4 Reasons You Can’t Ignore the Azores
Veiled in fog 850 miles from mainland Portugal lays a mysterious archipelago- the Azores. When most of us plan a European vacation, the Azores don’t top the list. But you’d be sorely missing out on a once in a lifetime adventure if you overlooked this island chain. There’s enough tags of Paris and Rome in our social media feeds. But telling your friends about your trip off the beaten path to a subtropical archipelago in the Atlantic? That’s going to pique interest.
Sitting smack dab in the middle of the jet stream, this subtropical paradise has temperate weather year round. The lows in winter generally remain in the 50s F, while the highs in summer are in the mid 80s F. Talk about pleasant!
Though the weather can be fickle, with a sunny day turning to stormy at the drop of a hat, with a little preparation it doesn’t have to affect your adventure. There’s an app called SpotAzores that offers real-time views via video over the entire island so you can plan for your day. A rain jacket is something everyone should bring with them. While it won’t ever be (too) cold, no one wants a day ruined by a downpour. The winter months are wetter, and summer is drier.
The warm weather extends to the ocean as well. From June through September, the ocean temps throughout the Azores stay in the low 70s F. You can’t go wrong with any of the beaches, but a few we recommend are Santa Barbara, Agua de Alto, and Vila Franca, all on the Island of Sao Miguel. But Rebeira Quente beach, also on Sao Miguel deserves a special mention. Also known as Praia Do Fogo, or “Beach of Fire” , thermal water springs in the bay constantly churn out warm water. Sometimes it’s even hot!
All that pleasant weather makes for a beautiful landscape, and that is something the Azores are famous for. Gentle rolling hills of emerald extend as far as the eye can see, punctuated by lush native forests and checkerboard squares of cultivated land. It’s something out of a dream, and seeing it is believing.
The landscape is far more than a pleasant looking postcard though. It’s downright alien in certain places. A can’t miss hike on Sao Miguel is the Miradouro da Grota do Inferno, a.k.a. The Viewpoint of Hell. But these views are anything but hellish. From the top of the trail you will look down into an ancient volcanic caldera that contains a brilliant green lake. And the surrounding views are just as fantastic.
A few seasoned tips to get the most out of your visit here: first, check the live feed cameras at the top. Clouds frequently obscure the view, even when the rest of Sao Miguel is clear. While still stunning, you want an unobstructed view. The hike/walk to the top will take about 30 min. While we recommend this route, if you wait until after 10am, a parking lot opens that lets you drive to the top. Expect some crowds and traffic.
If you prefer something a little more lowkey, then you have to check out the only tea plantations in Europe! Both Gorreana and Porto Formoso have been growing black, green, and orange pekoe teas (organically, I might add) since 1883. Natural beauty coupled with free tea tastings? Sounds good to us.
After your hikes and sightseeing, why not take a relaxing dip in one of the many natural hot springs sprinkled throughout the islands? We recommend Terra Nostra Park and Furnas Valley.
Terra Nostra Park is a gigantic garden, filled with unique and beautiful plant life. The water itself is naturally full of minerals that make the water an orange, rust color, so bring a bathing suit that you don’t mind getting some stains.
Furnas Valley: Often called the Yellowstone of Europe, there’s Bubbling mud and steaming geysers everywhere. Often covering the lush rolling hills in primordial fog of steam, time will feel as though it has altogether stopped.
There are places to take a dip here as well. But the highlight has to be trying the locally famous cozido das furnas. A collection of meat and vegetables sealed into a pot, then buried into the volcanic ground. After 6 hours, the pot is retrieved, and the food has been naturally slow-cooked! Food cooked from a volcano? Good luck finding that in Paris.
The Azores is one of the best whale and dolphin watching sites on the planet.
Peak whale season is April through September, though there are whales in the area all year long. Pilot, fin, and sperm whales are a selection of the many you can see. But topping the list is the mighty blue whale, the largest animal to ever live in the history of our planet. How can you pass that up? The best time to get a peek of one is from late spring to early summer.
For those of you who prefer to keep their feet planted firmly on dry land, we recommend bird watching. The Azores are a prime bird watching destination. From rare endemic species, such as the Azores Bullfinch and Monteiro’s storm petrel, to a wide variety of migratory birds that visit the island during yearly migrations, there’s no shortage of wondrous and unique viewing opportunities.
And last but certainly not least, we come to the very best part of this wonderful island chain- the people. Azoreans are in general extremely friendly and generous. The small and isolated nature of the islands creates tight knit communities that learn to rely on one another.
They love to celebrate, with dozens of festivals happening over the summer months. A few that you can’t miss are the Feast of Santo Cristo, a catholic festival taking place on the 5th Sunday after Easter in Ponta Delgada and the Mare de Agosto, a music festival that has been here since the 80s! Here you will find a full list of the different festivals.
Rest assured that whenever you visit, there will be something happening that will be worth attending. As long as you are respectful, you will enjoy yourself and experience an amazing adventure.
It’s clear that this under the radar European travel destination needs to be at the forefront of our minds when planning our next trip! What do you think? Do you think visiting the Azores is in your future? Let us know!