The Azores – An Easily Accessible, Undiscovered Rural Gem
A little confession!
When I was first asked to take a visit the Azores I didn’t actually know where they were, but as any good Tour Manager I said yes anyway.
I then started reading up everything I could about this group of islands which are off the coast of Portugal and I have been lucky enough to lead I think 5 Azores Holidays, taking groups of British travellers on holiday there.
So let me share with you everything I know about this fantastic place and why you should consider it for a holiday.
Why Consider An Azores Holiday?
Having discovered this group of islands I was amazed by the diversity of the islands. Each one that I visited was completely different to the previous one, with different foods, a different feel and it’s own culture and style. I really enjoyed this variety and I certainly enjoyed the different foods!
If you like the countryside then the Azores is a great spot to visit. The scenery is fantastic and each island has a warm and friendly style given the more rural nature of the Azores. Ponta Delgada is the biggest place in the Azores and that is really like a small town so it is friendly and welcoming too.
If you enjoy lakes and the sea then the Azores has plenty of coast and lots of wonderful lakes including some spectacular ones such as Sete Cidades on Sao Miguel.
Rural life is all around you in the Azores. We often used to joke about getting stuck in a cow jam – chugging along in our tour coach behind a herd of cows being moved from one field to another. Dairy production is important in the Azores.
Of course you can’t mention the Azores without mentioning hydrangeas which are everywhere. They are along the edge of the roads, used to divide up farmers fields and they are very pretty indeed, especially when they flower in late July and August. We certainly had to make plenty of ’emergency photo stops’ to capture the ones we were able to see.
The people of the Azores are really friendly too. I had members of my group taken to front row seats at a local festival in Terceira and the locals shared their food and drink with them as they watched the parade. I too was welcoming into a family home for a festival on another island with a couple of guests and we simply couldn’t eat or drink any more of the food or drink we were offered.
The Azores is also a very safe place to visit. If anyone does commit a crime where are they going to go?
For me I felt the Azores had lots of similarities with the Scottish Highlands, where I live. The nature and wildlife made the islands stunning to look at, but it’s the people, the history, the culture and of course the festivals that make the place.
If you are looking for somewhere a bit less visited, with a slower pace, with variety, great people, great food and amazing scenery then consider an azores holiday.
Let me introduce you.
Where Are The Azores?
I admit I had to get the map out to find the Azores, having no idea where they were actually located initially.
The Azores are located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean between the coast of the USA and Lisbon.
They are 901 miles or 1446km from Lisbon and 1691 km or 1050 miles from the US coast.
What Are the Azores?
The Azores are an autonomous region which is part of Portugal. They have their own laws and President who lives in Sao Miguel.
The Azores are a group of nine islands. They are Portuguese and many people do some island hopping when they visit the Azores to see more of the islands.
The islands are in 3 groups and they stretch over 370 miles between them.
In the Western group are the islands of Sao Miguel and Santa Maria.
- Santa Maria 16.6km x 9.1km, population 5,574 and 10 million years old
- Sao Miguel 62.1km x 15.8km, population 133,816 and 4 million years old
In the Central group are the islands of Faial, Pico, Sao George, Terceira and Graciosa.
- Pico 42km x 15.2km, population 14,850 and 300,000 years old
- Faial 21km x 14km, population 15,629, 800,000 years old
- Sao Jorge 54km x 6.9km, population 9,473 and 1.4 million years old
- Terceira 30.1km x 17.6km, population 55,923 and 3 million years old
In the Eastern group are the tiny islands of Flores and Corvo.
- Flores 16.6km x 12.2km, population 4117 and 2.5 million years old
- Corvo 6.24km x 3.99km, population 488 and 710,000 years old
The Azores are located in the Atlantic ocean, and are part of the North Atlantic Ridge. This is what makes them a great spot for whale watching (more about that later!)
The Azores are really the tops of volcanoes poking out through the top of the ocean. The islands sit at the joining point of three tectonic plates – the North American plate, the Eurasian plate, and the Nubian plate. This means they are geologically quite active which you will see evidence of during your visit in the form of hot springs, old volcanoes and recently extinct volcano.
The Azores has a rich and varied history and each island is different in character, with different traditions, customs and festivals.
The weather is extremely varied and very changeable – understandable given these islands are the middle of the ocean.
The weather can be very changeable not only from island to island but also on each island. This is because of the mountain ranges.
The average summer temperature is 20 degrees Celsius, with winter 16 Celsius. Temperatures rarely go above 30 degrees Celsius or drop below 7 degrees Celsius.
The Azores can be very humid though which can make a comfortable temperature feel a bit more sticky.
From November to March it can be much more cloudy.
There can be extremely heavy downpours at any time of the year!
The Azores Population
The population of the Azores if 245,000 people across all 9 islands. 56% of the population live on Sao Miguel, 23% on Terceira and the rest (21% are spread between the remaining 7 islands, with Corvo and Flores being the smallest).
VisitAzores has a great map showing the islands here.
Azores Guide Book
I’ve only ever found one real guide book to the Azores – the Bradt guide.
Flights to the Azores
Getting to the Azores is relatively easy and straightforward. There are direct flights to the Azores and also indirect flights to the Azores which generally involve a change at Lisbon.
This is the one of the most popular flights used by holiday companies for travelling out the Azores. The flight lands in Ponta Delgada in Sao Miguel. The flight involves a stop at Lisbon and depending the flight this can be a 1 or 2 hour stop.
Booking a flight through from London to Ponta Delgada for 12th June 2020 is currently advertised at £200 return. However, there is already limited availability on the flights so the price is likely to increase.
Split Flights for a Cheaper Option
A cheaper option might be to take a cheap flight to Lisbon and then take a cheap flight from Lisbon to the Azores i.e. booking separately.
The cheapest flight from Lisbon to Ponta Delgada is currently £23 (this is for a weekday). There are a variety of options for flights with several under £50 one way.
For the 12th of June 2021 there are a variety of options available. I’ve focussed on direct flights to Lisbon and then direct flights to Ponta Delgada. I’ve also focussed on reasonable flight times to avoid additional overnight stays before flying, and not arriving too late on the first day.
- Ryanair Flights from £38
- TAP Portugal Flights from £85
- Easyjet Flights from £93
- Ryanair flights from £32
- TAP Portugal flights from £64
- SATA flights from £78
Cheapest combination = 8am flight from London Heathrow with TAP for £59, 3 hour stop in Lisbon and then 1.35pm flight from Lisbon with SATA for £58 = £117
Most convenient combination = combining two TAP flights. This means that your luggage would be checked through from London through to your final destination in Ponta Delgada. There is also a combination which only has a 1 hour stop in Lisbon making it the quickest combination as well.
Getting from the Azores to the UK
You may think this was simply a case of repeating the options above in reverse, but in the Azores it is possible to fly to Lisbon from two of the islands. As such here are some options for flying from Terceira and Sao Miguel to Lisbon and then back to the UK.
The schedule is based on travelling on the 19th of June 2021.
