The Azores

Graciosa © Xavier

The remoteness of the archipelago of the Azores in the North Atlantic has saved the beautiful green islands from becoming overdeveloped. International flights do make their way to the Azores, which lie 900 miles west of Portugal. But as of yet, tourism has not spoilt the islanders' traditional way of life nor marred the magnificent natural attractions, including the geysers at Lagoa das Furnas or the white sand beaches of Lagoa da Fogo.

Those who visit soon manage to drop the words 'stress' and 'pollution' from their vocabularies, and give in totally to enjoying the islands' year round subtropical climate with mild temperatures and high humidity. The only concern that might arise is the odd earth tremor: the islands are rather geologically unstable and pitted with volcanoes and hot sulphur springs. The 250,000 inhabitants seem unperturbed by this, however, and go about their daily rounds much as their forefathers did hundreds of years before.

The daily business is generally agricultural labour. The Azores is characterised by large tracts of farmland, sprinkled with little settlements of whitewashed houses. The gently sloping hillsides are carpeted with vineyards and fruit orchards. The coast of the islands is, in the main, rather rugged, but there are bays and inlets for swimming and sunbathing with the odd stretch of white sand. Island hopping is simple to achieve because all the islands are connected by ferry and local air services.



Resorts

See our separate guides to the following The Azores holiday resorts: Sao Miguel

Attractions

Faial
Faial © trebol-a

Faial

Faial, with its sheltered bays and immense volcanic crater, is the most visited of the Azores islands. Much of the interior is protected as a reserve where visitors can enjoy the diverse flora and fauna under the guidance of local guides. Faial's main town, Horta, has a large marina that is a favoured stopping point for yachtsmen, and the harbour also occasionally accommodates cruise liners. Horta and other villages have a number of pretty churches, chapels, towers and forts, and a lively small-town atmosphere. Of interest to sightseers is the new section of land, covering an area of approximately one mile (two km), added to the island in the most recent volcanic eruption of 1957.


Flores
Flores © Julen Iturbe-Ormaetxe

Flores

Literally the island of 'flowers', this most northerly of the Azores blooms, carpeted with numerous flowers among impossibly green hills and white-washed villages. Considered one of the most beautiful islands in the Azores, the best time to visit is summer, when it is covered in the bright pink and blue hydrangeas that give Flores its name. Highlights on the island include the seven serene lakes in volcanic craters, the Enxareus Grotto, the Águas Quentes hot springs, and the multiple waterfalls of the Ribeira Grande. Flores' largest town, Lajes, is a picturesque fishing port set in green fields. All the island's towns and villages have historic chapels and churches to explore.


Graciosa
Graciosa © Xavier

Graciosa

The tiny Graciosa is known as the 'White Island' of the Azores due to the pale rocky landscape. But there is variety in its golden wheatfields and green and purple vineyards. The landscape is dotted with quaint Dutch-style windmills, and most of its 4,600 inhabitants make their living from farming, winemaking and cattle-raising. Graciosa has its own unique natural attraction: the Furna de Enxofre. This is a small, warm sulphur lake, concealed in a grotto underneath a volcanic crater. Visitors on holiday here can reach the lake via a 270ft (80m) spiral staircase enclosed in a brick tower.


Pico
Pico © AiresAlmeida

Pico

The resort island of Pico is dominated by its volcanic namesake, rising from the middle of the landscape and towering 7,720ft (2,351m) above sea level. It is the highest peak in Portugal. A single road, following the rugged coastline, encircles the island. It is possible to climb the volcano to the peak but the route is arduous and should not be attempted by amateurs. Pico's other main claim to fame is as a jumping-off point for whale-watching expeditions, offered by local boatmen. In the island's vineyards, the famous 'verdelho' wine grapes are grown. In the town of Lajes, there is a whale-hunting museum and at São Roche, you can discover a museum depicting the operation of a whaling factory.


Sao Jorge
Sao Jorge © Aitor Salaberria

São Jorge

The resort island of São Jorge is surrounded by sheer black cliffs and is the centre of the Azores' dairy industry. The lush green grass of the island's fields plumps up the grazing cows, who in turn produce rich milk for creamy, straw-coloured wheels of cheese. The island also has exclusive rights to the delicious fleshy cockles that are caught in the waters of Caldeira de Santo Cristo. Aside from its gastronomic delights, São Jorge offers active pursuits like dive fishing, hiking, swimming and bird watching. Villages such as Velas and Manadas possess historic buildings dating back to 1400 and offer the sleepy culture of traditional harbour towns.


São Lourenço Islet
São Lourenço Islet © Carlos Luis M C da Cruz

Santa Maria

The island resort of Santa Maria, a fantastic holiday retreat, lies southwest of São Miguel Island and features an airport that was a World War II American Air Force base, now appropriated as a civil airport. The main town on the island is Vila do Porto. It only has one hotel but also several inns and private villas for rent. There are a few sandy golden beaches on the island, including Praia Formosa, and the scenic Maia and São Lourenço Bays, offering rocky cliffs and attractive vineyards. Pretty villages like Anjos and Santo Espírito are steeped in local history and culture, and the island has many colourful festivals throughout the summertime.


Angra do Heroismo
Angra do Heroismo © Marco Derksen

Terceira

Terceira, an island resort destination in the Azores, holds many places of interest for tourists. The historic centre of its capital town, Angra do Heroísmo, is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town is an idyllic setting, renowned for its pastel-coloured sunset vistas. Terceira is best known for its periodic 'running of the bulls'. Ask in the local bar when the next event is likely to take place. Besides the capital, the other main town on the island, Praia da Vitória, is interesting because of its American flavour. Being close to the American airbase in Lajes, it features several burger joints and US-style souvenir shops.