The hidden gem on the Atlantic Ocean – the Azores
The summer and the long-awaited summer holidays are getting closer and closer. Probably most of you have already found your holiday spot and booked it. If you are still at a loss and do not know or can not decide where to go – I have the ultimate tip for you – the Azores!
In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, there you will find nine little islands that could not be more different. Some with lush green nature, the others rough and rocky. But they all have something in common: they show how wonderful our world is created.
The climate in the Azores is constantly warm throughout the year between 15 – 25 degrees. Nevertheless, little showers are not uncommon. Sometimes one half of the island is sunny and on the other it’s rainy. The best travel time is from March to November. Almost the whole year!
The most wonderful thing about the Azores: The small number of tourists, haha. I hate tourist crowds and typical tourist shops. Not so in the Azores. Tourists and locals balance each other. The main island of São Miguel is bustling with travelers. On the other islands, you are almost alone on the road.
Our trip to the Azores
Tom and I traveled to the Azores for ten days in September last year. From Cologne via Lisbon we flew to Ponta Delgada, the capital of the island of São Miguel. From Germany it’s about 3,5 – 4 hours flight to the Azores. We wanted to visit several islands. Get to know the diversity. The decision was difficult, but then the main island of São Miguel, Pico and Faial were our choices. All of these islands have a small airport. So you can either fly with the plane (SATA Airlines Azores) or with the ferry and do island hopping. In this post I would like to tell you something about the three islands and what you can experience and do on this island. It was one of the best holidays for us and we are definitely going to come again.
Tips and favourite places on São Miguel
Since São Miguel is the largest island of the Azores, there is also the most to discover. The best way to discover is to part the island in the north, east, south and west. There is a road that leads you completely around the island. But on cross-country roads it’s fun to drive too. Google Maps is often overwhelmed here and leads you wrong ways. We had only three full days on the island so we could not visit everything and explore what we planned to do. It is best to plan a few days more.
Our first destination was the Lagoa das Sete Cidades (English: Lake of the seven cities). Most of the lakes on the island are made of craters, including this one. The Lagoa consists of two different lakes, one green and one blue. On the blue lake you can swim and boating. From the crater rim you have an incredible view of the two lakes and the green nature. The hydrangeas bloom everywhere. Beautiful. To strengthen yourself, I recommend the tea house “O Poejo” in the center of Sete Cidades. I have never visited a quieter and more relaxing tea house. In the backyard you also have the opportunity to sit outside and listen to nature. The tea house offers delicious homemade cakes, such as with pineapple. In addition many varieties of tea and coffee.
Swimming and bathing in the nature
The Atlantic Ocean is not necessarily known for its warm waters. But in Ponte da Ferraria you can swim in a natural shaped swimming pool. The Piscina Natural da Ponta da Ferraria is located on the western edge of the island. Here, the cold sea water mixes with the hot water of the volcanic rock. So you can stay in the water forever. To dry yourself after the swim, sit down on the volcanic stone, but beware, it can get pretty warm!
Also in other parts of the island you can swim in naturally warm waters. Between Ribeira Grande and Lagoa do Fogo you will find the Caldeira Velha (which means “Old Cauldron”). It is located in a protected natural park. For a small entrance fee you can swim in the warm iron-rich water of Caldeira Velha. The iron-containing water passes through a waterfall in a smaller, artificially created pool. It is heated by hot springs, so you can swim outdoors under trees all year round.
If you do not have enough of warm waters and beautiful nature, you have to make a detour to the Parque Terra Nostra (English: Gardens of the Earth). The park itself is a botanical garden, in the town of Furnas. It is located in the east of São Miguel. The park offers a large collection of different (also tropical) flowers, plants and trees, as well as three thermal swimming area. One of these pools has a brown / yellow color, which comes from the high iron content of the water. The water is naturally 38 ° C warm. It feels like being in a big bath at home. There are also two small pools with warm water but less iron. The pools are so relaxing that you do not want to leave. The park is probably my absolute favorite spot on the island. A warm bath in nature, what could be better ?!