- Ryanair flights from £85
- TAP Portugal Flights from £137
- SATA Airlines from £110
I’ve focussed on flights that could connect with the options above.
- 12.55 arriving London Gatwick 3.45pm for £27 with TAP
- 3pm arriving London Heathrow for £35 with TAP
- 3.10pm arriving London Stansted with Ryanair for £56
- 3.45pm arriving London Luton for £65 with Easyjet
- 4.05pm arriving London Heathrow 6.50pm with British Airways for £107
- 6.25pm arriving London Stansted 9.15pm with Ryanair for £58
- 7.15pm arriving London Heathrow 10pm with TAP for £21
- 8.20pm arriving London Heathrow with TAP for £21
Travel Between the Azores Islands
SATA operates the air service which connects the islands. Rather than there be the same flight each day from one island to another the flights operate a varying schedule as the planes hop around the islands, connecting them in a variety of ways. This can make planning to visit all of them, as one of my guests wanted to do, nigh on impossible without lots of overnight stays and a great deal of expense.
The schedules also vary according to time of year. The inter island flights are also on much smaller planes so there are restrictions about luggage sizes, and also hand luggage restrictions as the overhead lockers are smaller.
For islands that are closer together there are ferries, and again they tend to operate a route rather than a continual out and back service.
Direct Ferries has an easy to use site that gives you details of the various island connections and sailing frequencies.
Azores Holidays – The Weather & Travel Plans
The Azores are, as mentioned already, little islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. They are the tops of old volcanoes and they are spread out.
This makes the weather very unpredictable and very changeable. This can affect flights, ferries and of course itineraries. As such you should expect there to be changes to your program due to weather.
Most local guides and Tour Managers will want to try and work around any wet or windy weather for example because they will want you to have the best experience in the Azores.
Also don’t expect every view to be picture perfect. In my 5 or 6 visits to the Azores none of my groups have seen all the views on their trip. There has always been one caldeira or viewpoint shrouded in mist. Knowing that before you go can help you prepare and not be disappointed – even without the viewpoints the Azores are still beautiful.
It can also be quite humid in the Azores – something which can be a bit unexpected for some guests. This varies due to the season so it might be worth checking the weather for your planned visit.
On several of my visits my guests and I have experienced torrential rain, with one group giving up getting off the coach when we were out on tour for the day (the weather was so bad that day that we just couldn’t avoid or work around it). Hopefully you won’t experience such prolonged heavy rain but certainly be prepared for heavy downfalls.
The Azores can be really quite windy. If you have a problem with your ears, like me, then a good hat that covers your ears might be a good thing to take with you. The wind can be very strong at times.
Check out the Met Office weather for the Azores here.
Eating and Drinking in the Azores
In general food and drink is good with plenty of meat and fish as you would expect from Portugal.
Fish is good anywhere in the Azores as you are always near the sea.
I will mention particularly local dishes in relation to the islands where you are likley to find them but for now two dishes you will find all over Portugal and also the Azores.
If you have visited Portugal previously you may already be familiar with the spiced custard delight in a crumbly pastry base that is Pastel Del Nata. There are plenty of these in the Azores, each with their own flavourings and spices meaning you need to try them all!
Apparently there are 365 for this cod based dish in Portugal. It’s made with onions and potatoes and it is found everywhere. The cod is salted and dried, although most of the cod now comes from Norway.
Melia means honey in Portuguese and these cakes are just delicious. I ate so many that the local guide started calling them Melanie cakes. I brought some home for my family and they absolutely loved them. My nephew still complains that he hasn’t had any for a while, as if I should go back just to get some for him!
Angra Do Heroismo Lucky Cake Charms
OK I will be honest and say I cannot remember what these cakes are called. They are made in Angra Do Heroismo and they are made to bring luck or as a lucky charm. For example if you had a bad leg you might get a icing sugar shaped leg made and you would then eat it and it might help you real leg get better.
They also sell icing sugar shaped figures to raise money – I bought an icing sugar baby at a local rope bullfight to donate money to the local brass band for example.
I am going to focus on the islands that I have been to and I will do them in the order that I visited them as well.
Sao Miguel, Azores
The approach to Sao Miguel is quite exciting as the airport is balanced at the edge of the island, very close to Ponta Delgada. You will generally get a good view of Ponta Delgada as you approach.
For this reason Sao Miguel is often the starting point for anyone visiting the Azores on holiday.
The airport is quite small and as such it won’t be very long before you are out of the aiport and ready to explore the rest of the island. The airport is 5km from Ponta Delgada so a very short and easy 10 minute transfer via taxi or coach. If making your own way there are taxis available at the airport.
Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel
69,000 people call Ponta Delgada home and what a lovely home it is. This town sits on the coast and has a lovely harbour area, a cute little castle built to defend the city, pretty black and white buildings, decorative pavements and lovely churches.
Ponta Delgada is where most of the business in the Azores are based. It is also where the main hospital for the islands is located, alongwith more shopping opportunities including a large (for the Azores) shopping centre to the North of the town itself.
The Azores is expanding it’s tourism facilities and Ponta Delgada is no exception. There are a great deal of outdoor activity pursuits available from the town. There are boat trips of course, whale watching, walking, off roading, canyoning, fishing trips, quad biking, diving – the list goes on!
Having visited with a tour group let me introduce you to where we stayed, what we did and where we visited.
Marino Atlantico Hotel
The Marino Atlantico is where many of the group tours stay, probably because it’s one of the larger hotels in Ponta Delgada and has been welcoming groups for many years.
Located overlooking the harbour and within easy reach of the town centre the location is great for exploring. There is a road running directly infront of the hotel, so expect some noise from this and being by the sea there can also be some stronger winds as well.
Rooms at the front of the hotel are often charged at a supplement. If staying with a group you may be given rooms at the back of the hotel with the option to upgrade. Rooms at the back of the hotel look out over residential accommodation and some other buildings. There can be noise at the back from dogs barking, and some of the rooms can be quite dark. If you like a nicer view then the front facing rooms might be worth it, although there will still be noise.
On the ground floor of the hotel are some meeting rooms, a business centre, lifts to the rooms, a small gift shop, a small lounge area and the restaurant.
There is a mezzanine level which has a lounge area and another dining area. This smaller dining area is used when the hotel is busy with groups.
Downstairs (or via the lift) from reception is a leisure area with a pool, spa facilities etc.
Rooms at the Marino Atlantico are generally spacious. There are some nice small double rooms which they often use for single travellers which face the front, and they also have a balcony area.
Read TripAdvisor Reviews of this hotel right here
Opposite the Marino Atlantico is the harbour area. This has a very nice lido which is very popular with locals. It’s a swimming area in the harbour, with an area of the harbour roped off just for swimmers.
There are several PADI dive centres, lots of cafes and restaurants and even a Burger King!
There are of course plenty of boats in the harbour offering whale and dolphin watching trips.
If you turn right out of the front door of the Marino Atlantico and walk along you will come to a series of shops and businesses. There is a small convenience store which sells baked goods, has a bit of a hot food section and pretty much everything you would normally find in such a shop – food, drink, tea, coffee, bottled water, wine etc.
