Photo by Amy Anderlonis
Picture this….a lush, green, Eden-like island, formed by volcanic activity and surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. A nature lover’s paradise and an adventure seeker’s dream, where natural thermal pools soften your skin, the people warm your heart, and fresh, sustainably raised food feeds your soul.
Named one of the top places to visit in 2017 by pretty much everyone, the Azores (Açores) are an archipelago located in the middle of the Atlantic ocean about 900 miles from Portugal. First settled by Portugal in 1427, the island chain is home to 250,000 souls (and cows, lots of cows) and continues to exist as an autonomous region of the county. And, lucky me, I visited the largest and most populous island in early May.
Boy, life is tough.
Until recently, visiting the Azores took commitment. The island chain is remote (about 2/3 of the way between the U.S. and Europe in the middle of the vast, blue Atlantic Ocean), and air restrictions limited the number of planes allowed to land in São Miguel. Those restrictions are now gone, so more direct flight options are available, including a five-hour flight from Boston
(Side note: Be warned, the flight was no-frills, and the planes are old, cramped and packed with people, but the discomfort was worth it. Second side note: A huge number of Massachusetts residents are from the Azores or of Azorean descent, which is probably why the plane was so crowded).
Only 10% of the entire island chain is developed, and most of the population lives on São Miguel. The largest “city” (with 69,000 people) is Ponta Delgada. A waterfront community of churches, mosaic sidewalks, cobblestone streets, and a large industrial marina that reminds visitors of the city’s connection to the ocean.
The boardwalk along the water is a hub of activity with dozens of spots for sipping a cold beverage while contemplating life by the sea. Find a seat and sample the island’s outstanding cheese while watching kids play handball on a seaside court or older gentlemen fulfill their daily workout with a cold swim in the ocean “pool.”
The ocean seems to be visible from every point on the island and majestic waterfalls, deep blue crater lakes, and jet black volcanic rock fills the interior. Volcanic activity is part of daily life on the island with natural hot springs offering spa-like comfort and a unique form of cooking. (The last full-scale eruption took place in 1959).
One highlight of the trip was a visit to Furnas and the chance to sample a meal cooked using thermal heat from the volcano. Cozido is a combination of meat, vegetables, and spices combined in a large, cast-iron container and placed into the steaming ground to cook for seven hours. The result is a gigantic pile of tender, favorable food including delectable chourico (chorizo) and interesting blood sausage.
For those who love active vacations, the island is full of opportunities to hike, scuba dive, kayak, paddle board, and sail. It’s also an area rich in marine life and a stopover point for 1/3 of the world’s whales and dolphins, so whale and dolphin watching is a popular activity.
Sadly, my trip ended before I visited the other islands, which can be reached by plane, boat, or ferry. Next time I’ll stay longer and eat more cheese…
Are you ready to plan your epic journey to the Azores? Contact me here to get started.