What São Miguel is famous for
Beaches, are there also some to find on São Miguel? Sure, of course! Though due to the volcanic rock, the beaches usually have black sand. I would like to highlight the beach Praia da Lagoa do Fogo. Here the tourists mix with the locals. A great long black beach of fine sand, which is protected by the rocks around it. Well protected from the wind. Here you can relax!
São Miguel houses an unexpected secret: Here you will find the only tea plantation in Europe. In the north of the island lies the plantation of “Chá Gorreana”. Chá means tea in Portuguese. The plantation has existed since the 19th century and continues to be family owned. All tea lovers should pay a visit to the plantation and taste the delicious green or black tea, because it does not require any fungicides, pesticides or herbicides.
The Azoreans are close to their island and nature. They even cook with it. Stews in sulfur bath. That sounds strange? It could be. Azoreans call this whole thing: Cozido (means as much as “cooked”). The stew consists of different types of meat and sausages, cabbage, carrots and potatoes. This cooks usually 6-7 hours (possibly longer) in the hot sulfur hole on the Furnas Lake. It is the most famous dish in the Azores. I didn’t like it as much as it’s very dry due to the long cooking time. So it’s a matter of taste.
Volcanic island and at the same time the largest mountain in Portugal – this is Pico
Funny, the largest mountain in Portugal, is miles away from the actual Portuguese mainland. Nonetheless, Pico is the second largest island in the Azores and the most volcanic and harshest of them all. Dramatic landscapes of lava formations dominate the landscape. The blue of the ocean and the white of the foaming waves bring the contrast to the island. You quickly realize that you are in a different kind of paradise than e.g. that of the green of São Miguel. What also stands out quickly is that Pico is known for two things, the mountain Pico and the vineyards.
I have to admit, we did not do much on Pico. We spent a lot of time in our Airbnb accommodation. After the exhausting explorations on São Miguel, we wanted to laze around in our whirlpool and hammock. But we drove up to the Pico Mountain. Tom and I are neither mountaineers nor experienced hikers, I even less than him haha. For this reason, and because of the weather, we have not apprehended Pico. Nevertheless, I would recommend it to physically active people. The way up to the Mountain is not paved or marked. In some places you really have to “climb”. But the view should be unique. In the colder months there is even snow to find.
The wine is grown on Pico slightly different than you know it from Germany or other wine-growing countries. They are not grapevines. The vineyards (Zonas de Adegas) are separated by lava stones and grow independently from the ground up along the wall. You will find them almost everywhere around Pico. The salty air of the sea gives the wine a special touch. What did I like about Pico? I would say the roughness of this island.
The blue island Faial
We did not expect much from Faial. But the island surprised us and became one of our favorites. The island is often called the blue island because of her many blue hydrangea flowers. Unlike Pico, Faial seems to be a rich and juicy green island. Faial also offers the most natural swimming spots of the three islands we visited. We slept in a glamping park in a banana forest. The owner was born in Faial and was able to give us a lot of insider tips.
In the middle of Faial you will find the Caldeira (English: caldron). A huge crater. The crater goes 400 meters vertically into the depth. Pretty impressive, if you look at the edge in the depth. For climbing and hiking enthusiasts, I recommend the 8-kilometer circuit around the crater. Important: Go against the clock! Otherwise you have to go up the steep path at the beginning. The weather over the crater is very changeable. One side can be sunny and on the other side it flows like a bucket. That was also the case with us, so we were soaking wet after the hike. But it was so much fun.
Driving further west, you reach the island’s youngest volcano: Capelinhos. The volcano erupted for the last time in the 1950s, leaving behind a fabulous ash landscape. You could think easily, you have landed on the moon. So incredible what nature has shaped on this part of the island. The old lighthouse was buried under the ashes. The new lighthouse is too unstable for climbing up on it, the ground would probably give way at some point, if it is visited daily by numerous people. Nonetheless, this place is a unique spectacle.
More impressions from the Azores