Located close by is an ATM if you need to get some cash.
The entrance can be easy to miss but the shopping centre is behind the series of cafes and restaurants on your right hand side. There are a variety of options for eating and drinking, with the choice to sit inside or outside depending on the weather.
There is a bookshop inside, some gift shops, a jewellery shop, a little kiosk and also a laundry that offers a same day service.
Continuing along the main road, with the sea on your left you come into the more historic part of Ponta Delgada.
Portas Da Cidade
Set back on the right hand side are the city gates. These have been moved to make way for the harbour road and pavement and they are in a typical Portuguese style. They date from the 18th Century and make a nice feature in the little square.
Located close to the gates is a statue to Goncao Velho Cabral. He was an explorer who led a couple of exploratory trips. His second trip, was on the instruction of Henry the Navigator who had by then founded a nautical school in Sagres, in the Algarve in mainland Portugal. It was during this second trip that he discovered the Azores and claimed Sao Miguel. There is some dispute around this, but let’s not let facts get in the way of a good story! He ended up returning and settled on the island having brought farm animals and supplies with him.
Continue along the main road and you will pass a fountain dedicated to Vasco Da Gama on the right hand side. You will then come to another statue which I always found quite striking. It’s called the Emigrants.
This is located at Campo de Sao Francisco, which is the main square of Ponta Delgada.
Fort and Harbour
Located across from the main square is the Fort of Sao Bras. It’s quite small and has a military museum inside it. Some of the exhibits are a bit dusty I’m told, but it’s worth a visit. It is however quite expensive to enter – 1 Euro!
There are cafes and more tour operators etc located in the harbour area as well. The promenade is also a nice walking route.
Campo De Sao Francisco
Festo do Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres (Festival of the Christ of Miracles)
Once a year, on the 5th Sunday after Easter Ponta Delgada is taking over by a wonderful festival. This is actually a very sacred and important day for the residents, as the statue of Christ is paraded through the streets.
The islands have a strong Roman Catholic faith and this festival is a pilgrimage for some, with some people following the route on their knees. There is a huge procession of brass bands, who come from all over the islands and take turns in playing.
Whilst the parade is quite serious, think respectful clapping or silence as the figure of Christ passes, it is a great local event to see and take part in if you get the opportunity.
One of the things I particularly enjoyed seeing was the carpet of petals and leaves that were laid out along the parade route – a time consuming and back breaking exercise but beautiful to see.
The main square is also transformed with lights hanging from the trees and the main church at the rear of the square where the figure of Christ is normally kept is also decorated with lights too. The main street by the harbour is closed to traffic and there are stalls and music as well, making it a nice place to visit in the evening as well as the daytime.
My guests and I certainly enjoyed this local experience and felt we had experienced something different and unusual.
If you don’t get a chance to take part in this festival then don’t worry – there are plenty of festivals in the Azores!
If you like visiting churches then this one is worth having a look into. The decoration is very ornate inside and of course it is where the statue of Christ used in the parade resides.
Beside the church is a small side entrance where there was a revolving small entrance. This was used for women to place their babies in if they wanted to hand them over to be cared for. The idea of the revolving entrance was that the person receiving the baby inside the church couldn’t see the mother.
You can see the wheel in operation and also take a tour of the church. All the details are on the website, alongwith some great pictures and plenty of history.
There is a cute little bus service which is a fun way to get around Ponta Delgada. Not only is a great way to meet some locals, although you may be a bit of a novelty, it also gets out into bits of the town you might not see. If you want to visit the shopping centre, or the Presidential gardens then it can be a cheap way to get there from the town centre.
Things to Visit in Ponta Delgada
If you want to get inside of a lava tube you can do this quite easily by visiting this cave. It is in what seems to be an odd location because now a road has been built nearby. You visit this cave with a guide who gives an explanation of what you are seeing. I have had a few guests do this and they enjoyed it, saying it took no more than 45 minutes. Some took a local bus and walked and some walked from the hotel to the upper part of the town to reach this site.
I have visited these gardens with guests and whilst they are small it’s worth a visit if you like gardens. You have to take some ID with you such as a passport, because the grounds are around the Presidents House. You check in at the entrance gate, pay the 2 Euro entry fee and are issued with a lanyard and visitor pass that you have to wear. The grounds are easy to visit and fairly flat and level throughout.
We were lucky enough to see Blackcaps right beside the gates which a nice surprise. We took a wander through the gardens, and headed past the house to a room where we watched a film. There are herb and vegetable gardens to the rear of the house which were interesting too as we looked for things we recognised.
Our whole visit took around 1 hour.
Visits From Ponta Delgada
Again for this section I am going to focus on those trips that I, or my guests have done, rather than covering every experience on the island.
I have visited this lovely spot a number of times, and seen it in different weathers, and also managed to lose a whole group on one visit (but let’s not mention that!).
Sete Cidades is famous for having a blue and green lake, often photographed from a high viewpoint with hydrangeas in the foreground.
It’s one of the most famous views in the islands.
Sete Cidades itself is located to the North West of Ponta Delgada. The drive is interesting and depending on the route you will generally make stops at various viewpoints before or after the visit. We generally adjusted our route depending on the weather, trying to make sure we got to the viewpoint when the weather was potentially likely to be the best.
The village is small and it is easy to walk from the village centre to the lake and to the bridge that runs through the middle of the lake which makes for a nice view and photo opportunity. There are some small cafes in the village as well as a community centre.
The Visto do Rei is where that most famous view is. There is an interpretation board there as well. I particularly liked the empty and abandoned hotel located just across from the car park. It was a luxury hotel when it was built but now is a foreboding concrete structure that some people go and explore.
The weather in the Azores can be extremely changeable and unfortunately the view isn’t always visible, which I am guessing is one of the problems the hotel owners had – guests were effectively staying inside a rain cloud.
This visit is often run as a half day tour with groups returning back to Ponta Delgada for lunch and to have the rest of their day free for their own exploration.
We also visited the Pineapple Plantation as part of this tour.
This plantation is on the outskirts of Ponta Delgada, reached down some quite narrow streets. During the visit you will learn how the pineapples are grown, a very long process, and how smoke is used to make sure they all flower at the same time. It’s quite interesting to learn that this growing technique was discovered by accident, after a fire infact!
You can look inside the greenhouses to see the pineapples in different stages of growth.
There is of course a gift shop where you can taste and try various pineapple related products. There are also some local crafts and gifts available for sale.
Pineapple jam made from local pineapples is a nice treat – the pineapples are sweeter than their more exotic, and bigger cousins, thanks to the longer growing period.
Generally this will be an optional trip on your tour and what a varied and interesting day it makes. I always enjoyed this trip, no matter the weather, because it was always varied.
