, when whale hunting was banned. Currently, these animals, living or just passing through the local waters, are a tourist attraction and local companies organize cruises to the high seas, during which you can watch whales and dolphins from the deck, but also be tempted to enter the water to snorkel or dive. You will probably see bottle-nosed dolphins and sperm whales that live here all year round, and with a bit of luck, for example migrating humpback whales and - who knows - even the blue whale, the largest animal on earth? And if you are curious about what the work of whalers was like, check out the whaling museum (Museu dos Baleeiros) in Lajes do Pico. Slight but interesting.

Pico is not the only Azorean island where you can observe dolphins and whales in different ways during your holidays in the Azores: the same applies to neighbouring Faial, which has the same species along the coast. 




See the lunar landscape up close

In the western part of the island of Faial, the view is quite unusual: the ocean here contrasts with the land covered with black-grey dust. Where does this landscape come from? The answer in the context of the Azores islands is not surprising: it is the result of volcanic activity. Relatively recently, in 1957, there was a 13-month eruption of the Capelinhos volcano, which covered the surrounding land with a thick layer of dust and lava, and even created a new part of the island. Built here at the end of the 19th century, the lighthouse was covered with a layer of lava up to the height of the second floor. Today, the lighthouse houses a volcano museum, which also offers the possibility of climbing its top. Interestingly, this place is also often considered the westernmost place in Europe. Although the Azores includes the more westerly island of Flores, it is here that the Eurasian tectonic plate ends. 


Volcano dos Capelinhos 


© The World Daily 2021 | Travels Desk