As far as European travel destinations go, the Azores Islands probably aren’t high on your list. That’s if you’re even aware of this archipelago made up of 9 volcanic islands in the middle of the Atlantic. If you’re in the know, I don’t need to encourage you to take another trip. You’ve witnessed the striking, varied landscape and understand why 3 of the islands have been designated as biospheres. Maybe your trip was based around the diverse climate and topography lending to an abundance of year-round adventure sporting. And if you’ve visited, you know the Azoreans are committed to preserving their sustainable lifestyle and environment. This post is for those who have not yet experienced the Azorean Magic. It’s the inspiration needed to visit!
THE AZORES ISLANDS
The Azores, officially the Autonomous Region of the Azores, is an independent province of Portugal (since 1976) and sits just about halfway between the United States and mainland Portugal. The eruptions of years past, and maybe the middle of nowhere location, have created distinctive landscapes which will transport you to other far-away places. Rocky cliffs and stone-fenced, green pastures of Ireland. Hawaiian volcanic craters mixed with lush, tropical plants, and cascading waterfalls. Rolling fog, rain, and pines of the Pacific Northwest. And you can experience all of this within the same day – the largest island of São Miguel is only 290 square miles. Travel during the months of June thru September and experience the warmer, dryer climates. Vista views (Portuguese: miradora) can be remarkable as long as it’s clear – spotazores.com is an extremely useful site to check current conditions with the use of webcams situated around the islands.
FOCUS ON SUSTAINABILITY
There’s a genuine focus of preserving the islands customs and traditions. Where most countries are trying to regain emphasis on food transparency, the Azores are a true example of a ‘farm to table’ lifestyle. Although a good portion of what is farmed and fished gets exported to mainland Portugal, every meal I ate during my two weeks was fresh and local and not once did I see a fast food chain – how refreshing! *I am told there’s only 1 McDonald’s on all of the islands in the capital city, Ponta Delgado*
UNESCO has designated three islands [Corvo, Graciosa, & Flores] as biosphere reserves. What this means to us? Conservation initiatives are high on these islands and sustainable development is fostered by local dwellers and enterprises. And because of the archipelago’s remarkable geological heritage [volcanoes, calderas, hot springs & thermal waters, lava fields, and marine fossil deposits… and the list goes on!], the 9 islands and surrounding seafloor have been named a global Geopark. As if that’s not enough, the Azores Islands have ‘Blue Flag’ honors awarded to 28 beaches and 1 marina signifying a commitment to education and preservation of a sites biodiversity, ecosystems, and environmental phenomena. With all the preservation initiatives the islands have in place, it’s no surprise the Azores are leading the world in sustainable tourism.
PLENTY OF ACTIVITY
A bit of history. Until the 1980’s, whaling was still very much a major economic activity; limited mainly to the islands of Faial and Pico. Hunting the giant animals with hand-thrown harpoons, Azorean whalers never adopted changing technologies. An interesting consideration because the trade was purely for financial gain and was tied to no spiritual component. Whaling died when Portugal joined the EU, which, in 1982, had adapted a ban on commercial whaling. The whale industry still plays a major role in Azorean economic stability but as a tourist attraction on sightseeing trips [dolphins included!]. There are whaling museums on both Faial [Porto Pim Whale Factory Museum] and Pico where you can learn more.
Other sea based activities include diving and sailing. Ideal water temperatures and a varied range of underwater habitats makes the Azores one of the best diving areas in the Atlantic. Additionally, each island has a port of entry and welcomes long-distance sailors yearly, the majority of ships stopping in Horta on Faial. The marina is worth a visit just to observe all of the ‘pirate graffiti’. Once docked, you’ll find the sailors at Peter Café Sport for libations.
These islands are truly unique and you’ll find more than enough to get you out and exploring. Be sure to take a look at the Visit Azores webpage for a compiled list of each islands attractions. I can recommend backpacking on Flores and my trail details can be found HERE. Take a walk to the Ponta dos Capelinhos Lighthouse on Faial. The lighthouse ceased operations in 1957 with the eruption of Capelinhos volcano. Visit the town of Angra do Heroismo on the island of Terceira, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Relax in the thermal pools at Poça da Dona Beija in Furnas on São Miguel. Check out urban art in Ponta Delgada curated through Walk&Talk Azores. A great way to get to know a city!
US friends – flights from the east-coast are cheap [check skyscanner] and fly direct to São Miguel from Boston [about a 5-hour flight]. Once there you can easily book a connecting flight or ferry to another island – check SATA for flight details and HERE for ferry info as certain conditions apply. And in case you needed more persuasion, this won’t be a ‘break the bank’ European vacation and is one of my top Budget Travel Trips! Accommodations can range from €50 – €120 and fancy date-night dinners won’t run you much more than €60 making the Azores a top budget travel destination. Added bonus for my trip? The euro had fallen to a 12-year low making the US dollar very strong. $$$
If you need a quick get-away or are looking for some quality nature time, consider a trip to the Azores Islands. It promises a rustic European atmosphere without the price tag. Plus, with all the feel good initiatives and sustainability practices, it’s a heart happy trip. If you’re looking to Visit Azores and need some further suggestions, leave a comment!
Happy Grid Walking! 🙂