One thing to be mindful of is there are quite a lot of winding roads in some parts of this trip, which can make it a bit uncomfortable if you suffer from travel sickness like me. (Don’t let that put you off as you will be missing out. Just get prepared with tablets, or ginger sweets – if you want more tips check out how I manage my travel sickness)
This is often an included visit on this day. The Azoreans are very proud of being the only place in Europe where tea is still grown. The tea fields are quite small, but no less interesting.
During your visit you will learn about tea production and if you are interested in older machinery then this is a great chance to see some classic British machinery still being used to produce tea. After a walk through the factory, which is very small, and a quick hello the people packing the tea there is a chance to taste the tea.
I always recommended the Orange Pekoe tea, which I still have lots have to this day! It’s a very soft tea, without strong tannins, as it is made from the tips of the leaves. As such it is a very smooth and silky tea (well in my opinion anyway!).
After the tea there is a small cafe and a gift shop, plus of course the all important toilets should you need them.
Depending on the route, timings, weather and lunch arrangements this trip will include stops at viewpoints.
One that we regularly included was a little park with a waterfall. It was a pleasant stop with a chance to stretch the legs, either across the road to the larger waterfall or down the hill through the gardens and by the mill houses. There is also a small cafe there as well.
On our visits we had lunch in a local restaurant in the Nordeste area and then visited Furnas after lunch. This was always an interesting visit, even when the rain was coming down in stair rods.
Furnas is a small town seems to balance on top of the earth. It has an unworldly feel because of the bubbling mud and sulphurous steam coming out of the ground. It feels as if you could easily fall down into the centre of the earth.
One of the things that always struck me as brave was building a petrol station in this village – geothermal activity and petrol doesn’t seem a great combination to me but there it is!
Given we were visiting on a tour bus we always had to get dropped off near the Springs and then walked around them. They have various names and of course there is that familiar smell as well. Some are really boiling hot and some are cooler. If you walk down the hill to the lower section there is a place where you can try the spring water – I always thought it tasted really nice, not metallic or sulphuric, but I was often in the minority.
There are a couple of gift shops in the village and one of the things I really liked was the chance to try sweetcorn that had been cooked in the ground using the natural steam.
Terra Nostra Park
If you are visiting Terra Nostra park, which you absolutely should by the way, with a group on a larger tour bus then you will need to do a bit of walking to get to the park itself. This usually involves around 10 minutes walk to reach the park entrance.
The park is lovely and at the centre of it is a large beautiful white house, with landscaped grounds and walking paths around it. Infront of the house is a very large lake which is a rusty brown colour. That’s because the water is full of iron.
The water is a lovely warm temperature and no matter when you visit you will likely see people bathing in the pool. Some are clearly there as visitors for the experience, and some are clearly locals enjoying the health benefits that this pool is purported to provide.
You may be given the option to take a dip in this pool. There is no charge above the entry price paid for the park. There are changing rooms, just follow the path the bathers are taking to the left (as you are facing the house) to find them.
If you do swim just make sure you aren’t wearing a white swimming costume, as it will be a rusty red colour when you come out!
Whatever you do, do take some time to enjoy the park. It’s a lovely to spot to wander through with plenty of ducks, lush vegetation, some interesting trees and some nice little messages left on pieces of wood at various points too. It’s also a great opportunity to stretch your legs.
After leaving Furnas we always tried to fit in a stop at the spot where they cooked Cozido.
Cozido is a stew, which is cooked in the ground, using the heat and steam from the earth. The stew is not made with any sauce, producing a tasty dish with the flavour coming from the combination of the stew ingredients. Residents take their stew pots to this cooking site where a very nice person from the local council lowers them into the ground for cooking. They then return several hours late to collect their cooked stew.
It’s another good spot to enjoy the power of Mother Nature as steam rises and mud bubbles again. This spot is set on the edge of a lake, although it is not safe to swim in the lake because of the sulphurous gases. The ducks don’t seem to mind and if you get an ice cream or snack while you are there they will try to encourage you to give them some too.
This tour generally operates as a full day tour with lunch included. It is a full day and a lovely trip.
During my visits I have experienced all sorts of weather on this tour, from winds, to beautiful warm weather to some monsoon type rain. As with anywhere in the Azores the weather can change quickly so taking everything and being prepared is always good.
I have visited this spot a number of times, and always enjoyed it and wanted to stay longer.
When I visited this was a half day tour, although I always tried to squeeze some extra time because everyone enjoyed the visit.
Ribiera Grande is to the North East of Ponta Delgada. While it is not that far away in terms of distance it feels quite different. It always felt a bit older and a bit more quaint.
It is a small town really with a long main street with some lovely tiled buildings and cute shops. There is also a lovely river (hence the name) running through the middle of the town which has a nice little garden area around it. It’s a nice spot for a walk.
The church is quite popular to visit in the centre of the town and like many of the churches in the Azores is very ornate inside.
I liked the local feel to the place and enjoy sitting in a cafe by the river watching life go on around me.
We never had time to have lunch in Ribeira given the timing of the tour but it was a nice stop.
Sao Miguel Eating and Drinking
As mentioned this stew cooked in the ground is only found in Furnas. You can book a restaurant to try it or if doing a tour a lunch featuring Cozido might be included.
Why not get some for breakfast? This is also served as an accompaniment to pork sausage dishes in some parts of the Azores.
Your hotel will probably serve the local tea. Try it and compare it to your home brew!
Oh my goodness, just typing the words Faial has whisked me off into a dreamy rememberance of this little oasis in the middle of the Atlantic. Let me tell you why I love it so much.
Firstly Faial is tiny. The total population of the island is 14,000 people so it feels even more rural than Sao Miguel. There aren’t the larger businesses, the more populated areas. The most populated area of Faial is Horta which has 7,000 residents, making it a large village really.
Faial for me has a bit of everything. It has fantastic views across to the island of Pico, it has good wildlife with colonies of Shearwaters nesting on the island as well as great whale watching. The countryside is varied with lush green areas, a nice beach, calderas to visit and the contrasting landscape that is Capelhinos, the recently extinct volcano.
Arriving at Faial
If you are travelling from Sao Miguel you are going to arrive by plane. Depending on the time of the year and the route the flight may be direct or it may involve a stop on the way.
The airport at Faial is located right beside the sea. I think it has one of the best views from the cafe of any airport with a a terrace to sit and enjoy the sea breeze as well.
On arrival at the airport you take the escalator to the upper level where you will find your luggage arriving on the carousel quite quickly, thanks to it being a smaller plane.
Then it is out into the airport building. If you are travelling by coach your coach should be out to the right hand side. There are hire car desks and taxis available if not.
It is 10km from the airport to Horta so not very far at all.
Hotel Do Canal
This is the hotel that a lot of the tour groups use when visiting Horta. It is the largest hotel on the island, and like the Atlantico it has been welcoming groups for many years.
It is in a great location, right beside the harbour with a fantastic view across to Pico island and Pico mountain, which is the highest in Pico. It is easy to walk around Horta from this hotel, including to the ferry terminal, up the small headland near the hotel and to the beach which is just 5 minutes walk away from the hotel too.
