Introduction to the Azores
Where are the Azores? The question most people asked when I enlightened them of my holiday plans. The second question: You’re staying on an active volcano?!?! Yes, part of the the island we stayed on does lay on an active volcano but it hasn’t erupted since 1630 so I decided to take my chances- living on the edge.
The Azores are a group of islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. They are technically part of Portugal although nowhere near. There is one flight in and one out of stansted airport each week. I travelled to Sao Miguel with my mum for one week. It’s a shame that the Azores seem to be so unknown as they hold such beauty, but on the other hand it’s lovely that they appear so untouched.
When to go
The best time to visit the Azores is debatable. In the summer the flowers would be at full bloom and the weather would be much more reliable. We travelled here at the beginning of April. It’s a great time to visit as there aren’t nearly as many tourists as there would be in the summer. The only problem is the unpredictable weather. If you want a guaranteed view of all the lakes, April isn’t the time to come. We decided to take the risk and were very lucky to see each of the fantastic lakes on Sao Miguel island.
Day 1 (Ponta Delgada)
We started off our trip in Ponta Delgada and stayed in the Royal Garden Hotel. It is near the town centre and has a delicious selection of breads and cheeses for breakfast (the important things!)
We didn’t book any trips ahead as we knew how unpredictable the weather can be. On our first day (Sunday) the sun was out so we spontaneously found a taxi driver who drove us to and around Sete Cidades. The views on the drive up there were beautiful alone.
It was slightly foggy up top but we managed to see the view on the occasional few minutes when the fog lifted. It was beautiful.
We saw the lakes from different view points and each one was worth while. My only regret is that we were limited to time with the hired taxi. I would have loved to hire a car and have all day to hike up there (though I’m not sure mum or I would have trusted our driving on the windy roads there!) We also saw Lagoa Santiago.
After viewing the lakes from above our taxi driver (John) drove us down to the bottom and along a beautiful road filled with pink Azaleas.
We then explored the town. It’s very small so it didn’t take long but the architecture is worth seeing.
Day 2 (Ponta Delgada)
We made the mistake of booking a tour of Lagoa Fogo for the next day as the weather was predicted to be nice. Of course, this wasn’t the case for high up in the mountains.
The tour in itself was great. We were the only two on the tour (€60 altogether) and the taxi driver was very knowledgeable. He took us to the pottery factory and we stopped at a church on a hill. They were often built on hills to protect themselves from pirates. The Azoreans are extremely religious and there are sometimes as many as 5/6 churches in one village!
We visited the liquor factory where we could taste the different flavours. My favourite was a creamy one which tasted like baileys. This is a great place to buy gifts as small bottles are only €2. We then went to caldera velha. The fog gave it a mysterious, atmospheric feel. I particularly liked seeing the water bubbling when it was so cold in the air.
Our final stop was Lagoa fogo view point where we could see absolutely nothing. It was a shame but we held up hope that we’d be able to see it another day.
That afternoon we ate at a cute little restaurant called Cais da Calcads. I had the catch of the day which we were informed was ‘like mackerel’. It came with sweet potatoes and veg and was delicious.
Day 3 (Ponta Delgada)
The next day we went whale watching with Futurismo. I’d recommend booking in advance as it gets fully booked quickly. With this tour group your guaranteed to see at least one species of sea life. We were incredible lucky to see a fin whale (which swam right in front of our boat!), 3 loggerhead turtles, 2 common dolphins and a rare type of bird called a Pomarine Skua. The trip lasted around 3-4 hours and we were very happy we decided to do it in the end.
When we returned we checked the weather at the view points. There is a great website with webcams at each so you can see if it’s worthwhile going up. Spotazores.com. We saw it was slightly clear at Lagoa Fogo and went for it.
WOW it was incredible. The lake was so beautiful; it had a rich blue colour. I was surprised to find I preferred it to Sete Cidades. I would have loved more time im order to hike around the stunning Fogo. Guess I’ll just have to return, what a shame!
Day 4 (Furnas)
The next day our taxi driver, John, drove us to our next stop- Furnas! On the way we stopped at a pineapple and tea plantation. The pineapples take around 2 years to grow. They take so long because they do not use chemicals and are completely natural.
Azores is the only place in Europe where tea is grown. Gorreana is the only tea plantation not to use chemicals such as pesticides. It’s all natural and it tasted wonderful.
In Furnas we stayed at Terra Nostra Garden Hotel which I would recommend to anyone visiting. It has its own botanical gardens and thermal baths which the public pay to enter.
We explored some of Furnas the first day and realised (after a while!) that its easy enough to find your way around.
Day 5 (Furnas)
The next day we decided to take a taxi to the view point Pico de Ferro.
We then went to Lake Furnas and hiked back to the village.
This is where the restaurants cook their famous dish- in the ground with the heat from the volcanic rock. We saw Tonys restaurant take out the food and then we went there later to eat it! Delicious.
The hike back from the lake was beautiful. It was so nice not to be limited to time from a taxi waiting.
Day 6 (Furnas)
On our final full day we spent the morning exploring the botanic gardens in our hotel. They are so big that there is a map so you don’t get lost. There are so many different parts to the gardens. My favourite was a garden of stone carved animals.
We spent the rest of the day relaxing by the pool and had some spa treatments, lovely… In the evening we went to the hotel bar and had a ‘Furnas hot spring cocktail’, woah!
My overall impression of the Azores? A picturesque island full of treasures to explore. Would I return? Yes!