These nine tiny Portuguese islands stranded halfway across the Atlantic Ocean prove that when it comes to picking a holiday destination with pristine environments primed for outdoor adventure, size isn’t everything. Their far-flung location and balmy year-round temperature makes the landscapes unlike any other, combining opalescent lakes and lava caves with lush green hills littered with colourful hydrangeas. Offshore the adventure continues, as waters visited by BBC and National Geographic camera crews are patrolled by wild dolphin, sperm, pilot and beaked whales.
But as word of their untouched scenery slowly gets out, the trickle of travellers arriving on the islands is starting to increase and at Regent, we recommend planning a visit before the crowds arrive. But which island to pick? We pit the stunning landscapes of Sao Miguel Island against the UNESCO heritage of Terceira Island.
The biggest island of the Azores plays host to the bulk of its residents and is most visitors’ point of entry to the archipelago thanks to busy Joao Paulo II airport.
The island is volcanic in origin and pockmarked with craters – many of which now hold vast lakes of startling blues and greens. Spectacular Lagoa do Fogo, the largest in Sao Miguel, occupies the central caldera of the windswept Água de Pau Massif stratovolcano and boasts exceptional hiking routes that crisscross between peak viewpoints. For an alternative perspective of the landscape, try paddle-boating across the lightly bubbling waters of Furnas Crater Lake.
You can set sail to see sea life from most of the islands in the Azores, but Sao Miguel offers the most options for excursions. Set off out into the Atlantic with Picos de Aventura in search of playful pods of bottlenose dolphins or sperm, humpback or minke whales – with over 27 species moving through the waters year-round, you’re (almost) guaranteed a sighting of some kind.
If you go to Sao Miguel for one reason: Conquer the volcanic landscapes by hopping aboard a 4x4 designed to tackle the rugged terrain on your behalf. This jeep safari with Trilhos da Natureza takes in the island’s famous twin lakes, Sete Cidades and the local guides in the driving seat know exactly where to park to find the best panoramas.
Explore Sao Miguel with Regent Holidays’ Best of Sao Miguel tour
The picture-perfect scenery typical of the other islands extends to Teraceira, another of the archipelago’s largest characters, so it comes as no surprise that there are plenty of opportunities to entertain any traveller who remembered to pack their hiking boots.
But it’s the history of the island that makes it stand out from the crowd. The old town of the Angra do Heroismo is a UNESCO World Heritage thanks to its Portuguese military architecture, including the 400-year-old San Sebastiao and San Joao Baptista fortifications that surround the Monte Brasil extinct volcano. Terceira also boasts the largest temple of the archipelago – the terracotta roofed Se Cathedral was constructed in 1570 over the remains of the gothic Church of the Holy Saviour.
If you go to Terceira for one reason: Step back in time to enjoy the picturesque Azorean surroundings from a traditional working farm at Quinta do Martelo. Spend a night or two in a rustic farmhouse designed to give you an authentic glimpse of olden-day life; sample organic produce and stews cooked on a wood burning stove, learn how livestock was reared and take part in traditional festivities.