On entering the hotel you will find the bar and restaurant area to the right. Outside the bar is a small terrace area which is a pleasant spot to sit and chat over a glass of something. To the left is the reception desk and the lifts. There are also toilets on the ground floor.
The hotel has a really nice mezzanine floor level with some comfy seating and a terrace. It is a really nice spot to sit and watch the view across to Pico or just what is happening locally.
Rooms at the Canal are mixed in size and outlook. They are also furnished with everything you would expect, including tea and coffee facilities which are always very welcome for British travellers, given it’s not the norm in European hotels.
The rooms are well equipped and depending on where they are located lighter or darker.
Given I was working I was opted for a quiet room at the back of the hotel which was quite dark. Guests often preferred rooms that were lighter.
The location of this hotel means that there are roads on each side of the hotel and one side looks over a square. If there is a festival, which is very loud and late this can be a problem, but if you are out enjoying the festival then it’s a feature!
Rooms at the front of the hotel are not usually allocated to tour groups, being reserved for private guest bookings instead. However, it might be worth asking about an upgrade if a sea view is important.
If you head out of Horta on the main road back towards the airport there is a Continente supermarket. This is under 10 minutes walk from the Hotel do Canal.
There is a lovely little beach very close to the hotel. To find it you take a small road which is to the front and right of the hotel when you exit. This little road will bring you down to a couple of small cafes and a little beach which has yellow sand which is quite unusual for the Azores.
The setting is very pretty with the town on one side of the beach with a fort set at the edge of the sea. The beach is called Porto Pim which I just love too.
Set the other side of the beach is Monte De Guia. If you walk across the beach area towards Monte De Guia you will see there is a small cafe and visitor centre which explains about the history of the area and the local landowners. You can also walk out towards the sea to a small acquarium.
Guests came back raving about visits to this aquarium. It is really tiny, but what they enjoyed was being shown round by someone who explained about the fish and animals they were looking at. There were all sorts of things, some rescued, some recovering from injury. As such I would recommend this visit even though I never had time to do it myself.
Monte De Guia
This is the remnant of an old volcano and it is popular to walk or drive up. I have to say I never had the time to walk up (the joys of travelling for work) but many guests did. There is a proper path to follow, but many people ended up going off route and pretty much scrambling up the hill when the path ran out. An easy option is just to walk up the road.
If you do walk up the road you will see some gun emplacements on the way. These are easy to spot and make for a great view across to Pico island.
If you are interested in birds then Cory Shearwaters nest on Monte De Guia. If you visiting during the nesting season you can experience the spine tingling sensation of standing on the hill as the birds come in from being at sea all day. Their calls are unworldly and you hear the parents calling to their chicks in the burrow and vice versa.
I have taken groups up to see experience this and some people said it made their trip.
If you do go then please take care to protect the birds. I advised my guests that we couldn’t take cameras and torches had to be pointed at the ground for walking and then turned off when we got near the nest site. This is to protect the eyes of the parent birds who have been hunting all day and are flying in at dusk and dark to avoid predators. It also avoids disturbing the birds.
Across from the hotel is a small harbour area. There are some local tourist guides based there and behind the harbour are a few industrial buildings.
Peter’s Cafe is pretty famous. For many years it was where people picked up and left messages while calling in at Faial, where they sorted out currency and got weather information. As such it was more than just a cafe!
It is very popular with the younger backpacker type and I am told they do a very good gin and tonic too. I certainly enjoyed a lovely local platter of meats, sausages and pineapple jam overlooking the sea at their terrace. Given it is less than 5 minutes from the hotel it’s certainly worth a visit, even if just to get a cheaper drink than the hotel bar!
There are a few companies doing Whale Watching in Horta. Peter’s, who own the cafe, is one of them. They use a catamaran type boat rather than the rigid inflatable boats that some trips use. This can mean there is sometimes a better view.
If you get the opportunity to take a whale watching trip then I would highly recommend Faial as the island to take a trip from. The reason is simple – there is a very deep part of the Atlantic running close to Faial which provides extra nutrients. This means that whales can find more food in this area.
The Azores islands were described to me as a lunch stop for whales migrating from the North to the South and vice versa. When you think of the middle of the Atlantic ocean there isn’t much on the route so the Azores provides a place to pause and feed up on the abundant fish before continuing the journey.
I have been lucky enough to take whale watching trips 5 or 6 times from Faial. I have seen Rissos dolphins, sperm whales, fin whales and blue whales, and seen something on every trip, even though once or twice we had to go a very long way out to find them.
Whilst the advantage of whale watching is the channel provides extra food, it can also make the weather conditions more challenging. The Azores is quite windy at the best of times but this channel can experience higher winds as the winds whip between the islands and around Pico mountain.
Whilst none of my guests were sick they definitely were somewhat green looking on one or two of the trips. I managed to stave off sickness by being outside, which was pretty cold and wet at times.
If you follow along from Peter’s Cafe and keep walking with the ocean on your right you will come to the centre of the town and the marina area. The marina has some nice cafes, alongwith more whale watching companies, glass bottomed boat tours and diving operators.
On the right hand side is Fort of Santa Cruz which is now a historic hotel. It is open to non residents if you fancy a historic spot for a drink or a a meal.
The nearest ATM to the Hotel do Canal is opposite the Fort.
As you continue along the main road you will see that the road bears around the right. This is a pleasant promenade which will take you along to the cruise terminal and also where the ferry departs from to Pico island. There are some cafes along the way.
There is also small road off to the left which is effectively the High Street. There are a variety of small shops along this street, including a stationery shop, clothes shops, a pharmacy, shoes, hardware and a a few businesses too. It’s worth a little wander along. There is also a small garden along this street which is quite pretty too.
Ferry from Faial to Pico Island
There is a regular ferry service from Faial to Pico Island. The ferry is quite big and is operated by Atlanticoline. It is easy to buy tickets, there is a ticket office in the ferry terminal building alongwith a visitor information centre, toilets, a cafe and some small shops.
The crossing takes 30 minutes and arrives into Madalena. It can be a bit bumpy in he middle but the approach into Madalena is lovely. There are some lovely rock formations which contrast wonderfully with the colour of the sea.
Visits from Faial
Most holiday companies will give guests a chance to take an island tour. It’s well worth it as there is a great deal to see.
Wherever you go in the Azores there will be viewpoints. There is a very lovely viewpoint, Miradoura, on the road that leads out of Horta from the marina side and up the hill. The view looks back over the whole of Horta town and it is well worth stopping for. It can be a bit tricky as the parking is across the road from the viewpoint, so take extra care when crossing as cars can be going exceptionally fast.
This was a real hit or miss with visitors, depending on their level of interest in plants! The botanical gardens are very small, and very different to what we might think of when we hear this term. The gardens have a variety of plants that live in different climates and soil conditions so it is not a lush green experience with a rainforest type garden, think more like a rock garden.
There is a small visitor centre with interpretation boards and an introductory film and then a variety of garden paths to wander along. One of the most important features for tour groups is the toilets of course, and there is also a small cafe which makes very nice coffee. The staff are friendly and helpful and will often take little walks to explain about the gardens in more detail.
