ONE OF Europe’s best-kept secrets, the Azores straddle the mid-Atlantic ridge around 950 miles west of Lisbon. In fact, this string of nine distinctive, emerald green islands forms the western most part of Portugal.
The nine islands cover a surprisingly large area of 2,333sqkm and all have volcanic origins. The Azores are actually the tops of some of the tallest mountains on the planet as measured from their base at the bottom of the ocean. At 2,351m high, Pico mountain on Pico Island is the highest in Portugal.
Holiday accommodation is available across the Azores – it’s simply a question of choosing which island to explore first. Here’s our guide to the best of the region.
Known as the Green Island, it is the largest and most populated island of the Azores. The capital, Ponta Delgada, is the biggest and most bustling town in the archipelago, so a good place for a lively trip.
Visit: The Caldeiras (hot springs) at various lakes around the island serve as a natural kitchen. Locals cook by burying pots of food in the earth to create mouthwatering casseroles. The Caldeiras in the town of Furnas are spectacular, with geysers spouting regular plumes of boiling hot water.
About 55 miles from São Miguel Island, or 30 minutes by plane, this is the third smallest island and is known as the Yellow Island because of its sandy beaches.
Visit: Maia and São Lourenço bays – two of the most beautiful bays in the archipelago, with cliff side vineyards and superb swimming. Anjos – the place where Christopher Columbus first stood on land on his return from the Americas.
Approximately 90 miles of São Miguel and 66 miles of Faial, Terceira is also a military base, so has a more cosmopolitan feel.
Visit: After a violent earthquake in 1980 and the subsequent reconstruction of the city, a large section of Angra’s historical centre was included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage since 1986. The Algar do Carvão is famous for its grottoes, which reach a depth of 100m and contain stalactites, stalagmites and an internal lake.
Named after its imposing mountain and also known as the Grey Island, Pico is often referred to as the Ilha Montanha (Mountain Island) and belongs to the central group of islands.
Visit: If you take the time to climb Pico mountain, your reward will be magnificent views of both Pico island and the other islands of the central group. Whaling Museum – This museum, which was set up recently in a former boathouse, is the only one of its kind in Portugal.
Part of the central group of the archipelago, and a haven for transatlantic sailors, Faial is home to the port city of Horta, where a thousand different colours of blue are used to decorate the houses, giving Faial the name of Blue Island.
Visit: The sea wall in Horta is of special interest as it is covered with hundreds of paintings and messages left by the sea travellers, who call in at the port. Ponta dos Capelinhos is one of Faial’s main tourist attractions. Here you can see the results of a volcanic eruption in 1958, which transformed the landscape, burying fields and houses.
A mountain range forms the backbone of this island in the central group.
Visit: Nature is the star of São Jorge – the Faja of the Caldeira do Santo Cristo is in the Ribeira Seca area and it is a protected nature reserve, where you can find an underground cave and a lake.
Approximately 31 miles from Terceira, Graciosa is called the White Island due to the landscape and the white clay oil.
Visit: The Furna do Enxofre (Sulphur Cavern) in the interior of the Caldeira, or crater of a former volcano – there’s a 100m deep tunnel and a lake filled with cold sulphuric water.
The island of Flores is the westernmost point of the archipelago and of Europe. Flores is about 15 miles from Corvo. The island has deep valleys and high peaks, lakes bordered by hydrangeas, cliffs carved with grottoes, hot springs and the remains of old volcanoes.
Visit: The Rochas dos Bordões – solidification of basalt into vertical fluting. Águas Quentes – small hot springs of boiling sulphurous water. The Waterfall of Ribeira Grande at Fajazinha drops hundreds of meters and has at least 20 waterfalls, many of which drop into the sea.
Corvo is the smallest island in the Archipelago and is famous for its windmills and handicrafts, particularly traditional wool hats and bonnets.
Visit: The Caldeirão, situated on Monte Grosso – it’s the crater of the volcano that gave origin to the island. At the bottom are two lakes dotted with tiny islets.
When to go
The Azores has a temperate climate all year round. Temperatures vary between a minimum yearly average of 14ºC and 25ºC, with the most pleasant temperature in August. Spring is gorgeous in the Azores because of the flowers. The seawater temperature varies between 16ºC and 22ºC, under the influence of the Gulf Stream.