Capelhinos is a volanco which erupted in 1957 and continued until 1958. As such there is film of the volcano and of the locals that visited to look at it and get very close despite the dangers!
The approach to Capelhinos is interesting. You can see the mountain clearly as you approach it and the landscape also changes so that by the time you are at the parking area you feel you are in some sort of lunar landscape, with black sand all around you.
The visitor centre itself is reach by walking down a small path through a very heavy door. I love the view from the entrance as you see this large cavernous structure before you with a central column, it feels very much like being inside a volcano!
In the visitor centre itself is a 3D film which explains some of the history and geology of the islands. It is only about 12 minutes long and is well worth seeing. There is a small cafe, toilets and then some interpretation panels and boards, with a couple more films.
The displays cover geology of different islands around the world and being a bit of a geology geek I found them fascinating.
You then take the stairs up to the gift shop, which is very small and then pop out near a viewing area where there is a spectacular view across the sea. The contrasts of the black mountains is really lovely and on a sunny day it is magnificent.
There is a small lighthouse tower which you can go in and visit and if you are brave climb up to the top of. I am told that this involves climbing up a step ladder, which is something I never did but many of my guests did.
This visit was always a popular stop with guests and many wanted to spend longer than the hour or so we had there.
Reaching the caldera on Faial involves a drive up to the top of the mountain. It’s a lovely drive and this is the island which is most famous for hydrangeas so there is plenty of opportunity to see them as well.
As I have mentioned several times the weather in the Azores is changeable an unpredictable. Having visited this caldera 5 or 6 times I think I have only seen it twice. It has often been so misty that it has been impossible to see anything, although once the mist did clear for about 30 seconds to give us a quick glimpse.
It can be frustrating not to see a view you were looking forward to seeing, but in the Azores the chances of you seeing every peak and every caldera is slim so the best way to avoid disappointment is to assume that you will see most of them.
If you are visiting with a coach group then you will just have a stop to peer in at the caldera from the viewing area which is at the rim.
If you are on your own or fancy a walk on a free day then this can be a good option as there is a path all the way around the caldera rim.
Pico Island Visit
If you are staying in Horta there may well be an opportunity to visit Pico on an excursion. Despite being just across the water from Faial Pico island is very different, and that hits you from the moment you arrive.
The first thin you will need to do is take the ferry across to Pico. Some of my guests came with me on the coach and some walked, meeting us at the ferry terminal. As I mentioned above the ferry takes 30 minutes and the view are lovely, particularly coming into Madalena in Pico.
Most holiday companies will use a local coach from Pico that will meet the group in Madalena. This means that you board and exit the ferry as foot passengers.
On arrival in Pico we used to visit a winery nearby which had some displays for visitors to find out about wine making. However, the most interesting part is seeing the vines growing out of the volcanic rocks. It is this that gives the wine a different flavour apparently.
There was also a 1000 year old Dragon tree in the grounds of the winery that we visited which I always gave a little hug to. Such a beautiful tree.
After visiting the winery we visited some viewpoints and then a church. Churches and religion is a really important part of life in rural Portugal and also the Azores. As with previous churches the decoration inside is ornate and spectacular.
Most tours of Pico Island will include lunch somewhere.
We used to stop at the Lavrador restaurant which was very large and dealt with several different groups at the same time. While that could make lunch a bit of a noisy and busy experience the food was great, particularly the fish and the rice pudding was to die for.
Lajes Whaling Museum
It can be difficult to think of whaling now, given our changed views to the hunting of whales. However, you cannot get away from the fact what whaling was incredibly important to the economy of the Azores with many people employed in the hunting and processing of whales.
Many guests felt uncomfortable about visiting this museum, but it is well worth visiting, to understand the importance of this industry and to understand why we should make sure whales are not hunted in the future.
The whaling museum has quite a sizeable display of boats and equipment used to hunt whales, from the earlier days of hunting to more modern methods.
The museum also has a film, which is about 35 minutes long, showing a whale hunt from beginning to end. Many people found this difficult to watch all the way through, and I have to admit that I couldn’t watch it, as it made things a bit too real, but again it’s a record of what happened.
Of course if you don’t want to visit the museum at all you can take a stroll around Lajes which is a pretty little seaside town. There is a lovely walk along the promenade which leads down to some natural swimming pools. The Azoreans love their natural swimming pools, which were made when molten lava hit the sea. As a British person used to nice soft sand I always found the jagged black rocks quite terrifying but children in the Azores don’t seem to have that fear!
After Lajes we headed across to the Captains Lake to get a view of Pico mountain. Again the views we got through the day depended on the weather and often the best view of Pico mountain was from the front of the Hotel do Canal on Horta!
This is a small lake at one of the higher points of Pico island. It’s a bit of a nature reserve so we often stopped to see if we could find some birdlife in particular. Results were mixed and sometimes it was quite cold making it a very brief stop.
Sao Roque do Pico
Depending on your tour and timing you may stop at Sao Roque do Pico. It’s a small town, rather pretty and there is a whaling museum near the harbour where you can see the winches they used to haul the whales out with.
There is probably more to see in the small town than the short stop we used to make at the harbour and it certainly looked like it would merit a walk around if visiting on your own.
If you get a chance to make a stop at this little wine area on the coast heading back towards Madalena then do. Once again vines seem to grow out of the rocks, which are pitch black. There are some little houses dotted amongst this area which is now a protected area too.
Lots of people head to this tiny place to see the Dogs Head rock formation. It does look very much like a dog and is worth a quick photo.
If you like crashing waves and rocky inlets then do take a the small circular walk which is on top of the rocks near the small winery/liqueur shop. On a sunny day the colours are amazing and the waves crashing in are always spectacular. Like so many things in the Azores I always wanted to spend longer in this spot, but generally by this point in the day you are heading back to the ferry, which won’t wait if you miss it!
Once you get back to the ferry terminal you will generally board as foot passengers again on the return journey if you are on an organised coach tour. Depending on the holiday company a coach may be provided to pick you up after the ferry and run you back to the hotel. On a nice day this is a very pleasant walk, but sometimes evening meal times meant it wasn’t possible.
Flying From Faial
The airport at Faial is very small, as you would expect for such a small population.
Check in, with many TAP or SATA flights can be quite slow, especially if there is a large group. Tour groups have to give notice to the airline about their arrival time and despite doing this for every flight in the Azores I often arrived to find one member of staff, which prompted much discussion about finding someone else to help.
In Faial airport the cafe is upstairs, accessed by stairs or a life. It is a small cafe so think snacks rather than meals but it does have a lovely view and a terrace. It’s really the waiting room for the flight as everyone seems to be in the cafe.
Boarding for the fight is on the lower level, below the check in level. Security here can take a little longer than you might expect so go earlier rather than later.
There is a small waiting area just before boarding the plane with seating.
Faial Volcano Pudding Recipe
This recipe was given to me by a lovely local guide. The dish has a bit of grey appearance when you make it but don’t let that you put your off (and don’t think about the calories either!)
600ml double cream
397ml condensed milk
1 pack Oreo cookies
Crush biscuits until crumbed. Mix cream and condensed milk and add 80% of the biscuits. Sprinkle the rest on top and chill for 2 hours before serving.
I know I sound like I am repeating myself but I also love Terceira island, which is once again completely different to the previous islands. It has large open fields, with large herds of cattle as opposed to smaller fields.
The airport is much bigger, and of course so is the population compared to Faial island.
It also has a great mix of things to see and do. Angra do Heriosmo is a really interesting place to visit, packed full of history, not least because of the relatively recently earthquake which flattened the city which was then lovingly rebuilt.
The city has some interesting street art, a really nice harbour area, great gardens, lovely cafes, shops and there is also a spectacular festival in June where the streets fills with bulls (more on the that later), dancers and parades.
There is much more to Terceira than Angra of course with amazing lava rock pools, the chance to visit the inside of an old volcano and much more besides. It is another very individual and varied place to visit.
Arriving at Terceira Airport
The arrival at Terceira is really interesting. This is a military airport so is much larger than the other airports, even Ponta Delgada.
(Bit of trivia – Terceira is where Bush and Blair met to agree going to war in Iraq. It was halfway in terms of distance between the UK and US.)
On arrival at the airport you will find the usual car hire, taxis or coach waiting.
The airport in Terceira is very close to the US military base but on the opposite side of the island from the main town on the island, Angra do Heroismo.
It’s still only 20km away but like most of the Azores there aren’t motorways so progress is a little slower.
Terceira Mar Hotel
We stayed at the Terceira Mar Hotel, which is where many of the group tours stay when visiting Terceira. This is a large hotel taking a crescent formation and with a beautiful view over the headland and bay at Angra. Every room has a sea view which I really liked, although it did mean that it was quite a walk for some guests if their rooms were at the end of a corridor.
On arrival you will be in reception which is on the upper level of the hotel. There is a bar with a nice terrace straight ahead, and the reception desk to the left.
To the right is the main restaurant, some meeting rooms, a gift shop, a small lounge area and toilets. The lifts are also there to take you down to your rooms (there are a few rooms on the same floor as reception but these have no balconies or terraces).
The rooms are large with big double beds in the Terceira Mar. We often experienced a problem regarding tea and coffee, which was provided but sometimes without milk. Giving British travellers tea and coffee but no milk was like red rag to a bull resulting in a trip to the local convenience store to get milk on one occassion!
I really liked the terraces or balconies as the view was also nice. If you like sleeping next to the sea then his hotel is great as there is only a garden outside of your room, with a pool and then the sea which often crashes in. Myself and my groups slept really well here!
The hotel has a fitness centre, but this is operated as a private entity so there are residents coming in to use the gym. Some of my guests had a few problems accessing the gym due to some time restrictions but this doesn’t seem to be a problem now looking at the reviews.
There is also a lovely outside pool. I remember having a lovely swim, although the hotel staff thought I was crazy because for them it was too cold. Being from the Highlands of Scotland it was just dandy for me and the setting is just lovely. There is a little bar by the pool, loungers and the pool is set in gardens too.
The nearest convenience store is out of the hotel and to the left. It is less than 10 minutes walk away but does involve a bit of a tricky crossing on a bend on a bus road. It sells everything you would expect in such a store, but it is quite quaint rather than a modern shop with fancy fittings.
There is a little locals bar next to the shop which I had guests enjoy having a drink in.
There is a locals swimming area just across from the bar. It always looked quite perilous to me but some of my guests enjoyed watching the locals swim there.
Angra Do Heroismo
You can walk down into Angra Do Heriosmo. It can be tricky to walk around as you can easily spend your time going up and down, depending which part you are visiting. When we visited on our walking tour we did the walk in such a way that we were able to go downhill for most of the time.
If you are not able to walk so well then it is easy and cheap to get a taxi to run you down to the town centre. There is also a little bus that goes from just the other side of the roundabout beside the hotel. From the Terceira Mar down into the main square with the town hall it is 2km.
Popular Locals Walk
If you are looking for an easy walk to get to the end of the headland at Monte Brasil then follow a much easier path than climbing up the top of Monte Brasil. It’s a popular walking route with locals and takes you out to the headland for great views. Check this link which shows the path. Head for Ermida da Santo Antonio da Grota and keep going straight.
Visits from Angra
Eastern Terceira Tour
We used to take a full day visit around the Eastern part of Terceira. This used to start with a drive up Monte Brasil which is the headland that is visible from the Terceira Mar Hotel. This headland is a military area, a nature reserve and has a wonderful viewpoint at the top of the headland, reached by passing through a pretty picnic area.
The approach to Monte Brasil is quite challenging for the driver, and gets even more challenging as they squeeze through the tiny archway. The coaches are specially modified with smaller lockers to allow them to get through.
Then it is a windy road, with some interesting camber, up to the viewpoint which is spectacular whatever the weather. There are also some military guns at the top of the hill. The Azores has a very interesting military history if you are interested.
We then continued out to the East stopping at a viewpoint where there was a great view of a small volcano with a collapsed crater that is now a swimming point. It’s a tiny island called Cabras and a boat service takes swimmers out.
Depending on the weather and the timing you may well stop, as we did, along the way for a coffee somewhere. Coffee is always welcome and the Azores are surprisingly cheap compared to some other European countries.
We generally tried to stop at this little village on the road to Port Martins. All over Terceira you will find little chapels – Imperio – dedicated to the Holy Spirit. They are generally used for one day a year and each one is individually decorated. Sao Sebastio has one of the prettiest as it is decorated with blue hydrangeas. It is well worth a quick photo stop.
The church in the village is also worth a visit if you like frescoes. It is very simple but is one of the oldest on the island dating from around 1456. The frescoes are being restored, having been restored very badly in the past by an amateur and now being done professionally.
Prai di Vitoria
We then headed for the lovely Prai di Vitoria, a pretty town with decorative street paving, lovely buildings, an interesting food market and plenty of shops and cafes before finishing up at a lovely beach and promenade.
On our visits we generally got dropped off at the top of the town near the Pharmacy and walked down to the main square. If time allows it is worth popping into the small fresh food market on the right hand side as you go down the street just to see the different produce, particularly fish, available for locals. We used to take the group in for a look so they are used to visitors!
The street ends up in a square with a statue in the middle. As you enter the square there is a nice cafe on your left hand side. Across from this cafe is Rue da Alfandega which will take you down to the harbour area, which is where we used to meet our coach again after some free time in Praia.
The harbour area has more cafes and some gift shops too. It’s a very nice spot. Once again Pria was always somewhere I wanted to spend longer at.
Serra Da Cume
This is the viewpoint at Terceira. Like anywhere in the Azores it can be quite misty. We once travelled up to the top to look at the inside of a cloud! However on a clear day the view is lovely, looking across a quilt of green as you look across the fields.
On the way up or way down you are likely to encounter dairy cattle being moved from one field to another – or a cow jam as we liked to call it.
West Terceira Island Tour
We did this as a half day tour and again it is packed with variety.
In Sao Mateus is a very small whaling museum. It has a couple of boats but the best thing about visiting this museum was speaking to one of the men who used to go whaling. It was a heartbreaking to hear how difficult it was, but the options were limited for employment during that period.
Despite the fact that he couldn’t swim he set out to sea in a small boat to try and catch whales – something that must have been terrifying. He was very proud that his son didn’t have to do such a difficult job and was glad that there were many more choices available for employment now.
This small cheese factory is worth a visit, even if just to taste the amazing cheese. It’s a pub as well so it was always a good spot to stop and enjoy a quick coffee, another pastel del nata, or a beer before continuing the tour.
Another lovely viewpoint from the lush green area on the coast of Terceira. The park is a reserve and it feels quite different from the area of Angra with cliffs, beautiful trees and lush greenery.
If you love the coast then you will love Biscoitos. It’s a series of lava rock pools with steps and bridges to connect them. There are a couple of cafes, a bar and some gift stalls beside the pools. I have been lucky enough to visit when the waves were crashing in due to a storm and a full moon the night before, and likewise have seen people swimming in the pools. Whatever the weather it’s a lovely spot to visit and just enjoy the sea.
On your way out of Biscoitos check out the walls which were built as part of the defences for World War 2
Algar Do Carvao
This is a fantastic visit – the opportunity to go inside an old volcano and if you get the chance to go don’t miss it. Some guests are put off by the fact that the visit involves lots of steps but that is only if you go all the way to the bottom of the volcano. You can do as much or as little as you like.
The cave is reach by passing through a small tunnel. This slopes down after a few steps and you will notice a chance in temperature as you enter this area. At the end of the tunnel there is a viewing area where you can see the whole of the cave, and as you look down you will see a series of ramps and steps that take you down to the bottom of the volcano.
The top of the volcano is open and there are also lots of plants growing inside which can mean there is often water dripping down. It can be a little wet underfoot but the steps are concrete so there is nothing to worry about.
One of the things I particularly like about this visit is that when you reach that first viewing terrace you can see the mark left by a large lava bubble. Having learned so much about the geology of this region it is great to see this volcano inside.
The other thing I like about this visit is that there are guides inside the cave. They are there to answer all those questions about volcanoes – which my groups always had many.
The West Terceira trip is well worth doing, and it is very different to the East side of the island.
When you think of bullfighting you probably think of the bulls and matadors but in Terceira they have a different type of bullfighting which is called rope bullfighting.
It really doesn’t involve a lot of fighting as the idea is to try and touch the bull, ideally on the head. No sticks or implements are allowed to be used and it’s really a chance for men to try and impress the women.
From May to October there are regular bullfights and each village has a special day for their local bullfight. The streets will be closed and a bull will be release on a very long rope, to run through the streets. In some places the bulls run completely free.
The bulls are out in the streets for a short time and the rope length is denoted by a mark in the street. I remember a local telling me confidently that the bull would not cross the line!
It is hard to describe the atmosphere of the bullfight – it is such a local and unique experience. There is of course music, stalls, food and drink and many family members who live overseas travel back for their local bullfight making it a very important family occassion too.
I have watched the bullfight from a high vantage point near to the Terceira Mar Hotel and I have also watched it from the balcony of a locals house, having been invited in with some of my guests. We had so much food and drink forced upon us, all of which was delicious, that we felt we were going to burst and we also got to enjoy hearing the brass band up close too.
Whatever your views on animal welfare, rope bullfighting is absolutely part of life in Terceira. There is a great deal of betting that takes places on the events. More importantly many people met their future wife or husband at these events, and they are a highlight in the social calendar.
At school the children play chase the bull rather than the ‘tig’ that we might be more familiar with. Bulls live in the fields all over Terceira, getting well looked after, as they cannot take place in that many fights a year due to the rules.
If you are able to visit a rope bullfight I would recommend that you – providing of course that you can watch it from somewhere safe.
Reasons Why I Think The Azores Are a Great Place To Visit
The Azores is still a bit off the beaten track. Whilst there are lots of activities available and tour operators it doesn’t feel as developed as other places. The Azores has a sustainable development plan and there are no high rise or high density type developments.
The Azores are a little bit different. Most people have not heard of them, and don’t know where they are (including me when I was first asked to go).
The Azores are rural. Travelling can often involve visiting big cities, or busy tourist attractions. The Azores is not like that. Even the busiest part of the islands, Ponta Delgada, doesn’t feel crowded or overwhelmed. It feels relaxed and welcoming, and the rest of the islands I have visited feel the same.
The Azores are different. It is hard to overstate how different the islands are, but they really area. Each island has it’s own personality, it’s own food, it’s own attractions, different landscapes and different people with different customs and traditions. This makes a trip to the Azores varied if you manage to visit several islands during your trip.
The flora and fauna is great. Guests used to tell me that they couldn’t believe how many different shades of green there were in the Azores, and there are many. There vegetation is lush, almost rainforest like in places (with rainforest amounts of rain in places too). If you love nature then the Azores are a great choice because you will be surrounded by it wherever you visit.
The Azores are safe. None of my guests every experienced a problem when travelling in the Azores, and no one felt uncomfortable walking around at night. The Azores are stuck out in the middle of the ocean so if anything does happen there is nowhere for anyone to go, making them safe for residents and visitors alike.
The Azores are friendly. As someone who lives in the Highlands of Scotland, a remote area with a similar popular to the Azores I saw lots of similarities between the two places. People have more time for each other, they take an interest in each other and in the Azores I felt that was especially the case. Living on an archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic must give more of a sense of a community.
The Azores have amazing food. Oh my the food is lovely. From great fish dishes and flavoursome stews the Azoreans know who to use spices wonderfully well. The dairy industry also means that the cheese is varied and fantastic – who doesn’t love cheese! I discovered some great local dishes including butternut squash baked in cinnamon – a simple but delicious dish. Volcano pudding was amazing – a pudding packed full of flavours and delicious despite the grey appearance. Of course we can’t forget the honey cakes – Melia cakes – although I ate so many of them my local guide said they should be renamed Melanie cakes. If food is an important part of travelling then there are lots of tastes for you to discover.
The Azores have lots of festivals. If you are visiting several islands the chances are there will be a festival happening somewhere along the way. It’s a great chance to experience local life and see what binds the islands together. If you are lucky enough to experience a festival join the party, the locals will be welcoming.
There are some little differences that it is helpful to be aware of before visiting the Azores.
Firstly tea and coffee is often not found in Europe so it might be worth checking. If you are staying in the Hotel Do Canal this does have tea and coffee facilities.
Handrails are not a big feature in the Azores and the kerbs are quite high in places, similar to other parts of Portugal. The streets can be uneven due to the patterned paving designs and the tiles can also be a little slippery when wet. As such sturdy footwear is advised.
Food is often a different temperature to what we are used to at home – soup is not generally served mouth scaldingly hot like at home for example.